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.


Almost second day in Project: Community!

Well, this is my first REAL blog that im posting up. So, uhh... sorry if its not exactly what youd expect. ^_^

Project: Community was definitely not what I expected. I expected a boring lecture in a study hall, followed by a reading of some passage and answering of questions. The ice breaker at the beginning really threw me off. Also seeing someone there whom ive met before eased my anxiousness too. The activities we did tied in with the icebreakers and it ran smoothly. It was nice to learn about whats happening around my favorite little town and what i can do to possibly help it.

Im excited to go to the next session and Im glad that its tomorrow. Im definitely looking forward to it.

The Ideal Little Tokyo??

Aaaa finally my chance to blog.

So our project communityers had a chance to create their "ideal" Little Tokyo and it really got me thinking.... we've been having all this talk about what we think is the idea Little Tokyo but maybe i've never really sat down to think about it. During that session Geoff, Mickie, Amy and I pretty much designed the WORST Little Tokyo ever built out of construction paper, so i took another shot. I included three of my basic necessities for a little tokyo. So here's the three "ideals" and my own...

Now in case the picture is too small. I have 1) a recreation center, 2) mickie and I will own the Little Tokyo Hip Hop club and 3) ....... (my guilty pleasure) Yogurtland.


 Better late then never right?

haha well so far project:COMMUNITY(exclamation point) has been really fun. I think that it a good step after rising stars. Because we can use all of the different thing we learned in RS and apply it to PC!(project community!) lol. I learned that alot of the members belong to the same communities and that we all have common interests. And to top of a great evening of hard work, some of us stopped by yogurt land which was a nice treat. Overall PC! was really fun and will only get better as time goes on.

Hope to see everyone tomorrow!!

R.I.P. Lauren. we all miss you and love you. forever in our hearts.


Project: Community

Sorry this is so late....so first day of project community, fun stuff. It actually jogged some memories of my past. I realized that the Japanese Community has provided me with so many opportunities to meet new people and share experiences with them. On Tuesday i looked around and it hit me that i already knew most of the people in the group, basically through...Saishin Dojo, LABCC, and Jr. YBA. I love how people can be so intertwined and life time friends and i thank the Japanese Community for all of it. Seriously ive known them forever....enjoy B]

Courtney S, Craig
Riki, Me

PS. im looking forward to new memories with new friends...and new pictures to reflect back on. HAH


Nothing like a week of preparation for a one-hour visit from royalty to make one realize that life on the other side of the bloodline is truly stressful and time-consuming. And not just for the royal figures, but also for all those who work around them and tend their affairs.

The Crown Prince’s unofficial visit last Thursday, came during a period of high activity at JANM. It was hinted at three weeks ahead of time, just before Chado’s grand opening. By the approach of following weekend (which was the opening of Living Flowers), the visit was confirmed.

Our first official meeting with the members of the Japanese Consul who were in charge the visit, was organized by Yuko Kaifu, formerly of the Japanese Consul staff and recently Vice President of U.S. – Japan Relations at the Museum. Even at that time, one week before the visit, we were not officially supposed to know who the VIP was. As Director of Visitor Services, I attended the meetings to provide input from that department.

The Japanese Consul staff was a surprise to me. While I expected professionalism and courtesy, I didn’t expect the warmth and humor that they brought to the meetings. It was not what I had grown to expect from stories of how rigid and intense the Japanese business world can be. It just goes to show that pre-judgments of all kinds are doomed to error.

I was in charge of finding JANM staff to volunteer for various positions such as door openers, press monitors, guest handlers, etc. Unfortunately the choices had to be made quickly, and so when I looked around at who was still at work late on Friday afternoon, I didn’t have a lot of choice. Many staff were preparing to leave for the Enduring Communities conference in Denver (another major Museum project for this summer) and wouldn’t be able to attend the meetings required before the visit.

I gave some thought as to having staff who could speak Japanese, and there was at least one bilingual person per task group. But if I had thought about it more carefully, I would have also thought to ask staff to whom seeing a member of the Japanese Royal family would have been more meaningful. (My apologies to those who didn’t get to participate in the visit – unfortunately any staff not working on the reception line that day was not allowed to gawk.)

