Welcome to the Little Tokyo Blog

We've set up this space where members of the Little Tokyo community could share information, thoughts, ideas, and opinions about the Little Tokyo neighborhood, it's people, politics, culture/history, businesses, and events.


Toyo Miyatake's camera

Along First Street on the sidewalk in front of the old Nishi Hongwanji building that is now part of the Japanese American National Museum is a wooden box on a tripod that looks like an old style camera.

I work in Little Tokyo and I often see people looking at the box trying to figure out what it is. Do you know?


When the Japanese American National Museum was built (the Nishi Hongwanji building was the original site of the museum before the new pavilion was constructed), the camera box was added as an interactive piece. It projected photos taken by Little Tokyo legend, Toyo Miyatake, on to the wall of the building. It doesn't do that anymore, but there is a sign in the window that gives a full explanation of the piece that I've typed up here:


First-generation Japanese American photographer Toyo Miyatake (1895) opened his photography studio in Little Tokyo in 1923 and spent the rest of his life documenting his community's life on film. When Miyatake, his family and 120,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II, Miyatake bravely smuggled a camera lens and a film plate, considered contraband, into the Manzanar concentration camp in California. Using a secretly-constructed camera, he captured everyday life in Manzanar.

Artist Nobuho Nagasawa created a three-times-as-large bronze replica of the Miyatake camera in homage to Toyo Miyatake. The sculpture projects slides of Miyatake's work onto a window of the Japanese American National Museum each evening. This sculpture was commissioned by the Community Redevelopment Agency and was first installed in 1993.


Location of Toyo Miyatake's camera:

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Little Tokyo Is Home

I should first mention that I have no fond childhood memories of Little Tokyo. In fact, I have no childhood memories of Little Tokyo, because I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. But there was moment in my life when I realized that I was "homeless" or missing a sense of ethnic community. So I drove out to Los Angeles in my 1983 Toyota with all my worldly possessions to accept a job with a non-profit organization in Little Tokyo. That was over twelve years ago, and I'm still here.

My first realization of being in Little Tokyo was at the Kimura Photomart. I had some film to develop. (Yes, these were the good old days before digital cameras.) They asked for my name, and I replied, "Wataru Ebihara". This is normally followed by, "What's your name again? Can you spell it?", and I was fully prepared to repeat my name, but this never happened. Yes, it was my "Ah-ha!" moment that I was truly in "J-Town".

I'm a 2.5-generation Japanese American. Growing up as a minority individual, one accepts being the perpetual outsider. But it's sometimes nice to know there's a community where you're not really questioned if you do belong. When lived in Ohio (a place where there's not a whole lot of Asian Americans), I was constantly asked, "Where I was from?" (meaning what's my ethnicity and what country I'm from). This doesn't happen to me in Little Tokyo, and it's actually quite nice.

Over the years, Little Tokyo has become my hometown, and I have my community memories. I also met my wife in Little Tokyo, and we even had our wedding at the JACCC in Little Tokyo. I also remember the many shops and restaurants that have now closed down. There are changes taking place in Little Tokyo today with all the new developments -- some are positive changes, but some are changing the character of the ethnic community. Can Little Tokyo remain "Little Tokyo" with Starbucks, Subway, Office Depot, Quiznos, and other mainstream shops converging into its historic core?

Fortunately, I can still walk down the street in Little Tokyo on a sunny afternoon, run into a few people that I know, and chat with them for a bit. It's still nice to hear Japanese being spoken at the market or random conversations on the street. And I hope this will continue. Little Tokyo is a small town in the big city. I hope the new residents will also come to learn and appreciate Little Tokyo, and to know it's long and colorful history -- and eventually become part of the Little Tokyo community.


Two dates ...

Talked to my friend Alison yesterday, who also saw "Pippin" at the David Henry Hwang Theatre.

She said, "Go when you wanna get laid and with someone whom you know you can get laid." Apparently, there's an orgy scene.

Hmmm ...

Speaking of dates, got one lined up tonight. I'm really excited about LTSC's fundraiser, "La Vida Sake." It's a sake and food tasting event at the Petersen Auto Museum. I heard Jozu owner Andy Nakano is going to be making the food at the VIP reception at 6.

