Located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles is Little Tokyo, a major cultural hub for Japanese Americans living in Southern California. If you’re among this growing community or just wanting to experience a new taste of culture, there are plenty of things to do in Little Tokyo.
With a history rooting back to the 20th century, Little Tokyo Historic District is home to one of the largest Japanese American populations in North America. Little Tokyo is a popular spot to visit for those wanting to appreciate Japanese culture without venturing far from home.
Nestled in between five city blocks, this multicultural neighborhood is full of authentic Asian cuisine, historic museums and an atmosphere that screams diversity. It’s easy to feel like you’re traveling without actually leaving the city by exploring the realms of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California.
Japanese American National Museum
The Japanese American National Museum is committed to exploring the history of Japanese American’s ethnic and cultural diversity that is also historically rooted in Little Tokyo. Having a wide range of modern art, this internationally recognized museum provides exhibitions and public programs to highlight the relationship between Japanese and American cultures. Experience the preservation and historical importance of Japanese culture in America while embracing exhibits that include things like Japanese Tattoo Traditions and cultural artifacts with their own story to tell.
Kura Revolving Sushi Bar
Adhering to the Japanese virtue of serving natural and healthy meals, the Kura experience has been served at over 451 locations spread across Japan, Taiwan and the United States. Kura practices the philosophy of “muten,” which means “nothing added,” so the dishes are prepared with all natural ingredients.
If you’ve never experienced a revolving sushi bar, picture yourself sitting in front of a conveyor belt with a glass of Sake and an endless flow of different sushi and small plates passing before you. Every sushi plate is under US$3, and the amount of food to choose from can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations or go on a whim and grab whatever catches your eye first.
Shaba Shabu House
One of Japan’s most savory dishes is a hot pot served with your choice of thinly sliced meat and vegetables (with the complementary sides and dipping sauces, of course). Picture a pot of boiling water in front of you and your chef bringing you a variety of meats, veggies and noodles to create your own pot accustomed to your taste.
Don’t expect to Instagram your food – there is a no-phone policy here, which allows you to unplug for a moment and embrace the joy of a simple meal. Also, note that the restaurant is cash-only. Because the hot pot experience has made such a name for itself in the US, the amount of Shabu eateries are through the roof. But the Shabu Shabu House in Little Tokyo has been serving locals some of the best hot pot in the city for the last 20 years.
Popkiller: Little Tokyo
Popkiller and its aesthetic has garnered a well known reputation for themselves in Los Angeles for over 10 years now. Although fairly new to officially open its doors, this retro art and pop-culture store houses a variety of different work from Japanese and American artists and designers living in the city. The founders behind Popkiller have cultivated a worldwide community from just two stores in Little Tokyo. Anyone interested in animé, retro pop art or the “kawaii” Japanese aesthetic will nerd out over this place.
One of the most popular Japanese bakery brand names is Yamazaki Bakery. Located in the Japanese Village Plaza Mall in Little Tokyo, this shop serves a variety of baked goods, including their famous Melon Pan, and gourmet breads and cakes for less than five bucks.
If you haven’t heard of Yamazaki or Melon Pan, know that you’ll probably never come across these types of pastries and baked goods elsewhere – so come prepared with a sweet tooth. With one-of-a-kind recipes and an authentic taste of Japan’s bakeries, Yamazaki is understandably renowned and will remain a provider for some of the best bread across the board.
Founded in 1986, Nijiya Market is a Japanese specialty supermarket chain in America that supplies a wide variety of Japanese food products. With 12 stores in California, Nijiya is an embodiment of Japanese food culture and what a supermarket would be like if you were to visit one in Japan.
With hundreds of traditional and modern Japanese products on the shelves, locals come here to find brand-names and produce you wouldn’t normally find in Los Angeles. From snacks, drinks, fruit, specialty meats and cuts to Asian alcohol brands and ice cream, Nijiya is a one-stop-shop for Japanese groceries.
Japanese American Cultural and Community Center
The JACCC was first envisioned as part of the redevelopment of Little Tokyo in the 70s when a citizens advisory committee suggested the need for a community center that celebrated arts and culture. Operating since 1980 as a social center for the community, this space is used for special events and activities that are open to the public year around.
One favorite attraction is the on-site James Irvine Japanese Garden, a dedicated green space in downtown Los Angeles where people come to embrace the Japan-inspired foliage and peaceful ambience of the gardens. This is the spot to visit if you’re wanting some time away from city noise or just want to listen to the sound of streams flowing underneath you.
MAX Karaoke Studio
Dying to sing your heart out to your favorite songs? MAX Karaoke Studio in Los Angeles lets you do just that. Plus, they are open late until 3 a.m. during the week (and 4 a.m. on weekends). The studio adheres to CDC pandemic recommendations for everyone’s safety and comfort, and visitors can comfortably rent a private room to sing an extensive list of more than 35,000 songs in 14 languages including English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and German.
They offer daily happy hour specials from 1-8 p.m. if you are looking to save a few bucks. So, grab some friends and warm up your pipes for an all-night singalong. Download the Healsonic app in advance so you can add your own favorite songs or curate a list of hits to cover during your karaoke session.
Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream
Full off all the savories and craving some sweets? Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream offers handmade ice cream encased in a rice dough called Mochi. These bite-sized bits of rice cake and ice cream require no utensils. If you’ve never experienced this dessert craze, be prepared to try a wide variety of different flavors. They have everything from strawberry and red bean to mango, green tea and even horchata ice cream. It’s a unique flavor-filled dessert that’s made a huge impact in Los Angeles and is one of the sweetest things to do in Little Tokyo.
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