My specific role was to act as escort to a group of Japanese delegates accompanying the Crown Prince in his car, but who were not planning to walk through the exhibition with His Imperial Highness. The tour of the exhibition was to take a half an hour and was followed by the Crown Prince addressing an audience of about thirty invited guests. At first I was told there would be fifteen delegates. The day before the visit the number had dwindled to six. Only three actually showed up, and none of them seemed particularly thrilled with their choices of the Museum Store or Chado. In the end, all three ended up spending their time at Chado. At least one of them left with a bag stuffed full of merchandise (an assortment of cookies, I heard).

As the Pavilion was being cordoned off and the public sensed something was about to take place, we could see a small crowd start to gather. Two elderly ladies in particular stationed themselves at the entrance of the Museum’s Historic Building. We think that they knew exactly what was going to happen. At one point the police started to chase people away from that vantage point, and we in the Museum felt sorry that they wouldn’t get to see the arrival of the Crown Prince. But in the end, the police allowed the onlookers to stand in front of the Museum Store.

I paced around the Museum Store straightening merchandise (just in case HIH suddenly broke ranks and said, “Hey, I want to buy one of those talking Yumi dolls for my daughter!”) and kept referring to my cell phone to check on the time. A few of the press corps were milling about in the Store, quite lackadaisical about needing to be in their assigned press stations. As I was thinking that this was a breach of protocol, I suddenly found myself looking out the Store window from behind the press corral and thought of what a great vantage point I had for viewing the arrival. I had a greater field of vision in the Store and was also comfortably out of the sun. And I had my cell phone…

Ms. Kaifu gave us a quick lesson in etiquette. How to bow, what to wear (no purple), not to try and talk to unless approached, how to address and refer to the Crown Prince (never as ‘him’, but always as the Crown Prince or His Imperial Highness), but she never mentioned cell phone photography (which I now understand could get you pounded by certain hip hop celebrities).

So there I was armed with my phone and before I could stop myself, I fired off a couple of shots. As a testament to how rarely I use this feature on my phone, I didn’t realize I had to save the shots before taking new ones. So the only one I had of the arrival was a bad long shot. But I thought I would have another chance when the Crown Prince was leaving as long as I kept a low profile.

Eventually my patience was rewarded and I was able to capture a very clear (albeit low res) shot of the Crown Prince saying good-bye to Yuko, and later shaking hands with our new CEO, Akemi Kikumura-Yano. It was a perfect 21st century souvenir of the royal visit and a perfect shot for a blog.

Gothic & Lolita girls in Little Tokyo

Gothic & Lolita is a fashion sub-culture from Japan where girls wear colorful dresses inspired by the era of European aristocrats. It is quite common to spot GosuLoli girls in Harajuku, Tokyo's youth district, but today, American Gothic & Lolita girls came to Kinokuniya bookstore in Weller Court for the launch party of the 2nd edition of the Gothic & Lolita Bible. The magazine is originally published in Japanese, but starting this year, Tokyopop makes a version in English for American fans of the fashion sub-culture. With the growing popularity of Japanese pop culture, a lot of non-Japanese shop at Kinokuniya to buy anime, manga, Japanese fashion magazines, Japanese pop music CDs and DVDs of Japanese films. Here are some pics of the party:





First Impressions

Being my first day in Project:Community (just like everyone else), I really expect great things to happen from all of our combined hard work. The first day was sort of like a test run where everyone just needed to get used to things. But through many icebreakers, names were easier to match to their faces and the room became a more comfortable environment. During the couple of hours we were there, we established what a community really meant to us and found out what sorts of things affect these communities. We also made our ideal Little Tokyo, which was pretty cool =). This meant that we built a dream Little Tokyo which had everything we wanted or could imagine (keeping it a little realistic). Although we are all newbies at this, I expect this group of teens to produce top quality results at the best of their ability.
I don't know about the other members, but i had fun and i look forward to testing my abilities to see how I can help today's society.

project: community! session two prep

with four days left until our second session, the project: community team and i have been putting together the last minute touches to our workshops. i won't go into too much detail about the workshops, except that they will focus on "identity." i'm sure the kids or participants (i call them kids, even though some of them are taller than me) will post after the session, but if you really can't handle the anticipation, let me know and i'll see what i can do 

in the meantime, enjoy the pictures below. 
photos courtesy of: jaclpsw, kristin & sen. 

this is our town. 

project: community! loves lil toks 


we're getting ready for next year's performances at aratani/japan america theatre. 

blogs need to be like facebook so you can tag. 
totoro-andre, lion #1-courtney t, lion #2- courtney s, piglet #1-andrew, piglet #2-greg, puppy #1-riki, puppy #2-megan, lego people- michael, tracey, iris, mandy, elena, kristin, craig and me 

all right, back to work. 

peace out lil toks. 

