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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Gardena, the South Bay's City of Opportunity

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 8, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment

A typical street in Gardena with strong Japanese character

This here entry’s about Gardena. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 

Gardena (in Japanese, ガーデナ; in Korean, 가데나 ) is located in the South Bay or South LA region, depending on your definition. It's a bit odd to consider it South Bay, since it's not on the water. However, there's a perception that it's unlike the rest of South LA, which is erroneously thought of as being much more homogenous than it is.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Gardena

surrounded by the slender Harbor Gateway to the east and south, Torrance to the southwest, Hawthorne to the northwest, West Athens to the north, and Alondra Park to the west. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (and on account of it being voted for by readers), I took the CARDIS on a trip, joined by first time traveling companions Matt and Cheryl. We got some eats (‘n’ drinks) at Azuma and Furaibo, some groceries and goods at Marukai, and deeply inhaled the strawberry scented (and hot) air in Sanrio Surprises.

  
                                    Rancho San Pedro                                                          William Starke Rosecrans

In 1784, a Spaniard, Juan José Dominguez, was given a portion of land in reward for his military service which was named Rancho San Pedro in what was formerly a Tongva hunting and fishing area. Anyway, it passed into the hands of the Mexicans afterward, and ultimately was taken by the US. The first Anglo settler was mostly a Civil War veteran, Ohioan William Starke Rosecrans, who established Rosecrans Rancho there in 1869. In 1887, he was followed by another veteran, Kentuckian Spencer R. Thorpe. The name "Gardena" is said to have been proposed by Thorpe's daugher, Nettie.

  

That year, a railway line to Gardena was established and over the next couple of years, many more Anglos came to ranch and farm in the area.


Los Angeles and Redondo Railway

In 1904, Englishman John Bodger established Sweet Pea Farm in the town, then home to 1,000 residents. Another large portion of the farmers and gardeners were Japanese who'd mostly arrived from Hawaii.


Due to the acres of berry farms, the city was nicknamed "Berryland" and there used to be an annual Strawberry Day Festival and Parade. Although the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel fed the area and gave it its green character, it was filled in in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gardena today still boasts several nurseries and parks that reflect its past. Gardena [along with the neighboring communities of Strawberry Park (to the northwest) and Moneta (to the south)] was incorporated into the City of Gardena in 1930.


Japanese-Americans have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Torrance, Boyle Heights, Monterey ParkPasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach and Sawtelle, and Gardena (although, as far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka).


Gardena Buddhist Church

In 1911, the Japanese Association founded the Moneta Japanese Institute. After the end of Japanese internment, many J-towns disappeared, but in Gardena, many Japanese-Americans returned to their former home after regaining their freedom. In the 1970s and '80s, Gardena saw a massive influx of even more Japanese. Today, at over 60,000 residents, Gardena still has a strong Japanese and Pacific Islander presence, making up roughly 27% of the population. Gardena is also approximately 25% black, 12% white and 32% Latino. Mexican and Japanese are the main ethnicities.


Tozai Shopping Center

Gardena is widely known for its Japanese food but, as this list of Gardena eateries suggests, there is a variety to be found at joints and there are a lot of Korean eateries, Hawaiian joints and BBQ places. Some of the better known restaurants and other food-related places include Azuma, Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi, Ahsah, Ana's La Gran Fonda, California Fish Grill, Jay-Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que, Kanpachi, Rascals Teriyaki Grill, Kau Kau Korner, Sushi Boy, Kiraku Ramen, El Rocoto, California 90, Pho Gardena, Pho So 1, Pho Long, Sakuraya, Meiji Tofu, Chikara Mochi, Giuliano's, Sakae Sushi, Polla a la Brasa, MamMoth Bakery, Jade's Bakery, La Villa, Bruddah's, Spoonhouse Bakery, Otafuku, Sea Empress, California Rice Center, Umemura, Daruma Izakaya, Akane Chaya, Kotohira, Classic Burger, Old Time Noodle House, Furaibo, Burnt Tortilla, Rainbow Donuts, A Taste of Jamaica, Fish City, Big Star Cafe, Tokyo Grill, Tottino's, La Perla and the Murakai Supermarket.


