Every then and again, we all experience wanderlust. Who doesn’t want to travel the world, explore various sights and cultures, or meet new people? Well, not everybody can afford world travel. Lucky for us, in Los Angeles there are many distinct communities where you can experience the benefits of world travel without leaving L.A.
Little Tokyo is bordered by the Los Angeles River to the east, downtown Los Angeles to the west, L.A. City Hall and the Parker Center to the north, and the newly named Arts District to the south.
In the early 1900, Little Tokyo was the hearth of the Japanese community that resided in the area. It remained that through the 1940s. Today, very few Japanese reside there, while some still work there. Little Tokyo is mainly a destination for cultural and religious events as well as shopping for the American Japanese community as well as tourists.
Among the must-sees of Little Tokyo are:
- The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (with adjacent Japanese garden)
- Japanese American National Museum
- Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple
- Go For Broke Monument, a tribute to Japanese Americans who served in the United States Military during World War II while 110,000 of their fellow Japanese (62% of them Japanese Americans!) were forced into internment camps.
- Part of the Museum of Contemporary Art (the Geffen Contemporary)
- David Henry Hwang Theater, the home of East West Players, one of the first Asian American theater companies in the US based entirely on the work of Asian American artists.
- Aratani / Japan America Theater
The streets of Little Tokyo feature traditional and modern sculptures and other works of art, including two Japanese gardens.
The above is quite a lot to behold. Sightseeing alone however isn’t world travel. Food is a large part of discovering a new culture and Japanese food is no exception. There several Japanese restaurants in Little Tokyo that serve authentic Japanese cuisine as well as tea houses. (There are other restaurants that compromise a bit between the Japanese and Californian cuisine.) As for shopping, there are two types of shopping available: for the Japanese (with Japanese-language books, magazines, CDs and DVDs) and for tourists. Needless to say, both are worth exploring.
Finally, the most important part, discovering the people of Japan and Japanese Americans. In my personal opinion, the best way to connect with people in any neck of the woods is to share either a meal or an activity together. As for activities, I highly recommend:
- visiting a Japanese karaoke club (there are several in The Weller Court)
- joining a group for a Morning Meditation (Mon-Fri 6:20 am – 7 am) at the Zenshuji Soto Temple at 123 S. Hewitt St. (Go to www.zenshuji.org for more info.)
Unfortunately for us, the all-out celebration of Japan, its culture, sports, beauty, technology and more, including a festive street parade – the Nisei Week – is held just once a year (in August).
Little Tokyo may not be Japan, but taking in the sights, tasting Japanese cuisine, shopping and mingling with other visitors is certainly a fascinating experience whether you are a native Angeleno exploring other cultures on a dime or a tourist.