Project: Community! (Day 1)

As one of the participants of Project: Community! I was pretty nervous stepping into the JACCC building this past Tuesday. Not only was I late, but this was the first time I have participated in an organization outside of West Covina. As soon as i stepped into the room, I was greeted with smiles and laughter which made me feel at home again. It took me awhile to break out of my shell, but the icebreakers the coordinators had planned helped a lot! First, we were given an assignment to draw our rooms, which showed what home was to us. My room didn't look too fabulous mainly because I drew everything as boxes. Next, we discussed what activities and groups we were in that made the community. After sticking stickers onto a map, I saw that the JA community wasn't just some small community I thought it would be. The whole coast was lined with stickers even on the inland parts! The next task we were assigned was to build a Utopia kind of thing except for Little Tokyo. After viewing all the groups, we all had many things in common such as temples, and restaurants. With gas prices rising, our group made the brilliant idea of constructing a tram! I know, I know, we are genius! For the first day, I learned so much more about the JA community. I can't wait to learn more and get involved to help the community. This experience left a good taste in my mouth and I can't wait till next Tuesday!


The first meeting began with ice breakers. Of course, just about what every first meeting entails. Yet I lost track of where the ice breakers stopped and where we began to tackle the idea and basic components of a community.  One of our first tasks was to draw a picture of our room, a part of our community that is close to the heart and a safe zone for many. From there branches sprouted leading the group into discussions to all around our Southern California area, some links even stretched across the continent. Once we mapped out these communities, we began to create models of an ideal J-Town. Popular restaurants, churches, and stores were common on each model. Everyone wished to preserve the old, familiar places that  have kept us coming our whole lives. There was another similarity in the models, each had some form of a recreational center.  As of now, there is no such thing.  Yet for years many people have been dedicated to enforcing the project. People have worked hard and do not deserve their efforts to become a lost cause. Which is just what I believe Project: Community! is trying to promote.  It is empowering the young voices of the community to take actions and become involved now. The future is creeping up, and someone needs to be prepared

project: community! - day one

on tuesday june 24 at 6 o clock i began the first meeting/session of project: community! to make it short and to the point, the bottom line/idea of the night was that taking part in activities takes space and people; in little tokyo there is limited space for many activities to take place and therefore other big companies come and run over it. to illustrate this point, we made a list of activities that we take part in and put stickers on a map where they take place. then, we split into groups and made our own ideal little tokyo on a small (small=limited space) cardboard sheet (which, by the way, my group won despite what anyone says). in our community, we put in all the essential things that "belong" to little tokyo, such as: THE REC CENTER!, the plaza, janm, jaccc, JAPANESE markets and FOOD places, and parking structures. we also added in things to attract all generations such as: a club for teens and 21+, a park for families, housing for anyone who needs it, as well as a tram for convenient transportation (even though walking is good too!). putting these particular items/things into our community showed what things we could do to help or improve little tokyo.

i felt that these activities worked well with the bottom line. to go along with that, it was fun! im looking forward to the sessions to come and after, of course, eating at one of the many yogurt places in little tokyo! :)


First Day

So it was the first day being in project:community, it was really fun =) It's been a long time since i've been to Little Tokyo and many things have changed, I havent even seen the places I've seen on Tuesday! I never knew there was a Pinkberry either :p I also want to visit some shops...but I forgot what they're called xD I had a new view towards Little Tokyo, because literally haven't been there for a LONG time, but now that i've been there, i am excited to go there once again!!! i still remember how the last time i went there, all the shops were closed so then I was awfully depressed to be unable to see the daily days in Little Tokyo. Also, being in the meeting made me realize there are many people out there and that I am actually out of my bubble (aka my city) for once


This past tuesday was my first experience with the new project community organization. It was a lot of fun. We learned about what makes up a community and how we can change and improve upon our own communities. We did several icebreakers and workshops. After being split up into groups, each group received materials and we all made our own model of our ideal little tokyo. Many of the models had some similar buildings. Everyone had famous J-town restaurants such as koraku, mitsuru, fugetsudo, Far East, or Mr. ramen. Many of them also included temples such as higashi and nishi. There were also some building that were put into the models, in attempts to improve little tokyo. One idea that was proposed was the building of a recreation center, where kids could play basketball, or tennis or just have a place to hang out. The idea of this recreation center is a great way to get our project community group active in making J-town a better place. We are looking to understand what J-town stands for and we are looking to improve that. This first session was a great experience, and i am looking forward to next tuesday's session.

