Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California

Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California

Infobox_nrhp2 | name =Little Tokyo Historic District
nhld = yes

caption =
location= Los Angeles, California
lat_degrees = 34
lat_minutes = 3
lat_seconds = 2
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 118
long_minutes = 14
long_seconds = 22
long_direction = W
locmapin = California
area =
built =1942
architect= Edgar Cline, Et al.
architecture= Classical Revival, Art Deco
added = August 22, 1986
designated_nhld = June 12, 1995 [ NHL Summary] ]
governing_body = Local
refnum=86001479cite web|url=|title=National Register Information System|date=2008-04-15|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]

Little Tokyo, also known as Little Tokyo Historic District, is an ethnic Japanese American district in downtown Los Angeles and one of only three official Japantowns in the United States. Founded around the beginning of the 20th century, the area, sometimes called Lil' Tokyo, J-Town, or Shō-tokyo (Japanese), is the cultural center for Japanese Americans in Southern California. It was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.


At its peak, Little Tokyo had approximately 30,000 Japanese Americans living in the area. Little Tokyo is still a cultural focal point for Los Angeles's Japanese American population. It is mainly a work, cultural, religious, restaurant and shopping district, because Japanese Americans today are likely to live in nearby cities such as Torrance, Gardena, and Monterey Park. However, the recent boom in downtown residential construction is changing the nature of Little Tokyo.

What is left of the original Little Tokyo can be found in roughly four large city blocks. It is bounded on the west by Los Angeles Street, on the east by Alameda Street, on the south by 3rd Street, and on the north by First Street and the Los Angeles Civic Center. More broadly, 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 (made up of warehouses converted into live-work lofts) to the south.


Cultural attractions

The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center is located in Little Tokyo, as well as the Japanese American National Museum. The extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art, formerly called the Temporary Contemporary and now known as the Geffen Contemporary (named after David Geffen), is also in Little Tokyo. East West Players, one of the nation's first Asian American theatre companies, specializing in live theater written and performed by Asian American artists, is located in Little Tokyo, performing in the David Henry Hwang Theater. There is also the Aratani/Japan America Theater, which features plays and musical performances. Visual Communications, an Asian Pacific American media arts organization, has its offices in Little Tokyo, and each May, annually presents VC FilmFest (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), in several venues around Little Tokyo.

The Nisei Week festival is held every August, and includes a large parade, a pageant, athletic events, exhibits of Japanese art and culture, a taiko drum festival, the Japanese Festival Street Faire, a car show, and other events. The LA Tofu Festival is a subcommittee of Nisei Week and is also held during the month. A queen and court will be selected.

Little Tokyo has quite a few public sculptures and artwork, including a monument to Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, a Japanese American from Hawaiokinai who was a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Challenger when it exploded during takeoff in 1986. There are also two Japanese gardens in the area open to the public—one is next to the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and the other is a rooftop garden in the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens, formerly the New Otani Hotel. The Go For Broke Monument commemorates Japanese Americans who served in the United States Military during World War II. The multi-purpose theatre, The ImaginAsian Center, opened in December, 2007.

hopping and dining

There are numerous Japanese restaurants, catering to both Japanese and non-Japanese clientele. Many of them specialize in one type of Japanese cuisine, such as Donburi, Japanese noodles (soba ramen and udon), shabu-shabu (which translated from Japanese means 'swish-swish', referring to the motion of dipping meat and vegetables in a communal bowl of boiling water), Japanese curry, sushi, or yakitori. There are also a number of Korean barbecue restaurants, where meat is often cooked on a small grill built into the center of the table.

Two "wagashi" (Japanese sweets) shops located in Little Tokyo are among the oldest food establishments in Los Angeles. Fugetsu-do, founded in 1903, [ [ "A History of Fugetsu-Do"] at [ Fugetsu-do company website] ] appears to be the oldest still-operating food establishment in the city and the first one to celebrate a centennial; [ [ "Centenarian (and older) restaurants?"] Chowhound (post dated August 26, 2004, retrieved July 22, 2008).] its best-known offerings include mochi and manjū, and it claims to be an inventor of the fortune cookie. Mikawaya was founded in 1910, but is now well known as the company that introduced mochi ice cream to the United States in 1994. [ About Us] , at [ Mikawaya company website.] ]

Little Tokyo has several shops that specialize in Japanese-language videos and DVDs, while other shops specialize in Japanese electronics and video games. These are a great way to find Japanese video games that were never translated into English.

The Weller Court shopping mall has several restaurants, karaoke clubs, and a Bubble Tea cafe. For tourists visiting from Japan, there are a number of shops specializing in expensive name brand products such as Coach handbags. There is also a large bookstore, Kinokuniya, that is part of a well-known Japanese chain. They have a large selection of Japanese-language books, magazines, music CDs, manga, and anime, as well as a selection of English-language books on Japanese subjects and translated manga and anime.

