L.A. is known around the world as the city of international crossroads and cultural diversity, but how often have you visited the little enclaves that actually make L.A. the diverse and interesting place we know and love? One of these places is Little Tokyo, the home base of the mainland Japanese-American community. It’s home to the annual Nisei Week festival, as well as the world famous Japanese-American National Museum, but for the average student, it’s also a great place to come hang out and explore.
You may be thinking, “This all sounds good, but how do I even get there?” For the car-less student, getting around L.A. can seem like a daunting task. However, Little Tokyo is particularly easy to get to because it sits directly on a Metro line. First, catch the Expo Line from the Jefferson/USC station behind the Galen Center, and take it to the 7th Street station. From there, transfer onto either the Red or Purple Line to Union Station. Once there, take the Gold Line one stop over to the Little Tokyo/Arts District stop.
And, now that you’re there, here are five things that every visitor should do in Little Tokyo:
1. Eat some ramen
This one might seem a little obvious, but ramen really is one of the staples of Japanese-American cuisine and for good reason. Whether you prefer a traditional joint like Daikokuya, or you’re more of a Shin Sen Gumi type of person, nothing beats the taste of ramen on a sunny California afternoon.
2. See a play at East West Players
As one of the oldest Asian-American theaters in the U.S., East West Players hosts a yearly schedule of plays that focus on promoting issues of Asian-American culture and identity, as well as fostering bridges of understanding between the East and West. The shows are usually in the evening, so if you have free night in your schedule, go check it out.
3. Taste some traditional sweets at Fugetsu-Do Confectionary
Family owned since 1903, Fugetsu-Do confectionary is Little Tokyo’s go-to place for any and all traditional sweets. They carry seasonal variations of mochi, wagashi and manju that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else, and no trip to Little Tokyo would be complete without making a stop here. To enjoy these sweets is what it really means to engage with the tastes of traditional Japanese culture.
4. Try an Imagawayaki
For those not in the know, the front window of Mitsuru Café in Little Tokyo specializes in making a type of traditional sweet known as Imagawayaki. In simple terms, it’s a fluffy, hot, pancake-like sweet with sweet red-bean filling inside. This simple description doesn’t do it justice, but it is another must-do when visiting Little Tokyo.
5. Gather your thoughts at the James Irvine Japanese Garden
Lastly, after a long day, come sit and relax by the James Irvine Japanese Garden — Little Tokyo’s hidden gem. Tucked away behind the Aratani Theater, the garden soothes with the rustle of wind through bamboo, and the gentle rippling of its perpetually flowing stream and pond. It’s the perfect place to escape from the bustle of L.A.’s concrete metropolis and really take a moment to appreciate all that Little Tokyo is.