Project: Community! day 1

as someone on the other end of project: community! (as in, on the coordinating/programming side), watching the participants interact with the program and each other was really exciting. one of my major concerns with youth in this country, and particularly among the JA youth, is that there seems to be an aura of apathy or at the very least a disinclination towards community involvement. while this may not necessarily be true and community involvement can take various forms these days, it still seems the exception rather than the norm to have a commitment and interest in 'community'. thus, having programs like this and watching the students participate fairly enthusiastically was pretty inspirational. i'm super excited for the rest of project: community!, and hope that this can help build towards a renewed commitment to preserving our community, and all that goes along with that.

Project: Community! Launch

Disclaimer: I have never written on a blog.

So after months and months of planning, we have finally made it. Our beloved Project: Community! has launched with 13 awesome participants. Our first session was a success...I think. I suppose we'll see what the participants have to say.

Anyways, I will keep this short.



Nikkei Center Team Wins City Competition

Little Tokyo Service Center and its partners were notified late yesterday (June 24) by the City of Los Angeles that its proposal for the city-owned Alameda and First parcel (a.k.a. the Mangrove site) will be recommended by the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst for City Council approval. Little Tokyo Service Center and its partners in this project -- Kaji & Associates and Urban Partners -- have proposed a mixed-use development for this 5 acre site adjacent to the Little Tokyo/Arts District Gold Line station.

The proposed development, named Nikkei Center, consists of nearly 400 units of mixed-income rental housing, 180,000 square feet of office space, 80,000 square feet of retail space and approximately 1300 parking spaces. The office space is tentatively planned as the headquarters for L.A. Care Health Plan, a health maintenance organizaton created to provide public health benefits to under-served communities.

The development team unites three diverse and experienced members of the downtown Los Angeles real estate community. Little Tokyo Service Center started in 1979 as a neighborhood-based social service agency, and in the past 20 years has developed affordable housing and community facilities in Little Tokyo and surrounding communities. Kaji & Associates has been involved in Little Tokyo for several decades. The firm provides business consultancy services in areas ranging from real estate, economic development, international trade and emerging technologies. Urban Partners is a real estate planning, investment, development and management firm. Their projects include transit-oriented developments such as the Del Mar, Wilshire Vermont and Washington National Stations.

The lead architect for the project is world-renowned The Jerde Partnership. Jerde brings a vast amount of experience designing exciting destinations such as Universal CityWalk, San Diego's Horton Plaza, Las Vegas' Bellagio and Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. Rounding out the design team are Togawa Smith Martin Residential and Ted Tokio Tanaka Architects.

The team expects City Council approval shortly and will work with City agencies and community groups to further refine development plans. Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2009 with completion by the end of 2011.

Congratulations to Little Tokyo Service Center, Kaji & Associates and Urban Partners!

[ For more information, please contact Ron Fong (rfong @ LTSC.org) at Little Tokyo Service Center. ]


One Saturday in J-town

A few Saturdays ago, my husband Tony, 3-year old daughter Maiya and I went to J-town to a Reunion at Far East Cafe Reunion hosted by Raymond and Michael Chong (see June 13 post Far East Cafe).

Me, Ray, Michael, Tony, Maiya

It was a really nice event. On his own, Ray is researching and documenting the history of the Far East Cafe and talked about his dad's connection to the Far East Cafe as a worker for decades. They set up a camera for videotaping people's memories. It was pretty cool.

After the lunch, we walked out of the Far East Cafe and Maiya said, "Mommy, I wish to get manju." So, we walked down First Street and stopped into Fugetsudo to pick up some of Korey's Chocolate Manju.

Inside Fugetsudo

Flash back to when I was growing up, my family went to Far East Cafe once a month, on 2nd Sundays. About 5 years ago, I wrote a column for the Rafu Shimpo--"Valley Girl's Memories of Far East Cafe." At the end of the piece, I wrote that my dream would be to one day take my children to J-town to the Little Tokyo Rec Center, eat at Far East Cafe, and walk down First Street, stopping for manju. With the exception of the not-yet-realized Little Tokyo Rec Center and the "one child," not "children," that's pretty much what happened.

