201 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Welcome to Historic America and UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Little Tokyo. We’re glad you could join us! I’m Rachel, professional History Nerd, and your guide for today. Before you is City Hall, the center of local government. Inside you'll find the mayor’s office as well as the meeting chambers and offices for the city council. Completed in 1928, it was designed by a team of architects - John Parkinson, Albert C. Martin and John C. Austin. The columns and grand steps invoke classic design, while the iconic tower crowned with the stepped pyramid is very art-deco. The towering three- tiered structure embodies the energy, ambition and innovation of the roaring 20’s. The historic arch has since been seismically stabilized to ensure its preservation for future generations. And despite the wear and tear of a century, City Hall stands strong in all her original splendor. Just across the street is the headquarters for the Los Angeles police department and the department of transportation. But, we will quickly be transported from the humdrum of American bureaucracy to the rich history and culture of Little Tokyo. Today’s walking tour takes us to one of LA’s most historic and multicultural neighborhoods. The technical boundaries of Little Tokyo are currently about five city blocks, defined on the west by Los Angeles Street, the east by Alameda Street, the south by 3rd Street, and on the north by 1st Street It also includes the block north of 1st and west of Alameda. With roots reaching back to the 1880s, Little Tokyo remains a cultural and civic center for Japanese Americans living in Southern California. Designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1995, the shops, restaurants, museums and memorials of Little Tokyo are just a short walk away, so let’s get going. Use the built-in navigation to make your way to our next stop!
Los Angeles St & 1st St (Southbound), Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
111 San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Continue to use the navigation to make your way to the next stop. I’ll give you some history as we walk. Japanese immigrants began to settle here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before World War II, Little Tokyo was the largest Japanese community in the United States. Today, the Little Tokyo Historic District represents the original commercial heart of the community. Until the 1880s, the majority of immigrants to the United States were Chinese. When the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed, and Chinese laborers were barred from immigrating to the U.S, and many American businesses specifically sought out Japanese labor to fill the labor shortage. As a result, the number of Japanese immigrants greatly increased, particularly on the West Coast during this period. Large numbers of Japanese immigrants, nearly all male, were beginning to concentrate in boarding houses in this area. Many had come for short-term stays to work in the local agricultural industry, but as Los Angeles entered a period of growth and prosperity in the early 1900s, many chose to stay and make the United States home. The rapid increase in Japanese immigration led to a rise in anti-Japanese sentiment, just as it had with the Chinese before them. To avert a crisis, the U.S. and Japan came to a "Gentlemen's Agreement" in 1907. Under this Agreement, Japan denied passports to Japanese citizens who wanted to work in the U.S. and the U.S. permitted the immigration of students, business people, and spouses of Japanese already in the U.S. Starting in 1910, newly arriving Asian immigrants were processed through the U.S. Immigration Station on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay before continuing on to Los Angeles and other cities on the West Coast. The devastation of the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco led many Japanese residents to move south, causing the Japanese population to grow from 3,000 to nearly 10,000 in a matter of months. With the adoption of the Gentlemen's Agreement, Japanese women began to immigrate, either as new brides or to join their families, and Little Tokyo became a thriving cultural center, comprising businesses, residences, schools and places of worship. Newspapers flourished. Little Tokyo is home to the oldest existing Japanese newspaper in the U.S., founded in 1903. The Koyasan Buddhist Temple opened in 1912, the Japanese Union Church in 1923, and the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in 1925. Local businessmen formed credit associations to provide capital on a rotating basis for new business ventures. Local leaders established formal organizations such as the Central Japanese Association, the Japanese-American Citizens' League, and the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce to promote community development. There were also mutual aid and benevolent societies formed to serve both recent immigrants and the established Japanese Americans. This was the largest and fastest growing Japanese community in the U.S. By 1940, Little Tokyo was a vibrant community of more than 30,000 people. On December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, was devastated by a surprise Japanese attack. The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed everything. The United States was now at war. Widespread hysteria and suspicions about the loyalty of Japanese-Americans resulted in Executive Order 9066. Put into immediate effect by President FDR, Order 9066 forced more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent to be imprisoned in Japanese internment camps. From 1942 to 1945, it was the policy of the U.S. government that people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, be incarcerated. Residents of Little Tokyo