What to Do in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo Neighborhood
Southern California is full of culture, and that's especially apparent in its Japanese communities. Situated on the northern outskirts of Downtown Los Angeles, Little Tokyo is one of three remaining historic Japantowns left in the U.S. At over 130 years old, the district came to be way back in 1885 when a Japanese seaman, Hamanosuke Shigeta, opened a restaurant on First Street. More businesses soon established themselves to create a thriving first-generation Japanese American community.
During World War II, many Japanese Americans living in Little Tokyo were moved into relocation camps, which dwindled the population for years to come. Yet despite the heavy setback, the community once again began to thrive in the later post-war years, rebuilding and serving as a center for the Japanese American community and history.
Today, Little Tokyo consists of about five city blocks, offering historic and cultural experiences, entertainment and spirituality, not to mention an array of authentic Japanese food options. Its small but mighty presence makes it a perfect place to take a walking tour. So, lace up those sneakers and hit the Downtown L.A. district 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 1st Street. Here are 12 amazing things to do in Little Tokyo.
Take in the Local Culture at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center
Opened in 1980, the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center is the largest Asian American cultural center in the country. The center hosts Japanese cooking classes and culinary events, theatrical performances, concerts and more.
Among its most inviting attributes for passersby is the stunning Japanese garden that bursts with flora and fauna, along with cedar bridges and a peaceful stream.
Explore History at the Japanese American National Museum
Take a deep dive into Asian American history at the Japanese American National Museum. Upon entering, the iconic Wall of Suitcases and Trunks by Hirokazu KosakaI welcomes visitors. The art piece features old suitcases stacked to the ceiling, sharing the message of simplicity while on the move to a new land.
From there, a permanent collection of over 60,000 artifacts and exhibitions entices, including the cultural legacy of Hello Kitty and the WWII-era Japanese internment camps.
Peruse Artworks at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
Once a police car warehouse in Little Tokyo, the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA is now home to more than 7,000 pieces of modern artwork.
The museum dates back to 1979 and is the only artist-founded museum in Los Angeles.
Get Spiritual at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple
A part of the Shinshu Otani-ha sect of Buddhism, Higashi Honganji was L.A.’s first Japanese Buddhist temple — established in 1904 by Reverand Junjyo Izumida. The temple is a work of art from the inside out.
The altar beckons visitors with its Amida Buddha statue, scrolls and colorful bouquets of flowers. Meanwhile, incense tucked into urns release a lovely smell that swirls in the air. Walk the grounds around the temple as well to experience the immaculately maintained garden and get a view of the temple’s mesmerizing architecture, including the 30,000 imported roof tiles.
Find Streetwear at Japangeles
Since 2010, Japangeles has been offering Angelenos and tourists a streetwear brand blending Japanese culture and Los Angeles lifestyle. The brand was once a tiny kiosk that has expanded to a storefront at the Japanese Village Plaza.
Don’t expect to find an online store. Instead, you’ll have to go into the store to score some gear or be on the lookout for one of their hosted online pop-ups, which happen a few times a year.
Go Vintage at Popkiller Second
This vintage store is the place to go for rare finds.
Filled with pop culture goodies, from clothing to jewelry, accessories, toys, vinyl and novelty items straight from Japan, you’ll spend hours getting lost in this specialty store.
Decorate Your Home Via Poketo
An airy, modern aesthetic will lure you into this eclectic shop offering an array of home goods and accessories, Poketo was brought to life in 2003 by husband-and-wife duo Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung with a goal to share more art and design with the world.
Quirky, colorful home decor, apparel, jewelry, stationery and accessories are some of the highlights here. Poketo also puts on art exhibitions and workshops.
Get Your Reading on at Kinokuniya
This Japanese bookstore chain was founded in 1927, with its first store located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Its Little Tokyo location can be found in the Weller Court Shopping Mall in the Little Tokyo Village.
The store is filled with reading materials in both Japanese and English. Popular literature sections include Japanese cooking, traditional and modern art, crafts, children’s books, travel, history and Japanese language books, among others. There is also a Haruki Murakami display that is popular among visitors.
Sing Loudly at Max Karaoke Studio
Ready to belt it out with your friends? Rent a private room at Max Karaoke Studio.
The karaoke establishment offers an extensive selection of songs to choose from, along with a great happy hour to keep you loose.
Bowl the Night Away at XLanes LA
Let your inner child shine at the extravagant XLanes LA.
The venue includes 24 lanes of LED-lit bowling, a redemption arcade with over 100 arcade games, a nine-table billiard room, exclusive VIP lounges, a gorgeous sports bar and an American-Italian family restaurant.
Plan Around Nisei Week Japanese Festival
Every summer, Little Tokyo hosts its annual Nisei Week Festival.
The event, held in August, features an assortment of activities and entertainment including live music, art exhibits, food and more in honor of Japanese American culture and the heritage of the Little Tokyo community.
Don’t Miss the Gardens at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles Downtown
Whether you plan to check in for the night or to simply scope out the scene, a visit to the elegant DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles Downtown is a must.
The hotel is known for its unique Japanese-influenced interior design and beautiful rooftop Kyoto Gardens.
Get High-Tech With a Stay at Miyako Hotel
Another lodging option in Little Tokyo is Miyako Hotel. The hotel is a part of the Miyako Hotels and Resorts chain, headquartered in Osaka, Japan, making it a home away from home for Japanese tourists and a unique lodging experience for everyone else.
The hotel features high-tech amenities, a Japanese-style spa and an in-house sushi restaurant.