With all the changes happening in Little Tokyo these days, I just hope that when Maiya grows up, that she will be able to have her own meaningful experiences and memories in our J-town.


Yuki Miyazaki art at Popkiller

Popkiller is a cool clothing boutique specializing in vintage and new clothing for the hip set. But did you know they have a small art gallery featuring artists from LA and Japan? The gallery is located on a built up second level, kind of a like a small loft space. The steps are really high so it feels like climbing a mountain just to get to the art!

The current show is by Yuki Miyazaki from Japan.



yuki miyazaki

Popkiller Second (the original is on Sunset) is located at 343 E. Second St. Los Angeles, CA 90012. The store is open from 11 am to 11 pm. (til midnight on Fri. and Sat.)


Living Flowers opening

A new exhibition opened to the public this past weekend at the Japanese American National Museum. Living Flowers: Ikebana and Contemporary Art looks at the influence of ikebana and Japanese design aethestics on contemporary art. 

Saturday night, I attended the opening reception for the exhibition. It was great to see so many people there. The Aratani Central Hall was packed during the brief program with a diverse crowd of Museum staff & volunteers; representatives from the 3 ikebana schools - Ikenobo, Ohara, and Sogetsu; JA community; and contemporary art fans. 

One of the things I enjoy about working at the Museum is the opportunity to see the exhibition as it progresses and knowing that I was able to contribute and be a part of it. Although I've never taken an Japanese American or Asian American Studies class, I would guess that I know about as much or more than most who have. I learn a little bit more about JA history, art, and culture with each exhibition, and this exhibit is no exception. Prior to this exhibit, I knew vaguely about ikebana. Now I'm able to somewhat recognize the difference between the styles from the 3 schools represented. As my sister and I walked through the exhibition, we quizzed ourselves to see if we could guess which school did each arrangement before peaking at the labels. I think we both got about 11 out of 12 correct. Each Friday morning the ikebana schools return to do new arrangements, so I think this will be a weekly game for us.  =)

For info about the exhibition and its related programs (each school will be doing a demonstration), visit the exhibition website:

*I worked on the exhibit site with our web technologist and other project staff, so would appreciate feedback! If you can't make it to see the exhibition weekly, you can test yourself too! We'll be adding photo documentation of the ikebana arrangements as they change out. The photos should be online about a week after each change.


RAM unplugged

And by that I mean "random access memory" in the most literal sense. (Hmmm... I am also an Aries, so I guess it works on a couple of levels)

But that is also the best description of what I will be bringing to this blog. I am a third generation, native Angeleno who has been working in Little Tokyo intermittently over the past seventeen years - the past nine have been consecutive and at the same place - an all time record for me. My maternal grandfather was in the wholesale produce market before the war, so Little Tokyo featured prominently in family life. But it wasn't until the early 60s when my family moved to Silverlake, that going to Little Tokyo became a part of my own life. Before then it was too far to drive from the Crenshaw area, and unnecessary since there were enough nikkei businesses to sustain us nearby.

My connections and reflections of the area are intermingled with my mother's past. She worked at the JACCC for 12 years spanning the 80s and 90s. So much of her memory was refreshed as she spent time reconnecting with a community that she had separated from for 30+ years following the end of WWII.

On the rare occasion that I actually get away from my desk and roam the streets of LT, every building I pass exists in two or three layers - ghosts of businesses that once existed there along with shadowy scenes of events or experiences.

For example, (and pardon me if I am vague with the most recent dates - time moves too fast) about seven years ago when Tsunami opened (it is now called San Sui) I went in to talk to the new owner about a potential partnership. When I walked into the building, I was struck with the memory of the many times my mother would order take-out sushi from the former owners. It all came rushing back to me - how she would call in the order and drop me off while she circled the block (parking was terrible even in the 60s). Sometimes she would find a spot and come in and wait with me. We always ordered the same mixed box of futomaki and inarizushi. (My mother hated fish and I didn't even know that sushi meant raw fish until I was in my teens. ) Always included were two futomaki with beautiful scalloped tamago borders. I felt entitled to at least one of them, since I assisted Mom with dinner pick up. She usually ate the other.

