To call Little Tokyo in Los Angeles very authentic doesn’t begin to describe it. It might be not #1 of things to do in Los Angeles but without it your LA experience wouldn’t be complete. Wander into the very heart of Little Tokyo on a Los Angeles Tour. Or venture on your own with these fun facts about Little Tokyo.
Perhaps, you’ve heard a lot about vibrant and flamboyant Little Tokyo neighborhood in the heart of LA, but we bet you didn’t know that….
- Little Tokyo traces its beginnings to the 1880s, the era of a surge of immigration in the US. Of all the places in LA it’s one of the oldest and with a great ethnic vibe.
- It is one of 3 official Japantowns in US.
- Angelenos also call it Lil’ Tokyo or J-Town.
- Almost 120 000 Japanese immigrated in US until the Exclusion Act of 1924.
- Japanese immigrants were mostly renowned farmers and vegetable traders.
- Little Tokyo’s population shrank due to the infamous WWII incarceration.
- At some point of its history the area was known as Bronzeville, as African Americans started to populate the district.
- At its peak, the district had roughly 30,000 Japanese American inhabitants.
- It’s still an ethnic core for LA’s Japanese descendants.
- Little Tokyo is quite small, in fact. The neighborhood occupies approximately 5 extensive blocks. Easy to cover it all in just an hour or two and tick it off from your Los Angeles bucket list.
- LT is famous for LA’s best Japanese eateries and authentic stores.
- The prominent California roll was created here.
- Two oldest Japanese sweets businesses in LA are located in the area.
- It is home to one of the best jazz clubs.
- There are also a variety of temples: Jodo Shinshu, Jodo Shu, Shingon and Soto Zen Buddhist temples.
- Little Tokyo neighborhood comprises East West Players, Aratani and other prominent Japanese theaters.
- There are some public sculptures, artwork and a monument to Ellison S. Onizuka, the first Asian American and the first person of Japanese ancestry to reach space, is among them.
- You can find unique Japanese video games and anime here.
- Little Tokyo is an ideal place for people-watching, particularly when the teens are dressed for cosplay (the practice of dressing up as a character from a book, movie, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of anime).
- Little Tokyo’s First Street was recognized as a historic landmark in 1986. Generally, walking the streets is the best things to do in Los Angeles. Have you been at Olvera Street, the most historic street in LA?
- Don’t miss Far East Cafe which once was a cultural hub for locals.
- Wondering what to do in Los Angeles after you’ve seen it all? Little Tokyo is home to ultra-zen James Irvine Japanese garden.
Things to do in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo
The James Irvine Japanese Garden
- The garden is literally a hidden gem, it isn’t accessible from the street.
- The space is also known as Seiryu-en or “Garden of the Clear Stream”.
- Its creation was inspired by Zen traditions of the prominent gardens of Kyoto.
- The garden features 170m cascading waterfall.
- The oldest family commerce in LA started in 1903.
- Is famous for its mochi (rice cakes ) and manju (sweet bean-filled rice cake).
- In old days mochi was originally made as offerings to kami (gods) at shrines.
- Now mochi is an integral part of the New Year’s celebrations for Japanese community in LA.
- Fugetsu-Do Mochi has occupied the same building for oven 100 years. What a loyalty!
- Except during 1956-57 when the business moved temporarily to another place.
- By the way, the fortune cookie was created by Seiichi Kito, the father of Fugetsu-Do Mochi.
«Home is Little Tokyo» Mural
- «Home is Little Tokyo» Mural is a collection of images from J-Town’s archive from early 1900s to the present.
- It is a culmination of work by almost 500 local residents.
- It took long 3 years to color the 20 panels of 16 x 40 foot mural.
- The texts around the boarders of the mural capture Little Tokyo’s uniqueness.
Japanese American National Museum
- Japanese American National Museum covers over 130 years of Japanese-American history.
- The museum is famous for its vast archive of home movies about the life of locals between 1920s and 1950s.