were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses, and sent to isolated areas throughout the U.S. The financial and emotional trauma is hard to measure. The community of Little Tokyo disappeared overnight. During World War II, Los Angeles faced a labor shortage and thousands of African Americans, mainly from the Southeast and Midwest, came to the city to fill the jobs. They settled around Central Avenue next to Little Tokyo, in what was then the city's Black community. This area soon became overcrowded and Little Tokyo, now a ghost town, provided room for growth. Because Japanese immigrants were barred by law from owning property, most of the buildings in Little Tokyo had been leased from their non-Japanese owners. The owners, needing tenants for their suddenly vacant buildings, leased them to the newly arriving African Americans. Little Tokyo soon became known as Bronzeville, with hotels, restaurants, stores, residences, a chamber of commerce, and an active nightlife including jazz clubs and breakfast clubs. For three years, from 1942 through 1945, Bronzeville was a thriving, overcrowded community with close to 80,000 Black residents. As the war came to an end, however, industries began to shut down their wartime operations and jobs became scarce. Japanese business owners and residents began returning to Little Tokyo to reestablish their community, and many of the residents of Bronzeville left to find jobs in other parts of the country. The transition from Bronzeville back to Little Tokyo was, for the most part, smooth as many of the returning Japanese bought out the Bronzeville business leases. The Common Ground Committee was formed to foster better interracial relations, and many Japanese business owners hired African Americans while remaining Bronzeville businesses hired Japanese Americans. Little Tokyo started to experience a revival in the 1970's. Japanese businesses began to lobby for expanded redevelopment of the Little Tokyo area as Japanese corporations grew their overseas operations and established headquarters in Los Angeles. In the mid-1980s the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation began promoting economic revitalization of the district while working to preserve Little Tokyo's history and culture. Also during the 1980s, artists began to move into aging downtown warehouse spaces, forming an arts community next to Little Tokyo. In 1992, the Japanese American National Museum, our final stop on the tour today, helped to re-anchor the neighborhood. Our next stop is part of the 1970’s revival. I’ll meet you near the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
244 San Pedro St #202, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Founded in 1971, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center is one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the United States. The center weaves Japanese and Japanese American arts and culture into the fabric of the local community. The mission of the JACCC is to present, perpetuate, transmit and promote Japanese and Japanese American arts and culture to a diversity of audiences. The Aratani theater inside is the preeminent presenter of Japanese, Japanese American, and Asian American performing and visual arts nationally. The JACCC also provides office space to a variety of nonprofit cultural, educational and community-based organizations for the city of Los Angeles. JACCC, firmly rooted in Little Tokyo, provides the place and space to build connections between people and cultures, both locally and internationally. Through inclusive programs and authentic experiences, they continue treasured traditions and nurture the next generation of innovative artists, thinkers, and culture-bearers. If you’re here during open hours, step inside, or just explore the exterior and garden. When you’re ready, we’re going to back track just a bit. Head to Azusa Street alley. You may have noticed the historic sign marking Azusa Street on the way here. If not, take note on our way out. This is the location of the Azusa Street Revival. Led by African American preacher William J Seymore, the worship services that took place here, in a since demolished structure, took the world by storm. Azusa street services were characterized by dramatic worship, miracles, speaking in tongues, and inter-racial mingling which were ALL considered outrageous and unorthodox at the time. The services drew Christians and non-Christians from around the globe, and most consider the worship that happened here the catalyst for the modern Pentecostal movement. Head down Azusa street and make your way to our next stop, using the navigation as needed.
Frances Hashimoto Plaza, 330 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
141 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
This is it–Japanese Village Plaza! Also part of the community-led revitalization, Village Plaza opened in 1978. Since this historic area's rebirth it has brimmed with shops and eateries, with most of them small business owners, though a few local chains have joined the ranks. While shopping is a must at this outdoor mall, don’t leave the cherry blossom lined area without sampling a few street snacks. Join the constant line at Mitsuru Café’s sidewalk window for a taste of imagawayaki (freshly griddled red bean cakes), takoyaki (meaty dumplings on skewers) or mitarashi dango (rice flour dumplings). Visit Mikawaya for freshly made mochi, which are small, handheld rounds of ice cream or gelato wrapped in chewy, pounded rice cake. The yagura (tower) and wood-accented buildings are inspired by architecture common in Japanese villages, offering a unique shopping and dining experience in a relaxing, comfortable atmosphere. Enjoy the plaza at your leisure and when you’re ready we can continue our tour. The navigation will lead you to our next stop.