The then new owner of Tsunami pointed out the architectural elements of the original restaurant that he chose to keep and which I only vaguely remembered. The one thing I did remember was that the entrance was shielded from a direct view of the street by a bamboo and brush gate. The gate always gave me a sense that I had entered a safe space. I don't know why but I found it magical and comforting.

I am hoping as I spill these memories out in this blog that people will help me fill in the gaps with their own recollections with the proper names of businesses and dates. But I am not one of those people who only longs for the past. There are things I like about the way LT is changing. Exploring the various shops and markets are a wonderful revelation that we have not become too homogeneous in Los Angeles. At one time, during the early 80s, it seemed that more of the shopping was aimed at visitors from Japan, and stores were stocking more generic Los Angeles souvenirs and a lot of high-end designer fare. Now stores are more Japan-centric than ever, and you can find items for home and kitchen that you wonder if tourists would have the faintest idea of what they are.

So look for a mixture of musings in the future.


Far East Café


Food and memories go well together and the Far East Café is rich in both. Last Saturday, Raymond Chong, an amateur historian, organized a reunion of the Far East Café, now called the Chop Suey Café. He brought together people who still remember family get-togethers to celebrate weddings and other special events over "China-meshi" as the Cantonese cuisine was called by Nisei. Raymond's father once worked at the café as a young man and took his future wife there on their first date. Uncovering his father's life history was what prompted Raymond to look deeper into the Far East Café's past.

Raymond Chong inside the Far East Café, now called the Chop Suey Café.

Part of the reunion was to eat a china meshi lunch with chop suey, sweet and sour pork, cha shu, pressed almond duck, bok choy and hom you. But the rest was dedicated to sharing memories of a place that was once the literal heart of Little Tokyo.


One Nisei, George Wakiji, formerly of Pasadena, recalled, "After our return from internment from the Gila River Relocation Camp in the Arizona desert during World War II, I with my good friends played in the Nisei Athletic Union (NAU) softball and basketball leagues in the greater Los Angeles area. After the games on Friday evenings, we invariably stop in Little Tokyo and head for the Far East Café. We gorged ourselves on the best Cantonese cuisine."

Bill Tong worked at the Far East Café in the 1940s.

The old café closed after suffering damage from the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Thanks to efforts by the Little Tokyo Service Center, a new cafe opened that preserved much of the history. However, not everything stays as we remember it. "The cha shu was my favorite. This cha shu is covered in gravy. I liked the old cha shu better," lamented George.

The Far East Café/Chop Suey Café is located at 347 East First Street.

Sidebar: Along First Street, the opening dates of historical sites are written into the cement sidewalk. In front of the Far East Café, the date is listed as 1937. Ray Chong researched the building and discovered that it actually opened in 1935.


Chado at the Museum

Yesterday (Friday, June 6), the Chado Tea Room quietly opened its doors at the Japanese American National Museum's Terasaki Garden Cafe. Just as I was about to venture out for lunch, I heard that it was open, so I changed my plans and decided to check it out.

They weren't entirely ready yet. They were pricing some of the assorted teapots and other tea-related items for sale that lined the shelves against the wall. They were testing their phones and getting set up, but welcomed me as their first customer! I told them that I was hungry and didn't mind being their guinea pig (maybe I didn't actually say the second thing out loud, but I was thinking it).   =)

I ordered a sandwich combination which came with toasted sandwiches quartered into triangle wedges. I chose the Punjab (egg salad, but with a very nice, smoky flavor) and chicken in a lingonberry sauce. A salad came with the sandwiches on the plate. I ordered a pot of tea - a black tea with cinnamon and orange. They brought me a cup of another tea to try as well - a roibois with cinnamon and something else that was nice and naturally sweet. After that, I was pretty full, but a visit to the display case lured me into trying out one each of two cookie choices - a small and very light moon-shaped cookied, and a ginger cookie that I think now is my favorite (possibly all-time).

Anyway, I think I'll be making many, many, many trips over time. I don't drink coffee, so I drink a LOT of tea daily...and considering they have over 300 varieties of tea, and I've only tried 2 so far, I've got a LOT of tea to try out! Plus, they're offering Members discounts, so if you're a current Member of the Museum, show your membership card for 10% off.

If you're free tomorrow (Sun, June 8, 2008), they're having a grand opening event at the Museum from 1-5pm. In addition to a tea-tasting by a noted tea author, there'll be a full afternoon tea. $30 for Museum Members. $40 for non-members. What's great is that they're donating the proceeds to the Museum. I'll be there...Yummy!


