Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California

Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple

L.A. Union Presbyterian church established early 1900's

Museum of Contemporary Art

Far East Cafe:
Following WWII, the restaurant— called Far East Cafe—served hot meals to Japanese Americans just released from some of the nearly dozen internment camps throughout the West Coast. For those who couldn't pay, the owners gladly accepted IOU's.Decades following, Japanese Americans flocked en masse to the restaurant for everything from birthday parties and anniversaries to funerals and farewells (Why are Japanese Americans such sticklers for Chinese food after funerals?). Everyone had their favorites but the most memorable dishes included pressed almond duck, oh-so crunchy panfried chow mein and homyu—a hefty pork-fat patty speckled with tiny morsels of meat. (My dad loved this).

David Henry Hwang Theater-formerly my childhood church L.A. Union Presbysterian

Interior of DH Hwang theater-our former church sanctuary where we were in many a Christmas and Easter play ourselves.

There is a section of Los Angeles, known as Little Tokyo. (near the intersections of 1st and Judge John Aiso streets/formerly San Pedro st. for several blocks in every direction). Little Tokyo, also known as Little Tokyo Historic District, is an ethnic Japanese American district in downtown Los Angeles and one of only three official Japantowns in the United States. Founded around the beginning of the 20th century, the area, sometimes called Lil' Tokyo, or J-Town is the cultural center for Japanese Americans in Southern California. It was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.

I grew up not far from here in East Los Angeles. Throughout my childhood years through high school I attended L. A. Union Presbyterian church near the corner of 1st and San Pedro streets. We fondly referred to this area as "J-Town". Our church still stands today but has been converted into a theater/playhouse known as The David Henry Hwang Theater, current home of the East/West Players theater group. You can read more about the history of this talented group of artists here:

As you walk from this site and turn onto 1st street you will find several blocks which make up Little Tokyo. Drop by Fu-get-su-do bakery to view pretty Japanese pastries. In 1903, Seiichi Kito, credited with inventing the fortune cookie, opened the Japanese confectionary Fugetsudo on this site. The shop moved to 315 East First Street in 1958. Today, Fugetsudo is the oldest family-owned business in Little Tokyo in its third generation operated by Brian Kito. I attended Roosevelt High school with Sharon Kito.

Walk further to "Far East" Chinese restaurant. If you ask any Japanese family that has lived in the Los Angeles area in the past 50 years they will probably have fond memories of this place. It's where everyone went for chinese food in the 1950's. People will fondly remember family get-togethers to celebrate weddings and other special events over "China-meshi" as the Cantonese cuisine was called by Niseis.(Nisei, 2nd generation Japanese American). The restaurant has reopened after several years of closure. Sadly, it is just not the same menu but worth a visit all the same. Far East is another historic landmark in this area. This restaurant was owned by the Mar family. Do and May Mar also attended Roosevelt high school in East Los Angeles.

Walk further still and you will find the Japanese American National Museum which houses current exhibits as well as a moving permanent exhibit called, "Common Ground-The Heart of a Community". My mom, Ruth was one of the many, many community members who worked very hard raising funds to have this Museum built.
See this link for more information:

Right next door you will find the Geffen Museum of Contemporary Art
here is the link:

This area will slowly fade away without your support. It's worth your time to explore this wonderful area. Lots to see and do. Hope you will see J-Town for yourself.

1 comment:

KZ said...

Barb, thanks for this history trip. It is timely for me as I am reading Journey to Topaz to Casey's class. I first gave them a little bit of background to the internment camps. For 10 year olds it was eye-opening to them to learn that the people were treated like this.

If you have any ideas of things I can share with the kids, let me know.

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