Vietnamese cities have always had a pinch of Japanese influence, but there is one area in Ho Chi Minh City that may cause you to think you’ve been transported overseas known as Little Japan. Also referred to as JapantownSaigon or Little Tokyo, its narrow construction, dazzling street art, and a plethora of food and entertainment outlets, make it a highly visited area both day and night.
One of the most culturally preserved areas in the city, and located in District 1, this bustling street has all the bells, whistles, and pulsating energy that Japan is so well-known for. Approximately 1 km away from the Ben Thanh Market, you can either take a taxi, drive your motorbike, or walk to its entrance.
Features of Little Japan
While it only covers an area of less than one square kilometer in Saigon, the narrow street manages to present itself as a quintessentially Japanese location. The wooden shop signs, windows, and overhead paper lanterns resemble something straight out of central Tokyo. The cuisine is, as you probably guessed, caters to Japanese tastes, offering well-known delicacies such as sushi and katsu curry.
There’s also a host of dimly lit whiskey and cocktail bars, where it’s common to see exhausted businessmen unwinding after a day in the office. In true Japanese fashion, these bars are impeccably clean and are staffed by polite, professional bartenders. Despite the bars’ formal presentation, they remain a great place to socialize and converse until the wee hours of the morning.
Like most streets in Vietnam, Little Japan reinvents itself at night. The bars and restaurants begin to fill up, tourists start flocking, and polite massage girls appear outside their parlors hoping to charm a customer inside. Little Japan is almost like a mini Bui Ven Street in terms of atmosphere and energy.
While visiting the street during the daytime is enjoyable, visitors hoping to see Little Japan at its best should aim to get there after the sun has set.
Best Locations in Little Japan
There are plenty of delicious food outlets in Little Japan ranging from humble street food outlets to sleek, formal restaurants. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, you should be able to find it. Even if you’re not in the mood for Japanese, there are plenty of other restaurants which offer Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, European, and American options.
Tokitsu Nada – Food
Owned by a former sumo wrestler, Tokitsu Nada offers high-quality sushi and sashimi that is mouthwateringly fresh and seriously delicious. Due to the former of its owner, Tokitsu Nada only serves Japanese food of the highest caliber and standard.
There’s even a sumo-sized hotpot on the menu, jam-packed with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Just make sure you’ve worked up an appetite before you go!
Robata Dining An – Food & Drink
Fans of Izakaya-style food should consider visiting the Robata Dining An. Not only is the food fresh, diverse, and tasty, but the cocktails on offer are also irresistible and taste just as fresh as the food.
Spas and Massage Parlors in Little Japan
Bars and restaurants aren’t the only way to unwind in Little Japan as there are also several spas and legitimate massage parlors on its doorstep. While some of these spas are more reputable than others, they are generally much safer than those found in the chaotic Bui Ven Street.
Best Time to Visit Little Japan
While Little Japan is still great during the day, its atmosphere is wildly different. Restaurants open at 11 am and close around 2 pm in preparation for their evening patrons. It’s common to see tourists, families, photographers, and posing newlyweds around Little Japan during the day.
The atmosphere is pleasant, almost dormant, however, there is still a buzz and sense of urgency that is apparent there in the afternoon. If you wish to explore Little Japan peacefully and without having the deal with crowds, head there during the daytime. If, however, you wish to see the area during its peak hours, head there after 7 pm.
Over its 30-year history, Little Japan has grown into a thrilling, overspilling microcosm that is peppered with quirky and unique venues. If you’re looking for an unorthodox cultural experience head down to Little Japan, you won’t be disappointed.
Address: 8A Thai Van Lung, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam