Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo, also known as Little Tokyo Historic District, is an ethnically Japanese American district in downtown Los Angeles
  • Address: 
  • Bounded on the west by Los Angeles Street on the east by Alameda Street, on the south by 3rd Street, and on the north by First Street
  • Type: Japanese American district
  • Architect: Edgar Cline, Et al.
  • Built/founded: 1942

General Information

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. This area is sometimes referred to as Lil' Tokyo, J-Town or 小東京 (Shō-tōkyō). In 1995, Little Tokyo was declared a National Historic Landmark District.


In 1886, an ex-seaman from Japan, Charles Kame, opened a Japanese restaurant at 340 East First Street. By the turn of the century, a small Issei (immigrants from Japan) community was formed around San Pedro and First Streets. This area became known as Little Tokyo.

In 1903, Henry Huntington recruited 2000 Issei in northern California to lay tracks for the Pacific Electric Railway. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, thousands more fled because of heightened tensions in San Francisco and settled in Little Tokyo. The Issei succeeded in fishing, agriculture, wholesale produce and retailing. They were denied citizenship by federal law and not allowed to own property.

The Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) were American citizens by birth. They could own property and vote in elections. As the Japanese Americans began to leave downtown to neighboring cities, community leaders formed the first Nisei Week to maintaining commercial and cultural links.

After the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. The Order gave the United States Army authority to force more than 110,000 Nikkei (people of Japanese ancestry) living on the west coast to live in concentration camps. Not all Nisei were sent to camps, a few were secretly recruited to be translators for the Military Intelligence Service. After the war, because of lack of housing in Little Tokyo, Japanese Americans soldiers and camp internees moved to the suburbs of Los Angeles. The population continued to shrink in the early 1950s when Parker Center was built. In order to built Parker Center, housing for 1000 people and one-fourth of the district's commercial businesses were destroyed.

Beginning in 1969, committees were formed and the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Project was established to prevent the Little Tokyo be eradicated. While there has been construction from the 1970s until today, the character of Little Tokyo has been maintained by the 15 structures making up the Little Tokyo Historic District. Little Tokyo continues as a tourist attraction, community center, and home to Japanese American senior citizens and others.

Cultural Attractions & Monuments

Cultural attractions in Little Tokyo include Japanese American National Museum, the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Geffen Contemporary Museum, and the East West Players theater. There are several public sculptures and monuments. There are two public Japanese gardens in Little Tokyo.

On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take off. All seven astronauts were killed. One of the crew, Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, had become the first Japanese American astronaut the year before when he flew on a secret mission aboard the shuttle Discovery. The Japanese American community in Los Angeles was moved by the death of Onizuka. He had often visted Little Tokyo when he came to Los Angeles and was the Grand Marshall in the 1985 Nisei Week Parade. The monument to Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka was created in 1990, by Isao Hirai. It stands over 18 ft. tall, a 1/10th scale model on a seven foot pedestal.

The Go For Broke Monument commemorates the Japanese Americans who served in the United States Army during World War II. The monument has a large semicircular face of polished black stone and embracing a pole upon which the American flag flies. The monument's curved back wall lists the names of 16,126 Nisei soldiers. At the foot of the flag is the shoulder flash of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Across the top of the face of the monument is the motto: "GO FOR BROKE". Originally "Go For Broke!" was the unit motto for the 100th Battalion. It has since been adopted as a motto for all of the Japanese American units formed during World War II.
On the other side of the the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center is the National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court. The Memorial Court is dedicated to those Americans who have fought and died in conflicts of the United States of America and most are of Japanese ancestry.

Japanese Gardens

James Irvine Garden

The James Irvine Garden (Garden of the Clear Stream) is a triangular area of 8,500 square feet next to the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. The garden was completed in December 1979 and was designed by Takeo Uesugi. In 1981, the First Lady Nancy Reagan in a ceremony at the White House presented prestigious National landscape Award of Nurseymen to those instrumental in the building of the garden. This is the highest and oldest national honor such a project can receive in the field of environmental improvement and community beautification.

There is a 170-foot stream which winds through the garden. The beginning of the stream is a waterfall which represents the struggle of the immigrant Issei generation against harsh economic realities and prejudices. In the middle cascades, the stream divides, this represents the conflict experienced by the Nisei. The stream gradually becomes a serene pond. The pond symbolizes the hope for a peaceful world for the Sansei, Grandchildren of Japanese Immigrants to America, and future generations.

Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens

The other public Japanese Garden in Little Tokyo is a rooftop garden in the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens, formally known as the New Otani Hotel. The Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens is a 21-story hotel in Little Tokyo with a half-acre Japanese Garden on the rooftop.

Nisei Week Festival

The Nisei Week Festival began in 1934 by the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans)community leaders as a way of maintaining commercial and cultural links between Little Tokyo and the increasingly dispersed Japanese American community. The first festival included poster and essay contests, radio broadcasts, a fashion show, various cultural exhibits and demonstrations and an ondo parade. In 1935 a queen pageant was added. The festival was to continue for only seven years before the start of World War II and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in internment camps within the nation's interior. In 1945, the Japanese Americans began to return to Los Angeles, but the festival did not restart until 1949.

Today the Nisei Week is the single largest attraction of Little Tokyo. This annual celebration is held every August which actually last two weeks. The festival includes a large parade, a pageant, athletic events, exhibits of Japanese art and culture, a taiko drum festival, the Japanese Festival Street Faire and other events.

Some of the events are sumo match, martial arts, tea ceremony, ikebana and odori dancing. In addition to cultural exhibits and dynamic cultural entertainment is delicious Japanese food.

Events such as the reenactment of the moment when Japanese samurai pledged their lives, then marched to battle being done by men and women in 15th and 16th century warrior armor topped with giant horns.

One of the many sporting events is Sumo Westling. This sumo westling match was held with a sumo westler and an audience member. Winner in the middle.

his taiko drum was performance one of many performances held thoughout the festival. In Japanese, the word taiko literally translates as “big drum” or “fat drum”.


1. ^ a b c d e "JACCC Outdoor Spaces". Retrieved on 2009-09-04. 2. ^ a b "Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California".,_Los_Angeles,_California. Retrieved on 2009-09-04. 2. ^ a b "Little Tokyo". Retrieved on 2009-09-04.


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