Pacific Garden Mall  


...and yes, the Pacific Garden Hotel for the overnight shopper

Today, much of Gardena's character remains, not surprisingly, green and Japanese, as evinced by Sanrio Surprise, Hide's Shiatsu, Pacific Square Shopping Center, Tozai Shopping Center, Masfukai Park and the Gardena Buddhist Church (established in 1926).

Nightlife in evidence takes place mostly at bars like Club Momo, Gaku, Moa, Wild Card, Yes, The Desert Room, Club Diva, The Aloha Room, Celeb, Ray's Place, Marty's and A Sung. Of course, there's karaoke at 501 Music Studio, Suzuran, Donna's, Fantasia, Daruma Izakaya and Sing Sing, for those interested in checking out the local music scene.


The most famous musician born in Gardena is not an aspiring karaoke singer, but rather noted jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. In other Jazz-in-Gardena news, in August the city hosts The Gardena Jazz Festival. The only rock band that I know of from Gardena is The Pretty Kittens, an all-girl rock band in the 1960s.


And although Bookoff is mostly about books (with a huge Manga section), they also had a pretty impressive selection of Japanese Dramas and film, as well as a bafflingly organized music selection. Even Matt, a librarian by trade, could not figure out the system, but we did eventually find the Judy and Mary CD we were looking for. As Cheryl was rung up, the cashier put her money in bowl and said something in Japanese. Cheryl nodded although none of us understood what was going on.






Amoeba Hollywood boasts a pretty impressive collection of Japanese Cinema but nothing compared to the rental store Video Japan. As Cheryl perused the horror films (note to Cheryl: High School Killer), Matt waxed philosophical about Japanese actress Sora Aoi.


Gardena’s been a shooting location for several films. For the years it existed, The Ascot Park Speedway was featured in films quite often, appearing in Roar of the Crowd; the Bowery Boys film, Jalopy; the Elvis film, Spinout; as well as the Jack Hill film, Pit Stop; Gone in 60 Seconds; A Very Brady Christmas; and an episode of CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. It was closed in the 1990s and fewer films have been shot in Gardena ever since.


Gardena Boulevard back in the day

Other film locations include the Marine/Redondo Green Line station, which was seen in Heat, and The Pet Haven Cemetary & Crematory served as The Happier Hunting Grounds in The Loved One. H.B. Halicki was obviously a fan of Gardena. He premiered Gone in 60 Seconds and also filmed portions of The Junkman there. Gardena was also featured in Ed Wood, Mulholland Dr., Run if You Can, Money to Burn, The Abominable..., Fragments (aka Winged Creatures), the Deborah Gibson vehicle Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, The Grind, Flossin and Palmer Chandler's Kitchen Catastrophes. Actor Toby Holguin was born in Gardena. Gardena has been featured on TV a couple of times, once an episode of Hot Rod TV and once on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which featured Jay-Bee's in the episode "Real Deal BBQ." One of the radio station call-ins in CB4 was from a listener in Gardena too.



*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Tokyo

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 5, 2010 01:12pm | Post a Comment
This blog entry is about the Los Angeles neighborhood of Little Tokyo. To vote for other neighborhoods to be the subject of a blog entry, click here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


Little Tokyo Village Plaza

INTRODUCTION TO LITTLE TOKYO



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Tokyo


Little Tokyo (or 小東京) is a small neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles. It's generally considered to be bordered on the west by Los Angeles Street, on the east by Alameda Street, on the south by Third Street, and on the north by First Street.




Little Tokyo is bordered by the Boyle Heights to the east, Civic Center to the north, the Financial District to the west, and Skid Row, the Toy District and the Arts District to the south. As with many neighborhoods in the Los Angeles, the borders of Little Tokyo aren’t officially designated. It used to be considerably larger and there remain many vestiges of the neighborhood’s more expansive past beyond the current boundaries.