Life, Hope, Peace

If you ever go by the Little Tokyo Shopping Center (Mitsuwa Plaza) located at the corner of Alameda Street and Central Avenue, there's a sculpture of a hand holding a torch. On the sides are engraved "Life", "Hope", and "Peace" in English and in Japanese (kanji).

I've passed by it on numerous occasions rushing from the market to the parking garage, but rarely took time to read the plaque. This afternoon, I read it a bit more carefully. Hmmm...

"Dedicated To All Americans Of Japanese Ancestry Who Served In The United States Armed Forces With Courage And Loyalty"

The sculpture (by artist Marlee Wilcomb) was sponsored by the Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council of Southern California. (Does anyone know more about the history of this memorial?)

Like many Japanese American families, I have Nisei (second-generation American) relatives who have seen combat in WWII and the Korean War. They are aging; and some of them have recently passed away. One uncle still likes to tell his war stories of artillery fire and walking among the dead, but some veterans like my dad never talks about it. "War isn't something to glamorize," he says...

Not far from here, I recently passed a Caucasian man on the street. He was asking for directions. But then he became quite angry when the people he asked couldn't speak English. I happened to be walking by when he shouted that he was an ex-Marine who fought for this country, and it was because of "you people" (Japanese?) "that America is going downhill!"

How I wished I could have explained to him the entire history of contributions from all American immigrants! So for some reason today, it was really nice to note this small sculpture honoring Japanese American veterans at this unexpected moment, at this unlikely place, next to the Mitsuwa supermarket -- only in Little Tokyo!

In many ways, the torch of life, hope, and peace is being passed on to us, so let's ensure that the flame continues to burn brightly for future generations.


My idea for a Budokan in Little Tokyo

For over ten years, the Little Tokyo Service Center has been trying hard to build a recreation center in Little Tokyo in hopes of attracting Japanese Americans to come visit the historic core of the community, even if it's just to play basketball. Of course raising the funds is a major obstacle, but another perhaps more important issue is space. Where to locate the rec center became a dividing issue among the many interest groups in the community. And now with all the redevelopment taking place in the area, space is become increasingly rare.

The focus of the recreation center is to provide a place to play sports and should be large enough to host tournaments. (On a side note, every year there is a big Japanese American basketball tournament in Las Vegas that coincides with Nisei Week -- many families choose to take there kids there instead of Little Tokyo for connecting with their roots.) The center plans also includes space for serving the community with a senior lunch program and cultural classes.

I think the idea for the rec center is a good one, but the idea isn't strong enough to gain the support necessary to make it realized.

In Tokyo, Japan, there is a place made specially for hosting martial arts events. It's called the Budokan. I think the purpose of the rec center could be incorporated into the idea of a Los Angeles Budokan that is located in Little Tokyo. A large facility would host major martial arts tournaments and demonstrations and allow people to play basketball and volleyball on other days. It would be large enough for six basketball courts.

As the Los Angeles Budokan, it would be the premiere place for martial arts in North America. People would come from across the country for special tournaments or demonstrations. There will be space for training classes, a martial arts museum and a zen garden. The Budokan would be a landmark for the city of Los Angeles boosting tourism dollars and creating jobs. Also, the building should have a bold architectural design that blends east with west and give the community a higher visual profile.

Little Tokyo would be the ideal location for such a landmark for the most obvious reason of the roots of martial arts going back to Asia. Another location factor is the proximity to the Los Angeles Police Department. Officers can take classes at the first-rate Budokan training center. But the greatest location factor is the construction of the metro line in Little Tokyo. I think that the Budokan should be built in the lot right next to the light rail station at Alameda and First St. Right now, the plan is to construct the Mangrove project which adds more housing and retail space but nothing much of cultural and community significance. The Budokan would have to be built next to mass transportation for efficient urban design.

This project would be supported by the city government because it would increase the city profile and add tourism dollars. It would also be another bridge between Japan and the United States, which means that potential funding sources could come from Japan. And the community would get its rec center -- in addition to a cultural landmark.

This weekend, professional Japanese sumo is coming to Los Angeles for an exhibition tournament. They will be competing at the L.A. Memorial Arena. Imagine if they could be coming to the Los Angeles Budokan in Little Tokyo instead...