What the Community Says: Little Tokyo

  • Food

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As part of our exploration into Little Tokyo, we asked our readers to submit stories and memories they have about the neighborhood, and build upon the narrative that we are building of this thriving center of Japanese American history and culture.

You can help shape our narrative by sharing your stories, like the ones seen below, that tell your personal experiences in the area, provide insight, or define "the best" of Little Tokyo. We'd love for you to share your experiences of Little Tokyo by submitting what you find compelling.

Now let's hear what the community has to say:

Haru Takehana says:
"In 1891 a man named Ine Muto of Tokyo and Bunzo Tsuchiya of Nagano of Japan together opened up a restaurant called Quaker Dairy at 304 East First Street. The average price was $0.15 per menu. It is believed to be the first enterprise opened in what is now called Little Tokyo"

Tony Sperl says:
"The historic Sperl Building...337-339 1/2 E. 1st Street, built by Antonin Sperl in May 1882 for his Blacksmith's Shop...'Cooperative Carriage.' In 1906 William Seymour used the upstairs of this building in conjunction with the historic 'Azusa Street Revival.' For at least 30 years, the upstairs of this building was used by the Japanese Community as the meeting place, for everything from dances, marriages and business meetings."

George says:
"One location that seems to be forgotten in Little Tokyo is Maryknoll School and St. Francis Xavier chapel located on Hewitt Street... In its 100 years of existence, Maryknoll's alumni have been part of the famous and most decorated WWII unit the 442nd, 100th and MIS. In addition, during this time when the Japanese Americans were interned in camps such as Manzanar, the Maryknoll priests would not forget them but rather would visit them on a regular basis and conduct mass at the internment camps.

"Maryknoll's elementary school was well known throughout Los Angeles as one of the best schools and had a well regarded scholastic reputation. A 100 years ago, a time when it was not popular to serve the Japanese community, Maryknoll stood up for the Little Tokyo community establishing a chapel (English and Japanese masses), school and orphanage."
Crowd at Nisei Week 2012. Photo by --Mark-- used under a Creative Commons license

Alan Kumamoto says:
"My grandfather PM Suski arrived in Los Angeles following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake living initially at 526 Banning Street, then to 310 LaFayette (Hewitt St). He opened a photography studio initially at 102 South Spring Street, then moved his studio to next door to A.B.C. Trading Co at 107 1/2 East First Street. He had seven children and managed to go to USC Medical School from 1913-1917. He graduated, interned In Berlin, opened a medical office for practice in 1923 at 205 1/2 North San Pedro Street. until 1942. He became a doctor at Heart Mountain Relocation Center during WW II."

Collin Tateishi says:
"As a third-generation Japanese American whose family grew up in Los Angeles and was relocated to the internment camps during WWII, Little Tokyo represents the heart of my social, cultural, and political heritage. My grandparents would take my sister and I to "J-Town" to eat at the small family-owned restaurants, celebrate Nisei Week and Tanabata Festival, dance in the Obon, and learn about my unique ethnic-american heritage. During college, I interned for two summers at the Little Tokyo Service Center -- a neighborhood-based community development nonprofit organization that has been rooted in Little Tokyo since the 1970s... As an urban planner, Little Tokyo is my ideal community -- sustainable, walkable, aesthetically pleasing, and vibrant with community, commerce, and culture. As a third-generation Japanese American, this neighborhood is my home and more importantly the home of the Japanese American community of Southern California."

Fugetsu-Do in Little Tokyo. Photo by Justin CramMicah Kawaguchi-Ailetcher says:
"The history of wagashi and awesome innovations of mochi... would love to hear more stories of Fugetsu Do and Mikawaya... Brian Kito is a figure in the Little Tokyo Community."

Stephanie Corrales says:
"I remember as a little girl taking the RTD (aka the Metro now) into Downtown L.A. with my Mom from Echo Park and we'd get off the bus somewhere near the Music Center, catch the Mini-Bus -- I loved the orange & brown seats -- and ride into to Little Tokyo. My Mom and I would walk around looking in all the shops since my Mom had the affinity for the intricate dishes, plates, and bowls with all the beautiful designs on them; to this day I still have several of her plates & rice bowls. Before we'd go home, we'd stop in Fugetso-do to purchase various mochi to take home."

Jenny Cook says:
"I love Rafu Bussan. I've been buying my MAC knives there for years. The woman in charge remembers me most times and recalls my restaurant. The knives are kept behind glass, and I covet them the minute I walk in. The knives are exquisite, lightweight and hold an edge very well. My other favorite place is Kinokuniya bookstore. I have a crazy crush on the Celebrity Circus Manga series and their collection of WASHI tape is the best in town. I've found interesting cookbooks too."

Bill Watanabe says:
"My father's father came to Los Angeles in the early 1900s -- when Little Tokyo was just beginning its booming growth from a handful of Japanese to thousands of new immigrants. I like to think, though I don't know for sure, that he once stood on the corner of First Street and San Pedro Street, looking at the buildings of the historic district of Little Tokyo (many of which are still standing).

"My father came to America in 1920. He and my mother used to bring me and my brother to Little Tokyo to do shopping and get a haircut from an old friend in the 1950s. My parents would make the rounds with my brother and I in tow -- talking or doing business in Japanese with Jack Kuramoto the mechanic, Mr. Saito the barber, buying shoes at Asahi Shoe Store, filling prescriptions at Kyodo Drugs, and of course buying groceries at Modern Food Mart.

"Though we lived in what was the rural farming area of the San Fernando Valley, coming regularly to Little Tokyo was like living in an extended neighborhood -- familiar, friendly, and fun. Though many years have passed since these days of my recollection, I am hoping that Little Tokyo will always retain these elements of cultural community, familiarity, friendliness, and fun."
Bill Watanabe explains the history of the Kawasaki Building. Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa

Freddie Parra says:
"Growing up in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles during the early 1950s was a lot of fun. Japanese American and Mexican American children played together in the alleys across the street from the hotels and apartments on Azusa Street, where I lived. We oversaw the garage's roof looking out the window. The address to the hotel was on the other end of the long hallway: 330 East 2nd Street. My mother for the longest time referred to where we lived as "El Three Thirty."

"When buildings started being demolished, the local children would play in the piles of dirt left in the process. In the alleys were often parked empty train cargo cars that we would climb and play on top of. There were juice factories from wherein we would surreptitiously take carrots and eat them on occasion. In short there was a lot to do in the area. We would run around the Koyasan Buddhist temple where judo and karate tournaments were held.

"There was Mr. Kane whose real name was Mr. Boudine, an elderly gentleman who lived alone in the hotel next to ours. He brought the evening Herald to my father after he had read it. Each Christmas he brought two hand bags of fruit from Grand Central Market. Along with the fruit he would bring me a stack of used comics which I would later trade with Yutaka. Yutaka continued to read comics into his adult years. I kept in contact with Mr. Kane well into the 1960s."

Departures: Little Tokyo explores the social and cultural history of the historic Japanese-American neighborhood. Through interviews, photos, and essays, it will trace the narrative from its beginnings with issei pioneers to its future as a major transportation hub, and provide an impressionistic portrait of the community.


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