Little Tokyo Shopping Center - not part of Little Toyko according to some
 
Lying outside, but within a few blocks of, Little Tokyo are Aikido-Aikibujutsu, City Cat Karaoke Studio, Fugetsu-Do, Ginza-Ya Bakery, Hana Ichimonme Restaurant, Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Izakaya Honda-Ya Japanese Restaurant, Issendoki, Japan Arcade, Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society, Japanese Swordsmanship, Jodo Shu North American Buddhist, Kaigenro USA, Kato’s Sewing Machine, Kuragami Plant Boutique, LA Japanese Auto, Little Tokyo Car Wash, Little Toyko Cosmetics, the Little Toyko Library, Maryknoll Japanese Catholic, Mifune, Mikawaya, the former Mitsuwa Marketplace, Niitakaya USA Inc, Nishi Hongwanji Child Development, Shojin, Morten's beloved Sushi Go 55, Tajimi Pottery USA, Utsuwa-No-Yakata and Zenshuji Soto Mission.

 
Today, as the Little Tokyo's Japanese-American population continues to age and dwindle in number, many have expressed concern about the possibility of the neighborhood losing its long-standing, historically Japanese character. That could happen, although Little Tokyo, like all LA neighborhoods, has undergone many demographic changes throughout its history. Regardless of the current and future make-up of the neighborhood’s visitors, residents and business owners, for the time being, Little Tokyo's Japanese-American character remains vibrant and rumors of the neighborhood's demise seem comically premature. Although it may not be the draw for Japanese immigrants that it once was, at the very least it remains the cultural heart of the city's Japanese-American culture and one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city.
 
EARLY HISTORY OF LITTLE TOKYO

The area now designated Little Tokyo in the past passed from the Tongva to the Spaniards to the Mexicans. After the US took over, many Chinese workers moved to the state of California. At the height of anti-Chinese racist sentiment, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. As a result, many Japanese immigrated to the state to fill the void and many of the new arrivals settled in the eastern portion of downtown Los Angeles that soon became known as Little Tokyo.

 

Accounts about the beginnings of Little Tokyo are hard to verify. According to one account, two Japanese, T. Kamo and I. Nosaka, immigrated to the area in 1869. A restaurant, Charlie Hama's, was said to have been opened by a former seaman, Hamanosuke Shigeta, at 340 East First Street. According to another account, Shigeta's establishment was actually on Jackson Street and opened in 1885. Another version of the story claims that the first Japanese-American business was a small restaurant near First and Los Angeles Street operated by another ex-seaman, known as Kame. Sorting out reality seems about as likely as figuring out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. Suffice it to say, some Japanese restaurants may have opened in the 1880s and were run, perhaps, by Japanese ex-seamen.


East First Street

    East Second Street

Almost immediately after the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants, the Japanese began to assert themselves. The Japanese Association of Los Angeles was formed in the neighborhood around 1890. In 1903, Rafu Shimpo, the first Japanese newspaper founded outside of Japan, was established. By 1905, the area was commonly referred to as "Little Tokyo." After the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, many Bay Area Japanese moved to Little Tokyo and across the river in Boyle Heights. 1907 was the peak year for Japanese immigration to the US, with 30,000 crossing the Pacific that year alone. By 1908, there were over forty Japanese-owned businesses along the two block stretch on First Street between Los Angeles Street an Central Avenue. Reflecting the changing demographic, in 1911, the Hotel Empire became Little Tokyo Hotel

  
     First AME Church Apostolic Faith Mission           S.K.Uyeda Building                                   Yamato Hall

Little Tokyo has never been a homogenous neighborhood. In Little Tokyo's early years, there were also large numbers of Chinese, black and white residents as well. The latter two peoples were central to the birth of pentecostalism in the neighborhood, at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church Apostolic Faith Mission, founded in 1888. In 1906, at the Azsua Street Revival, 1,500 nutters jammed into a what was essentially a wooden barn to be baptized by the Holy Ghost. Black preacher William Joseph Seymour and his white counterpart, Hiram Smith, preached about hellfire whilst musicians in the congregation banged on cows' ribs, played washboards and clacked thimbles. At one such revival, their congregation even included no less a hoity-toity character than Arabella Huntington, who was chauffeured all the way from posh San Marino. By 1909, racial tensions divided the formerly harmonious congregation and they split. The building was ultimately demolished in 1931.