Can't wait! (For the food, that is.)


a busy day in J-Town

Hi! My name is Vicky Murakami-Tsuda. I'm the Web Manager at the Japanese American National Museum. I grew up in Southern California and have been coming to Little Tokyo for family, food, and events since I was little. I plan to contribute to this Little Tokyo blog by sharing my own stories about Little Tokyo -- programs & events I attend, restaurants & stores I frequent, and other stuff. I hope you enjoy!

For my first entry, I'm going to write about this past Saturday (May 17, 2008) which was a very busy (and hot!) day in Little Tokyo. Over at the JACCC, there was Kodomo no Hi activities and Nikkei Community Day booths and events. I was hoping to head over there, but unfortunately didn't end up having time and never made it over.

At the Museum, we held a public program in conjunction with Nikkei Community Day. It was a program called From One Generation to the Next: Families Intersecting with History. It turned out to be a really great program. Mitch Maki had a conversation-style discussion with Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga (researcher extraordinaire who found the key documents that were critical to the vacating of the WWII coram nobis cases, as well as to redress -- if your family received a check, give thanks to Aiko!); her daughter Lisa Abe Furutani; Lisa's husband Warren Furutani (currently State Assemblymember for California’s 55th District); and their two sons Sei and Joey. It was a really inspiring program and so interesting to listen to their stories. I found it really interesting to see Aiko so riveted listening to her family speak about what it means to them to be part of this incredible family. We videotaped the program, so hopefully we'll be able to add them online soon.

Aiko and Warren have both spoke often in the public, but not sure how much Lisa, Sei, and Joey have. It was really interesting to hear their stories and perspectives about how each of them became involved in the community -- for Aiko, it came later in life after WWII in NY. She shared how hearing Warren (who would later become her son-in-law) speak inspired her. Warren shared stories about his grandfather being a Nisei and his grandmother a tough schoolteacher on Terminal Island and how that shaped his father's personality, which in turn shaped his. He also talked about how he became involved and active in community issues. Lisa shared stories about the formation of her sense of identity and how there were moments that helped change how she saw herself. Sei and Joey both shared what it was like growing up as part of this family.

There's an essay that Joey had written while at UCLA that partly inspired this program up on Discover Nikkei called Embracing History. We'll be adding video clips from the program to our site. I'll be posting the links when they're ready to view. Thanks to everyone who participated and attended!

So...that was what I did in Little Tokyo during the day. After the program, my husband and I went out to dinner at TOT on 2nd Street with his parents who had come for the program (it turns out my husband is distantly related to Aiko. His grandmother and Aiko were first cousins!).

After dinner, his parents went home and we hung around until 8pm when we headed over to East West Players to see Pippin. We are season subscribers every year, but I was amazed to see so many people in attendance! Usually, it's not as crowded early in the run, but the good write-ups in the LA Times and other publications must have brought out a lot of new people which was really exciting to see. The musical was incredible...and done only in a way that EWP could do. The original play is set in France, but although the names and places are still from the original script, visually by the background images and the costuming, it's set in Japan. It's a combination of feudal and modern anime style (check out the link above to see photos of the costumes) mixed in with hip-hop versions of the songs. The dancing includes hip-hop choreography mixed in with some martial arts moves. Now, I'm curious to see what the original version was like so I can compare to see what they changed. If you get a chance, go check it out. We really enjoyed it.

Little Tokyo Station under construction

LA is known for cars and freeways, but we also have some mass transportation and Little Tokyo is getting its own light rail stop. A station is under construction on the northeast corner of Alameda and First Street just across the street from the Japanese American National Museum. It is part of the Metro Gold line that currently runs from Pasadena to Union Station in downtown. The Eastside extension is a six mile route that runs from downtown into East Los Angeles. The station is scheduled for completion in late 2009. Hopefully with the addition of the Little Tokyo station, this will increase the community's presence as a hub for urban living.

Construction in Little Tokyo started about a year ago. But as you can see, they haven't been working on it lately. I believe they are working on the stations in East Los Angeles.

View of the station looking north on Alameda. (05-20-08)

View of the station looking east on First St. (05-20-08)