Experiencing Japan without crossing the Pacific is in Little Tokyo. I discovered this district recently and I loved it! So much history and culture to discover here.
The history of this district is twisted in the WorldHistory and I comprehended the role of some Japanese Americans soldiers during World War II at the Go for Broke Monument. On a lighter note, I appreciated contemporary art at The Geffen Contemporary MOCA followed by Zen areas with James Irvine Japanese Garden and the Double Tree’s Kyoto Gardens. I continued my Japanese immersion with a delicious lunch and some shopping at the Japanese Village Plaza.
A pinch of history
- The settlement of Japanese immigrants started in the early 20th century.
- With more than 35,000 inhabitants, it was the largest Japanese community in the United States before WWII.
- As the U.S.A. declared war on Japan, Japanese Americans were sent to detention camps.
- From 1942 to 1945, Little Tokyo was renamed Bronzeville and African Americans settled and worked in wartime operations.
- At the end of the war, the Japanese community reestablished in Little Tokyo.
Go for Broke Monument
Never Forget. The Go for Broke Monument is a tribute to the Nisei warriors during the World War II. They were Japanese Americans soldiers who fought bravery under the Stars and Stripes flag. Most of them were sons of the first-generation immigrants, born and raised in Hawaii.
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and war climate led to anti-Japanese sentiments. Nevertheless, the 100th Infantry Battalion (motto: “Remember Pearl Harbor”) and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (motto: “Go for Broke”) were activated respectively in 1942 and 1943, as they demonstrated excellent performance. Deployed in Europe, they were driven to prove their loyalty to the United States. There are recognized “as the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military.” [Source: Go for Broke National Education Center]. These regiments were made only of Japanese Americans.
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
The Geffen Contemporary is one of the three Museum Of Contemporary Art (MOCA) museums in Los Angeles. It’s located in a former police car warehouse just next to the Go for Broke Monument.
The current exhibition we discovered (on view from October, 22nd 2017 to May, 13th 2018) was “Adrián Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance.” We entered a room with dark-blue walls and no lights. In this obscure environment, we navigated between the pieces of art. Some of them are displayed in food fridges displays with its artificial glow, others are not exposed to light. Don’t be surprised to see visitors using their phone to discover them. Well, it’s difficult to explain this exhibit but I would say it’s the expression of a mix of reality and space (past and future).
Out of the blue, Japanese Garden in Little Tokyo District! I knew you’ll be surprised!
The Double Tree’s Kyoto Gardens
This “secret” garden is nestled on the Hilton Double Tree Hotel’s rooftop (well not technically its rooftop, probably the 2/3 floor, but let the magic operate anyway). Protected from Downtown’s energy, this place is calm and serene. We were alone in to explore this two-level garden. After, we sat on the patio to relax listening to the main waterfall and appreciating this green environment.
James Irvine Japanese Garden
This little garden was hosting a wedding so we were not welcomed to enter. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it from the top and it sounds pretty peaceful.
Japanese American National Museum
If you want to learn more about Japanese Americans’ history and culture, this museum is for you!
Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial
This one-tenth-scale model of the Challenger has been erected in remembrance of Japanese American Ellison S. Onizuka. He perished along with six astronauts when the shuttle disintegrated after launch in January 1986.
Little Tokyo’s Public and Street Art
Walking in Little Tokyo is also great to discover Public and Street Art.
Lunchtime: Eat local
Re-discovering Japanese culture via its cuisine is just delicious. We started by savoring ramen at the Mikawaya restaurant. It’s a small and busy place but it totally worth it! For the desert, we went a few doorsteps down to Fugetsu-Do Confectioners. This family business has operated since 1903! Perfect to have mochi and others Japanese sweets. Mochi are soft and sweat, from traditional to modern flavors, there is a large choice. We tasted the chestnut Manju, the blueberry mochi, and the strawberry mocha. Miam, Miam!
Shopping at Japanese Village Plaza
Leaving Little Tokyo without shopping? Are you insane? It’s probably one of the most iconic activities. I LOVED it! You have various shops in the Japanese Village Plaza from anime culture to beauty products. Take a step in and you’ll be boosted in this Japanese universe. One of the funny parts was to discover the American Hello Kittie: Hello Kittie hamburger bag or Hello Kitty supporting L.A. baseball team.
Sounds like a day in Japan?
- For The Double Tree’s Kyoto Gardens, feel free to enter the hotel, cross the reception and go directly to the elevator level “G” like garden. If you’re not adventurous there is another entry via Little Tokyo Weller Court.
- Put your name on the list for the Daikokuya restaurant, check your position and estimate your wait so you can enjoy the Japanese Village Plaza in the meantime. Except of course if you want to wait outside for 1 hour…Be careful, if you’re no show, you’ll lose. [Cash only!]
- For more information on Little Tokyo, check the visitor center.