 
                         Japanese Union Church                                                               Little Tokyo Street Scene

Alarmed by increasing numbers of non-Chinese Asians, the Asian Exclusion Act was signed in 1924. By that time, the area on both sides of the LA River was home to about 30,000 Japanese-Americans. In Little Tokyo's early days, most of the shops were clustered along East First Street. On the other hand, Central Avenue was home to many vegetable markets. Today, First Street  continues to be the main commercial corridor and the sidewalk features a timeline of important dates in Japanese-American history as well as the names of past businesses that occupied the buildings.

          Japanese-Americans rounded up onto trains                      Interred Japanese-Americans   
                                             
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI raided Issei associations for evidence of disloyalty. Even though to this day not one case of espionage has ever been proven against any Japanese-American, at the time roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and shipped to concentration camps. Following their forced removal, roughly 40,000 black and Native Angelenos moved to the then vacant Little Tokyo and the neighborhood became known for several years as Bronzeville.

   Kiichi Uyeda (right) returns to Little Tokyo, then Bronzeville

 
When the Japanese internment ended, the neighborhood once again reverted to being a Japanese-American enclave, albeit on a much smaller scale. At that point, most Japanese-Americans instead chose to move to neighborhoods like Pasadena (rather than the historically Japanese neighborhoods in Boyle Heights, Compton, GardenaLong Beach, Little Osaka/Sawtelle, Monterey ParkSan Pedro and Torrance). As Japanese-Americans moved outside traditional ethnic enclaves, the number of officially designated J-Towns dropped from 43 to just three today (the other two being in San Franciso and San Jose). In Little Tokyo, the LTBA re-emerged to help develop and revitalize the neighborhood. Another group, the Los Angeles Japanese American Association, formed in 1947 to help protect Japanese-Americans from racially motivated discrimination and abuse. 


The David Hyun-designed Yaguro Tower and Little Tokyo Plaza

 
 
REVITALIZATION OF LITTLE TOKYO

For many years, Little Tokyo stagnated. In 1970, however, the seven-block, sixty-seven acre core of Little Tokyo was designated the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Project Area. By the late '70s, as the Japanese economy grew, several new banks, shopping plazas and hotels opened in Little Tokyo, bolstered by overseas investment, and the area began to revive. In 1978, the iconic Yagura Tower (aka The Japanese Village Plaza Fire Tower) was built as part of the revitalization effort. Due in part to the internment, the Japanese American community was highly politicized. Thus, even though Little Tokyo's Japanese residents continue to decrease in number, the community has preserved the Japanese character of the neighborhood as a tourist attraction, community center and shopping area. In 1986, Japanese-American community activists established First Street as a historic district. In 1995, Little Tokyo was declared a National Historic Landmark District.
 

Nishi Hongwanji Temple





Higashi Honganji


Zenshuji Temple





Koyasan Temple

CHARACTER OF LITTLE TOKYO

Unlike most of Los Angeles’ other ethnic neighborhoods, the Little Tokyo physically reflects the neighborhood’s longtime residents' background in its architecture. Though not limited to religious structures, it can be seen in Higashi Honganji, Jodo Shinshu, Koyasan Buddhist Temple, Nishi Honganji, Shingon, Soto Zen Temple and the Zenshuji Soto Mission.
 