- For 7 years the Japanese American National Museum was housed in the remarkable Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple.
- Museum’s board of trustees includes a famous actor George Takei.
Hilton Double Tree’s Kyoto Gardens
- Urban oasis nestled on the Hilton Double Tree Hotel’s rooftop on the border of Little Tokyo and Civic Center.
- No need to take an 11-hour flight to experience the ancient Tokyo’s Japanese Garden.
- The half-acre of carefully kept lawns, cascades and spectacular views of LA.
- A unique venue for romantic weddings, afternoon meditation and evening strolls. Peaceful and quite. Just like Santa Barbara.
Japanese Village Plaza
- Little Tokyo’s most kitschy outdoor mall and the most fun place to go in LA’s Little Tokyo.
- Japanese Village Plaza houses prominent restaurants like Shabu Shabu, Mikawaya and Cafe Dulce.
- The cultural spot hosts many different festivals throughout the year. Not Hollywood style festivals but very unique in their own way.
- Plaza has a tower in the form of a traditional fire-lookout yagura.
- Is decorated in traditional Japanese rural style.
- Is home to the historic “Wishing Tree”.
Go For Broke Monument
- Prominent tribute to the bravery of Nisei warriors in the World War II.
- The project was chosen from over 138 other projects.
- “Go For Broke!” was the unit motto of the legendary 100th Battalion.
- 16,126 names are displayed on the monument.
- The “Go For Broke Monument” contains words of gratitude belonging to the US Presidents H.S. Truman and R. Reagan.
- Nowadays, it’s a popular gathering spot for veterans of ex Japanese American units.
Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple
- Was the first Japanese Buddhist temple in LA.
- It supports the Jodo Shinshu teachings.
- The present building was constructed in 1976, the same year Apple was founded.
- Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is an impressive repository of Buddhist art.
- It contains astonishing statue of Amida Buddha on the altar.
- And the roof with over 30,000 tiles imported from Japan.
- Open yoga classes take place on Wednesday evenings.
- Once in two weeks you can also attend Bon Odori practices of traditional Japanese dances.
Koyasan Buddhist Temple
- Officially known as “Koyasan Beikoku Betsuin” of Los Angeles.
- Temple opened in 1912 is a branch of Koyasan Shingon Mission.
- ‘Shingon’, by the way, means “true words”.
- Shrine’s first location was Elysian Park.
- Current edifice was constructed in 1940, the same year when President F.D. Roosevelt won the elections in US third (!) time.
- The temple was closed for some time during the WWII.
- The prominent Aoyama Tree symbolizes the cultural and historical development of Buddhism and local community.
- In 1987 esoteric Kechien Kanjo ritual took place in Koyasan, ceremony rarely held outside of Japan. The Kechien Kanjo is the ritual for forming connection with Buddha. The origins of the ritual date back to 812.
- The Koyasan Buddhist Temple also hosted Boy Scout Troop 379, one of the oldest existing troops in the US.
- What to do in LA if you can’t stop keep coming here and have covered all of the main sights? LA Art Book Fair is an outstanding arts festival showcasing artists’ books, catalogues, monographs and magazines. This event annually attracts around 300 international publishers, booksellers and antiquarians.
- The Los Angeles International Tea Festival held in Little Tokyo is a forum for tea enthusiasts. The festival features numerous tea exhibitions and fairs.
- Oshogatsu is the annual New Year Celebration with Japanese traditions. The Event unites Japanese American communities from all over Southern California.
- Mochi-pounding ceremony and viewing the first sunrise of the New Year are among the most popular activities. The festival provides plenty of children’s entertainment including zodiac face painting and taiko drum lessons.
- The Nisei Week is the largest event in Little Tokyo neighborhood, honoring 2nd generation of Japanese descendants. The Festival includes Grand Parade, Fashion show, Car show and expositions of Japanese art.
- Obon is a summertime celebration honoring ancestors.
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