Insider’s Guide 2019: Tourism

Portland’s Cultural Liaison to Japan Shows Us Her Local Itinerary

Sakiko Setaka gives Japanese visitors a “local experience” of our city. Here's her hit list.

By Benjamin Tepler March 26, 2019 Published in the April 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

When Sakiko Setaka moved to Portland in 2010, the former Tokyo-based lifestyle journalist was drawn to the “independent, laid-back, sustainable lifestyle.”

Now, the 39-year-old is Stumptown’s unofficial cultural ambassador to Japan; her tightly curated tour business, Life Sampling PDX, which she runs with partner Yuri Baxter-Neal, endeavors to give Japanese visitors a “local experience” of our city distinct from the well-trod tourist path to Voodoo Doughnut or Washington Park’s rose garden. Over the years, she’s crafted a go-to list of Portland picks for tourists and residents alike.

To really get a sense of the city’s communal buzz, she suggests looking to our grocery stores, name-checking Southeast’s People’s Food Co-Op and its “’70s, Old Portland vibe.” The winding paths and nature-inspired playgrounds at Westmoreland Park add up to “the best nature park ever,” a necessity for touring families and a shining beacon for anyone interested in city development. North Mississippi’s ReBuilding Center holds “inspiring stories for visitors” where, she says, people can “learn the history of city development through building.” 

Between tours and coordinating visiting Japanese media, Setaka is also a talented dessert chef, most recently bringing fluffy, fruit-laden Japanese shaved ice to downtown’s Courier Coffee. (She’s married to shop owner and roaster Joel Domreis.) For her money, the ice cream at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty, with its “heavily driven local ingredients,” is the way to go. And while she’s not vegan, the creamy, inventive coconut-based ice cream at Aviv—a meatless Middle Eastern spot— is a “totally new experience for the Japanese.” For baked goods, the Lebanese confections at World Foods are also a novelty, jars of jam from Confiterie at Providore Fine Foods make for “the perfect souvenir,” and in-the-know Japanese bakers visit Heim in Roseway for baked goods Setaka says “could be sold at a pastry shop in a fancy Tokyo neighborhood.”

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