342 1/2 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Welcome to historic First Street. This was the Main Street of Little Tokyo since its beginnings. Some of the buildings on this block date back to the early 1900’s, and it really gives a feel of the architecture that defined many American Main Streets in the early 20th Century. Across the street from where we’re standing is the Far East Building, a 3-story commercial building that dates to 1896, and was remodeled in 1935, in the Art Deco style. The building housed a hotel and storefront, but was particularly well-known for its Far East Cafe, a restaurant specializing in Chinese-American food. The Jung family opened the restaurant in 1935, and its location drew both Japanese and non-Japanese patrons to the heart of Little Tokyo. During World War II the Cafe remained in business because it wasn’t Japanese owned, and they served Chinese food. In 2001, the building was donated to the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation. The Far East building is brick covered with stucco, with a zigzag design in the Art Deco style above the first floor. The larger of the two storefronts, formerly the Far East Cafe, reopened in 2002 as the Chop Suey Cafe and Lounge and still has its historic interior. Look a bit right of that and you'll see a former temple built in 1925. It was one of the biggest and most influential Buddhist temples in the U.S. The temple building consists of three sections that curve around the corner of E. First Street and Central Avenue with the entrance located on the plaza, across from the Japanese American National Museum's (JANM) modern building. The large cement roof canopy over the entrance replicates the imperial gateway at the Mother Temple in Kyoto, Japan. In 1942, the building was used to process Japanese Americans and people of Japanese ancestry for evacuation to relocation centers, and its members stored their possessions in the building while they were interned during World War II. In 1969, the temple moved to a new building and the original building was sold to the City of Los Angeles, becoming the first home of the JANM. In 1999, the museum moved into new facilities across from the old Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple building and today the historic building houses the museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. We will finish up our tour there after making a few more stops. Farther up the block in the opposite direction on First is more fascinating history. As you walk up First, make a stop at the Koyasan Buddhist Temple. Founded in 1912, it is one of the oldest existing Buddhist temples in North America! Farther up the block, another historic building, was owned by the young daughters of Yasujiro Kawasaki. Kawasaki was unable to own the building himself because California's Alien Land Laws prevented foreign-born Japanese from owning property. Many Japanese immigrant families placed legal ownership in the names of their American-born children. The building at 331-335 E. First Street dates to 1914 and was designed by architect Alfred F. Priest. Before and after World War II, it was known as the Miyako Hotel. During the war, when it served the largely black clientele of Bronzeville, it was known as the Shreveport Hotel and housed a well-known soul food restaurant. Once you’ve taken in the sights and sounds of First Street, please make your way to our next historic stop.
112 Judge John Aiso St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
There are two historic buildings I want to point out on this block. First, the San Pedro Firm Building. You should see it carved just under the roofline. The classical revival structure was originally owned by the Southern California Flower Growers Association, a group formed by Japanese flower growers. They opened a flower market back in 1913, and it’s still one of the biggest markets in LA’s flower district. The group was so successful they were able to commission the construction of this building to house their employees who sold the flowers at market. The second building of note is the Japanese Union Church, which is also in the classic-revival style, and was built in 1923. During WWII this building served as a Civil Control Station. Many were required to report here before their evacuation and incarceration. Purchased by the city in the 60’s, it's now home to the Union Center for the Arts. Our final stops are just ahead. Use the navigation to make your way to the “Go For Broke” Memorial.
160 S Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
The “Go For Broke” Memorial honors the service and sacrifice of the American soldiers of Japanese ancestry that served in WWII. These Nisei, or second generation soldiers, made it their fight to prove their loyalties to the United States. The monument is engraved with the names of more than 16,000 people, both men and women, who served in the military during WWII. The motto “Go For Broke” was the unit motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, describing the experience of Japanese Americans who served on behalf of a nation that was simultaneously denying basic Constitutional rights through forced removal and incarceration. With similar threads to African American aspirations of a “double victory”, these Americans hoped their service would secure the rights and freedoms of future generations. Our next and final stop is the Japanese American National Museum.
145 N Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
The Japanese American National Museum was founded to preserve and share the history of Japanese Americans. Its mission evolved to enhance appreciation for America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by documenting the stories of Americans of Japanese ancestry as an integral component of U.S. history. Incorporated in 1985 through the combined efforts of a band of Japanese American World War II veterans and a group of Little Tokyo businessmen, JANM progressed from a small nonprofit to a national organization that raised almost $60 million to renovate a historic former Buddhist temple building that I pointed out on First Street in 1992 and to construct an adjacent modern Pavilion in 1999. An official affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, JANM was the recipient in 2010 of the National Medal for Museum and Library Services, America’s highest honor for museums. If you’re here during open hours–I highly recommend a visit! This concludes our tour of Little Tokyo, home to some of our nation’s most important Japanese American institutions. It was my pleasure to share some of them with you today. Dramatically reshaped by WWII and decades of redevelopment and displacement, Little Tokyo remains a cultural focal point for Japanese Americans, especially here in LA. Thank you so much for joining us! This tour has been a joint production of Historic America and UCPlaces. To learn more about our trip planning services, public & private tours and digital content make sure to visit us at www.historicamerica.org and to find more audio tours, go to historicamerica.org and UCPlaces.com.