This was our second time in LA’s Little Tokyo – my first ever to any Little Tokyo, for that matter. On previous trips downtown, this enclave filled with shabu-shabu restaurants, bakeries, and Hello Kitty adorned boutique windows had kept itself a secret. Our initial discovery had been by chance, on a Sunday, when the space was packed with people; finding such a bustling spot in the midst of the usual weekend slow-mo was unexpected and welcomed. Dodging the lines that snaked out of every doorway, we found ourselves in a supermarket, distracted at every turn. Sweet and savoury, the colourful packaged goods decorated in anime and Japanese writing seduced themselves into our carry basket. We left $50 richer in rice crackers, matcha, and mochi, and made a vow to return on a quieter day. So that’s how we found ourselves in the area on a Tuesday, ready to explore.
From Little Tokyo you can see the tops of the buildings that comprise downtown LA; you have the Arts District to one side of it, and the Japanese American National History Museum at its end. The area is made up of about 5 blocks in total.
The Japanese American National History Museum opened in 1992 – 50 years after Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. At the end of WWII, many Japanese returned to Little Tokyo; today however, most live in the surrounding cities of LA. We didn’t have time to explore the museum, but visited its store brimmed with Japanese knick knacks, art, and books.
Says Wikipedia…because of the global and local growth of overseas Japanese investment, Little Tokyo has resisted eradication and has continued to exist as a tourist attraction, community center, and home to Japanese American senior citizens and others…
On my visits, I haven’t noticed a distinct tourist vibe in Little Tokyo – a good thing, and while many Japanese Americans may have moved out of the area, it is obvious that they congregate here.
FOOD: red bean ice cream from Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream, pour over coffees at Dulce Cafe, a green tea Malaysian Roti pastry, and rows of sake bottles – from specialty stores to grocery aisles, the international influence is woven into a strong Japanese fabric.
Fully prepared to suffer the consequences of another grocery trip of riches, we made our way towards Weller Court, the location of the supermarket we’d found on our first visit to J-town, as the area is nicknamed. What we weren’t prepared for was a greeting of yellow police tape.
Baffled and feeling as if we’d overstayed our welcome, we turned around and made tracks to the car. We did stop at a smaller Japanese supermarket along the way, though our state of mind was firmly rooted back in the US of A.