 
Ellison S. Onizuka  
                                                                                   
 
Statue of Kinjiro Ninomiya

Besides the neighborhood's architecture, the Japanese character of Little Tokyo is evinced by the many monuments to Japanese-Americans, including a monument to astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, a mission specialist who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Weller Street, formerly a stagecoach road from the Wilmington Harbor, was renamed Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street in his memory -- even though such a designation exceeds the city's sixteen letter street name limit. There's also a monument called Righteous Among the Nations in honor of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul to Lithuania before WWII. The Go For Broke monument commemorates Japanese-Americans who served in the US military during World War II, despite the extreme racial prejudice they faced. There's also a statue of philosopher Kinjiro Ninomiya. In addition, there's the highly suggestive Friendship Nod and many other works of public art as well.


Seiryu-en  
                                                                    
Kyoto Hotel Gardens  

Union Church Garden
 
Befitting a Japanese neighborhood, there are two lovely public Japanese gardens in the neighborhood -- the James Irvine Japanese Garden Seiryu-en and the rooftop garden in the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens (formerly the New Otani). In addition, there are many impressive private gardens within the neighborhood that one can stare at appreciatively through fences.


KOREANIZATION OF LITTLE TOKYO
 
Many Angelenos have experienced paranoia about growing numbers of Koreans in the city and their perceived takeover of neighborhoods in the city. Using the announcement of the Rodney King verdict as an excuse, 40% of stores looted in South Los Angeles were Korean-owned. Online, some Midtown residents occasionally froth at the mouth when their historically white enclaves are accidentally referred to as being part of Koreatown. In 2009, when Mitsuwa Marketplace (the first and largest Japanese market in California) was purchased by Korean owners (and changed to Little Tokyo Marketplace), the response of many suggested the loss of a loved one rather than an ownership change. For the record, the Korean owners still stock Japanese products and in addition, there's still Marukai Market and Nijiya Market.
 
With the presence of more Koreans in the neighborhood has come an increasingly Korean character. On a leisurely stroll through Little Tokyo, one encounters large numbers of Koreans and passes numerous Korean businesses such as Zip Fusion, Han's Bibimbap, Keunsub Yun, Ko Hang Kim Bob, Korean Kitchen, Hankook Barbecue, Ock Sul Sun Sik USA Corporation, Park Je Myeong, Pinkberry, Sohoju and Tofu Village. While their presence may be bemoaned by a segment of authenticity-obsessed Nipponophiles and cultural watchdogs (presumably ones who don’t live in the neighborhood), Koreans actually have significant ties to the neighborhood that stretch back decades and, following a decrease in overseas investments from Japan, the Koreans have done more than anyone else to invigorate the neighborhood. Even the Japanese Village Fire Tower, the symbol for many of Little Tokyo, was designed by David Hyun.

 Little Tokyo Towers

Not that there hasn’t been tension between Japanese and Korean residents. Japan, after all, is home of the Hate Korea Wave. When the growing Korean Angeleno population began reaching retirement age, many found themselves crowded out of nearby Koreatown and moved into the historically Japanese-dominated Little Tokyo Towers. Today, a third of the residents in the towers are Korean. But tensions have been eased largely due to the respectful efforts of the new population. Residents of the towers created a Korean-and-Japanese bilingual newsletter called Bridges. Korean residents also purchased a karaoke machine for the building, graciously adding 2,500 Japanese songs. A Good Neighbors committee was created specifically to dispense helpful hints to Koreans to help avoid conflict, with tips including not leaving kimchi jars in the hallways.
 