The Japanese Village Plaza is located roughly in the center of Little Tokyo. There are several restaurants in the plaza, plus a number of shops geared towards tourists. First Street and Second Street border Japanese Village Plaza and have a number of restaurants that are open later than those in the plaza.


The original boundaries of Little Tokyo extended east and south of the present location, and covered approximately one square mile. The area was a magnet for immigrating Japanese until the Exclusion Act of 1924 halted any further migration. Shops were along First Street, and vegetable markets were along Central Avenue to the south. Japanese Americans were a significant ethnic group in the vegetable trade, due to the number of successful Japanese American truck farms across Southern California.

The internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War emptied Little Tokyo. For a brief time, the area became known as "Bronzeville" as African Americans and also American Indians moved into the vacated properties and opened up nightclubs and restaurants. After the internment ended, the Bronzeville residents mainly moved to other areas.

After the war, due to lack of housing in Little Tokyo, Japanese Americans returning from the camps moved into areas surrounding the downtown, into apartments and boarding houses. Notably, Boyle Heights, just east of Little Tokyo, had a large Japanese American population in the 1950s (as it had before the internment) until the arrival of Mexicans and Latino immigrants replaced most of them.

In the late 1970s, a redevelopment movement started as Japanese corporations expanded overseas operations and many of them set up their US headquarters in the Los Angeles area. Several new shopping plazas and hotels opened, along with branches of some major Japanese banks. Although this redevelopment resulted in many new buildings and shopping centers, there are still some of the original Little Tokyo buildings and restaurants, especially along First Street.

During the 1970s and 1980s, artists began to move into nearby aging warehouse spaces in the area, forming a hidden community in the industrialized area. Al's Bar, Gorky's, the Atomic Cafe, and LA Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) are some well-known sites.

Land use has been a contentious issue in Little Tokyo due to its history, the proximity to the Los Angeles Civic Center, the role of Los Angeles as a site of business between Japan and America, and the increasing influx of residents into the Artist District. Unlike a traditional ethnic enclave, there are relatively few Japanese residents in the area because of evacuation and internment. Consequently, Little Tokyo, like other ethnic urban enclaves, is constantly threatened with development that could eradicate it. Conversely, because the Japanese American community was politicized by the internment and subsequent Redress and Reparations effort, and 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.

The current site of Parker Center, the Los Angeles Police Department's headquarters, was the former site of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple. The area south of the site was part of the First Street business strip. The warehouses and new condominiums to the east of Little Tokyo were once residential areas of the district. The Weller Court mall was opposed by some people in the community because it redeveloped a strip of family-owned small businesses. Community activists established First Street as a historic district in 1986, In 2004, they helped reopen the Far East Cafe, an acknowledged community hub.


The area is served by the Los Angeles Unified School District cite news | author = Cardenas, Valentina and Pollard-Terry, Gayle | title = The Face Of Little Tokyo Is Changing | publisher = Los Angeles Times | url =,1,5149012,full.story | date = 2006-09-03 | accessdate = 2008-03-26] .
* 9th Street Elementary School
* [ Hollenbeck Middle School]
*Belmont High School

Los Angeles Public Library operates the Little Tokyo Branch.


There are several Buddhist temples in the area, mostly Jodo Shinshu, Shingon, and Soto Zen temples, including Zenshuji Soto Mission (the first Soto Zen temple in North America), Higashi Honganji, Koyasan Buddhist Temple, and a few Japanese Christian churches.

One of the roots of Pentecostalism started in Little Tokyo. Where the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center Plaza is now located was once the home of the First Pentecostal Church, a multiracial congregation called the Azusa Street Mission. This is where the Azusa Street Revival started in 1906. Earlier, it was also the site of the First AME Church.

The former Catholic Cathedral of Saint Vibiana is just to the west of Little Tokyo. After being heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the Archdiocese moved to a new site (now the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels) and the old site was redeveloped with the former cathedral converted into a performing arts space and non-historic buildings on the site demolished and replaced with a new Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.


External links

* [ Little Tokyo Community Council]
* [ Little Tokyo Unplugged]
* [ Little Tokyo Blog]
* [ Visit Little Tokyo]
* [ Japanese American Cultural and Community Center]
* [ Japanese American National Museum]
* [ Little Tokyo Service Center]
* [ East West Players]
* [ Historic Bronzeville, Los Angeles]
* [ Little Tokyo Metro Adventure]
* [ Japanese American Network - Little Tokyo]
* [ Nisei Week]
* [ Rafu Shimpo]
* [ Nikkei Federation]
* [ Strategies for the Preservation of Little Tokyo as an Historic Community]

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