This past fall, Kevin and I spent 2 weeks in Japan and loved our time in Tokyo. But it’s not like we can hop on a flight there every weekend. Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles is pretty much the next best thing. Though, you won’t find any owl cafe’s here… yet!
Little Tokyo is a very unique place — just one of three official Japantowns in the entire United States, all in California (with the other two in San Francisco and San Jose). It’s worth a visit just for all the sushi and shopping alone (two of my favorite things in one place!).
We visited Little Tokyo this past weekend – right in downtown Los Angeles. Here is a great itinerary for your next visit.
First Stop: Japanese American National Museum
A Smithsonian affiliate, the Japanese American National Museum is the largest museum in the US dedicated to the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry. The two-story museum takes visitors through the early Japanese immigrant experience to present day. One thing that shocked me upon moving to the West Coast was learning about Japanese concentration camps – something that never seemed to be covered in my American history textbooks. A few years ago, Kevin and I visited one of the largest in Manzanar, California (along the way to Death Valley) and were able to see first-hand just how brutal the conditions must have been. The museum covers Manzanar in great detail along with the other camps in California and across the country.
The highlight for us was getting to visit the special exhibit called New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei, running from now through August 20. Once known as Sulu in the Star Trek franchise, George Takei has had a surge in popularity later in life.
The exhibition begins with Takei’s childhood and his incarceration inside a concentration camp with his family and then moves through his career as one of the first successful Japanese American actors in Hollywood; his public service appointments; and coming out as gay and his ongoing activism in the Japanese American and LGBTQ communities. With a popularity that surged later in life, Takei embraced social media to get his message out.
- Address: 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90012
- Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday–Sunday: 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday: 12 p.m.–8 p.m.
Next activity: Shopping!
Kevin wasn’t too excited for this part of the trip, and spent most of his time reading a book. But just like in Japan, Little Tokyo offers the type of shopping I love — weird candy, gadgets and hand-painted ceramic bowls and other home good stores. The Japanese American Museum Store is one of the best places to shop in all of Little Tokyo. Be sure to check out the book section with a variety of books on Japanese history, novels and children’s books.
Next up, we visited another nearby store called Popkiller Second, with all kinds of gadgets and things you probably never thought you needed (but now will!). One such item? A Pringles potato chip container that is a secret bank.
We passed on the Pringles can (figuring we’d probably accidentally throw it out… Wait, where did we stash that $1,000?). Next up, we moved onto Bunkado, a surprisingly large ceramics store that stretches far beyond what you’d expect.
Head all the way to the back for one of the coolest parts — where they sell all kinds of intricately folded origami. It’s really impressive – especially after Kevin and I took a 3-hour course in Tokyo, and pretty much decided we’d be okay never doing that again. Seriously, my eyes are still hurting I think!
Wrapping Things Up: Time to Eat!
All this shopping will make you hungry. One of the more fun places we love to visit is Kula Revolving Sushi. Our recommendation is to go here first and get your name on the list. Depending on the time and day, you might have to wait up to 1 hour for a spot. It’s pretty tiny inside. And you’ll get to pick and choose from the sushi that zips on by from the conveyor belt. Or you can be boring and order off the menu!
- Location: 333 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
- Hours: Open daily from 11 AM – 10:30 PM, except for Fridays and Saturdays until 11 PM
If you’re hungry for dessert, you’re just steps away from one of our favorite places – Honeymee. This is a chain found across Southern California that specializes in “true milk ice cream.” Though, we never really are sure what that actually means (not for a lack of asking, either!). I always get the Sweetie, which is vanilla soft-serve ice cream topped with honey. Or I’ll get the souped up version called Honeymee (like the store name) that is topped with a honeycomb.
We’ve gone to the outpost in Koreatown, which is just a tiny outdoor stall that is open late (12 pm – 12 AM). But the décor of the store in Little Tokyo is our favorite. And they recently expanded the menu to include smoothies and ice cream topped with dark green Macha.
- Location: 120 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012
- Hours: 11 AM – 11 PM, every day
Enjoy your time in Little Tokyo – and just think of all that money you’ll save on the airfare! Stay tuned, as Kevin and I will be back in Downtown LA this weekend for LA Weekly’s The Essentials, a food festival featuring the top restaurants in LA.