Outside the towers and around the neighborhood at large, many Korean business owners have also done their best to respect the Japanese character of Little Tokyo whilst necessarily accommodating the changing population, adding American, Chinese and Mexican items to their shelves. In 2008, the Jana Korea Society put on the Harmony Concert, at Union Church, which featured both Japanese and Korean music and dance.
The latest example of Korean-Japanese bridge-building is the Little Tokyo Korea Japan Festival, a joint production of The Korean Cultural Center, The Japan Foundation and the Japan Korea Society. On February 6th, 2010 they're showing Hun Jang's Kim Ki-Duk-penned film Rough Cut. There's also a documentary about Little Tokyo called New Beginnings: Cultural Harmony in Little Tokyo and the 2007 remake of Tsubaki Sanjuro. The event also is also scheduled to include live performances and is to be hosted by Asian-American actorsJames Kyson Lee (Heroes, Asian Stories (Book 3)) and Eriko Tamura (Heroes, Reaper). 


Kitsch and Haiku


View of First Street
 
HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN LITTLE TOKYO

Although the internment was the biggest blow to the Japanese character of Little Tokyo, as early as the 1930s Issei merchants began expressing worry that English-speaking Nisei were increasingly favoring nearby hakujin stores and turning their backs on their heritage. As a result, in 1934, the Downtown Japanese American Citizens League started the Nisei Week Festival, still held every August in the neighborhood.

 
                                          Obon                                                                Little Tokyo Community Mochitsuki

In addition to Nisei Week, there are (or have been till recently) many other cultural expressions of Japanese culture in the neighborhood. From 1995 to 2007, the Los Angeles Tofu Festival was held in the neighborhood. Hinamatsuri is still celebrated every year, as is the Little Tokyo Concert & Food Fair every June. In the summer, Obon festivals continue to happen. In December the Little Tokyo Community Mochitsuki is still widely observed.

 

JAPANESE RESTAURANTS


In fact, despite the concerns about the supposedly vanishing character of Little Tokyo, it is still very much represented by the incredible number Japanese restaurants, including Aoi Restaurant, Azalea, Curry House, Daikokuya, Daisuke Japanese, East, Ebisu Japanese Tavern, Frying Fish, Furaibo, Garden Grill, Gaya Tofu BBQ, Hama Sushi, Hanabishi, Hata Restaurant, Ichiban-Tokyo, Izakaya Haru Ulala, Izayoi, Joy Mart Restaurant, Kagaya, Kani Mura, Kappo Ishito, Orion's beloved Kouraku, Koshiji, Kushi Shabu, Kushinobo, Maguro-Tei, Mako Sushi, Matsuki Japanese Noodle, Mitsuru Sushi & Grill, Mr. Ramen, Oiwake, Oomasa, Ngoc's beloved Orochon Ramen, Reikai's Kitchen, Restaurant Imai, Restaurant Yutaka, Rokudan of Kobe, S & W Little Tokyo Ice Cream, San Sui Tei, Senka Café, Shabu Shabu House, Suehiro Café, Sushi Gen, Sushi Imai, Sushi Komasa, Sushi Teri, Takumi Restaurant, Tamon, Teishokuya of Tokyo, Tenno Sushi, Thousand Cranes, Tokyo Café, Toshi Sushi, Tot, Usui, Wakasaya, Yagura Ichiban, Yakitori Koshiji, Yamazaki Bakery, Yatai Japanese Kitchen,Yomochan, Zakuro Shabu Shabu and ZenCu

Fugetsu-do  
 
Mikawaya

One such establishment, Fugetsu-do (which claims to be the birthplace of the fortune cookie), was founded in 1903 and today is the oldest still-operating food establishment in the Los Angeles. Another, Mikawaya, was founded in 1910, is still in operation and is well known for having introduced mochi to the US in 1994.


(Sorry for the blurriness)





LITTLE TOKYO VS. LITTLE OSAKA

Although overall Little Tokyo seems more buttoned down and less hip, less kawaii and and less otaku than Little Osaka, being a much larger neighborhood it displays far greater diversity and is not without its share of youth-oriented businesses, as evidenced by the Little Tokyo establishments above.

 Señor Fish

DIVERSITY IN LITTLE TOKYO

Little Tokyo is still fairly diverse, in spite of the preponderance of Japanese and Korean establishments. In addition to the many Korean and Japanese restaurants in the tiny neighborhood, there's Aloha Café, Azalea Restaurant & Bar, Cafe Cuba Central, Cafe Take 5, Capperi Restorante, Cefiore, Chin-Ma-Ya of Tokyo, Green Bamboo, Pho 21, Spitz, 2nd Street Café, Senor Fish, Tapas and Wine Bar, Via Dolce Café, Lars's beloved Weiland and Wok Inn... and honestly way more than I care to mention.



 
 
SHOPPING IN LITTLE TOKYO

Little Tokyo has several shopping areas that boast a large number of Japanese establishments including Weller Court, the Japanese Village Plaza, Honda Plaza and the Little Tokyo Shopping Plaza.


Little Tokyo Shopping Plaza  

 Little Tokyo Mall

ART IN LITTLE TOKYO

Japanese culture has long been recognized for the way art infuses so many aspects of their culture. In Little Tokyo, shopping centers and even apartments are no exception. Right now, Heisuke Kitazawa (aka PCP) has examples of his art installed at Weller Court. Nearby, Nancy Uyemura's piece, Harmony, is a permanent fixture at Casa Heiwa.

Heisuke Kitazawa art at Weller Court   

Nancy Uyemura's piece, Harmony, at Casa Heiwa

In the shopping areas there are stores like Kinokuniya and Video Paradise that specialize in Japanese-language videos and DVDs -- ones that you would be hard pressed to find, even in Amoeba's healthy Japanese DVD section. However, at Little Tokyo stores, many of the DVDs are NTSC-2 and the majority probably don't have English subtitles.




VIDEO GAMES

Other shops and arcades in Little Tokyo carry and specialize in hard-to-find Japanese video games that you can't even find at Amoeba! The exceptional Little Tokyo Arcade is no exception.

JACCC  
                         

Japanese American National Museum  
               

East West Players

MUSEUMS AND THEATER

There are many theaters in and museums focused on Japanese-American, Pan-Asian and Asian-American culture in the neighborhood, including the aforementioned Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum and East West Players. The horribly-named ImaginAsian Center opened in December, 2007, one of the first movie theaters to show mostly Asian films since the 2001 closing of the Garfield Theater in Alhambra. It closed after a couple years of operation. 

  
                                       Tsuru Aoki                                                                                  Sessue Hayakawa


LITTLE TOKYO AND FILM

Tsuru Aoki began her acting career on Toyo Fujita's stage in Little Toyko where she and Sessue Hayakawa often acted sided by side before and after marrying in 1914. After being noticed by Thomas H. Ince, he placed her under contract. With a debut film performance in 1913's The Oath of Tsuru San, she became one of the first Asian-Americans to appear on silent screen. It was at her recommendation that Thomas H. Ince returned to the theater to attend a production of The Typhoon. Afterward he offered its star, Hayakawa, a movie contract which led to his becoming the first Asian-American superstar in Silent Film.
 
  

The easily recognizable Japanese Village Plaza Fire Tower featured in a scene in Brother (2000) where Takeshi Kitano’s Yamamoto and Susumu Terajima’s Kato memorably try to forge an alliance with the strikingly handsome Masaya Kato’s Shirase – the yakuza boss of Little Tokyo. Other films shot in part or in whole in Little Tokyo include Solar Crisis (1990), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), The Bodyguard (1992), Talk to Taka (2000), American Yume (2002), Girl with Gun (2006), MobiUS: A Little Tokyo Ghost Story (2009) and Sakura (2009).

 
 A sad looking dog in Little Tokyo
           

*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Osaka, the Westside's J-Town

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 10, 2009 11:09pm | Post a Comment



This Los Angeles neighborhood blog entry is about Little Osaka. To vote for another neighborhood(s) to be covered here on the blog, click here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community(ies) to be covered, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Westside

Japanese-Americans
have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Gardena, Torrance, Boyle Heights, Pasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach, Monterey Park and Sawtelle. As far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka. The former is a well known spot downtown.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Osaka

The latter is a small district along Sawtelle Boulevard between Nebraska and Tennessee in the Sawtelle neighborhood (and former municipality) favored by Nisei, foodies, otaku, hentai, nipponophiles. With the rainy season just beginning, my ex-roomie Shimbles and I set out to explore the neighborhood.

From around 400 BCE till the arrival of the Spanish, the area around what's today Little Osaka was known to the Tongva as Kuruvunga. In 1896, a neighborhood sprang up known as Barrett. The US postal service objected to the name, on account of its similarity to Bassett. In 1899, the name was changed to Sawtelle. In 1918, Sawtelle became part of Los Angeles. By the '10s, the area was largely populated by Japanese-Americans and the neighborhood was often referred to as "Soteru." From 1920 to '25, the population of Sawtelle grew rapidly, from 3,500 to 10,700.





In the 1920s and 30s, what's now Little Osaka (小大阪) was dominated by Nikkei-run nurseries which mostly served wealthy, white westsiders, although Sawtelle homes themselves often display more thoughtful landscaping than those in average neighborhoods. In 1931, a group of Japanese planted a Japanese garden (designed by Koichi Kawana) in Sawtelle's Stoner Park "for the promotion of better understanding." By 1941, there were 26 nurseries in the area. When Japanese-Americans were unjustly interred during World War II, the neighborhood went into decline. Today there are three nurseries remaining in Little Osaka; The Jungle, Hashimoto and Yamaguchi Bonsai.


Lianne Lin's I <3 Sawtelle

In the '20s, the large Kobayakawa Boarding House was built by Riichi Ishioka on Sawtelle Blvd, housing up to 60 people at a time. It remained in operation until the 1970s. When Japanese-Americans returned to the neighborhood after the war, Sawtelle Gakuin's auditorium was converted to a hostel. In 1946, Toshikazu "Tom" and Midori Yamaguchi opened the store Yamaguchi, a beloved institution in the neighborhood. Yamas remained in business until 2006, when their sons, Henry and Jack, sold it. In the late '80s, many of the existing buildings were destroyed to make way for strip malls and offices. In the '90s, the area began to bustle again, perhaps initially because authenticity-oriented foodies discovered the neighborhood's Japanese-American restaurants. Although most of the pre-war character of the neighborhood was by then erased, the JA character remained and the area began to be referred to as Little Osaka.



There are still multiple sushi, curry and noodle joints -- among others. I suspect the neighborhood may've acquired its nickname (instead of, say, Little Yokohama) because of how densely populated with eateries it is. Big Ōsaka, after all, is the city of kuidaore ("to become poor as a result of one's extravagance in eating and drinking"). Being a cold, rainy day, I had some extra hot curry and sake to warm myself from the inside out. Afterward we stopped by Beard Papa's, a chain founded in the original Ōsaka. I ate the brand new Cookie Crunch Puff. Although my sweet tooth is dwarfed by my bitter, salty, sour, spicy and umami teeth, it was delicious.


There haven't been any films shot in Little Osaka that I know of, except for a couple of short youtube docs, the area does have a connection to Japanese film. First it should be said that Amoeba has a very large selection of Japanese films -- one of the best in the city. However, if you can't find a Japanese movie at Amoeba, there's a good chance they have it at Video Addict, although probably without English subtitles.




Giant Robot
was started in 1994 by Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong as a magazine covering Asian and Asian-American pop culture. It not only filled a void in the publishing world, but its subject matter, its humor, attitude, observation and insight also made it one of the greatest magazines, period. They opened their first store in 2001, in Little Osaka. A few years later, they opened the art gallery, G2. We checked out the Post-It Show.

 


There are a lot of clothing joints in the neighborhood. As with the world outside of Milan, there are many more options for the ladies than the gents. And for the gents, most of the choices are kawaii t-shirts and outfits you'd see on kids in a jerk video.




As we left Little Osaka, we crossed Nebraska and saw this creepy Brujeria omen...



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