A handy list of things to do in Little Tokyo – We Like LA | Candle Made Easy

Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo. Photo by Christina Champlin.

One of only three remaining Japantowns in the country, Little Tokyo is also one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, at over 135 years old. Here you’ll find a few old, family-run businesses located near trendy dessert spots, boba shops, ramen shops, vintage shops, and cultural venues.

Amidst the eclectic (and ever-growing) mix, there’s plenty to see, do and eat. Use the guide below to begin your adventures.

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The best things to do in Little Tokyo

Japanese-American Museum in Little Tokyo
Exterior of the Japan-American National Museum. Photo by Brian Champlin / We Like LA

The Japan-American National Museum -> The Japanese-American National Museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated to sharing the experiences of Japanese-Americans and the role they play in the history of the nation. More information is available here.

Explore the Japanese Village Plaza -> Built in 1978 and located in the heart of Little Tokyo, the Japanese Village Plaza houses Japanese-style shops and a variety of authentic Japanese cuisine and classic street food. The square is also home to Nijiya Market, a Japanese grocery store that offers unique goods like matcha snacks, ramen, and take-out meals. –> More information here.

Japanese American Culture and Community Center (JACCC) -> Established in 1971, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) is one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the United States. The center includes the Aratani Theater which hosts live shows, a culinary space for culinary events, the James Irvine Japanese Garden and art exhibitions. Follow JACCC Instagram for updates on special events for the many Japanese holidays that take place annually, such as Hinamatsuri “Girls Day” and Kotohajime. More information is available here.

MOCA Geffen -> The Little Tokyo Campus of the Museum of Contemporary Art is the largest of the MOCA branches and offers over 40,000 square meters of exhibition space. Currently, the museum is only open on weekends and visitors must reserve tickets in advance. If you’re in Little Tokyo on a weekday, you can still experience a bit of art by heading to the north wall of the MOCA Geffen building to see Los Angeles-based artist Barbara Kruger Untitled (Questions). More information is available here.

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Try mochi at Fugetsu-Do -> Fugetsu-Do has been operated by one family since 1903 and is the oldest Japanese-American owned company in the United States. It offers a wide range of handcrafted Japanese confectionery and a colorful selection of mochi. Some flavors like cherry blossom and ichigo daifuku (fresh strawberry mochi) are seasonal, while chocolate and red bean are always in rotation. More information is available here.

Go For Broke Monument -> The memorial commemorates the heroism of Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War II. It embodies the values ​​of Japanese-American veterans of courage, sacrifice, equality, humility and patriotism. Designed by Roger M. Yanagita and built in 1999, the memorial is engraved with the names of over 16,000 men and women who bravely fought so future generations could live freely in the United States without fear of racial prejudice. More information is available here.

Double Tree Hilton Kyoto Gardens rooftop -> Atop the Doubletree Hotel is the Kyoto Gardens, a 2-acre (sounds bigger than it is) oasis of trees, flowers, cascading waterfalls, tranquil ponds and views of downtown Los Angeles. Technically, the rooftop is for hotel guests only, but in our experience, you’ll likely walk up to the garden level with no problems. Just go inside the hotel and make your way to the elevators behind reception. Take the elevator to floor “G” for the garden. If possible, come on a weekday to avoid being turned away for special occasions and weddings. More information is available here.

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A handy list of other to-dos in Little Tokyo

Bunkado souvenir shop in Little Tokyo
Bunkado gift shop. Photo by Christina Champlin.
  • The Home is Little Tokyo mural depicts 100 years of Little Tokyo history. You’ll find it across from the Japanese-American National Museum along Central Avenue.
  • Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple on East 3rd Street is affiliated with the Shinshu Otani-ha denomination based in Kyoto, Japan. The beautifully built temple is open to all and is a peaceful place that hosts many events and festivals throughout the year.
  • LA Artcore is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the careers of visual artists from diverse backgrounds. Admission is free and the exhibitions change monthly.
  • East West Players is the nation’s largest and longest-running Asian American theater.
  • Family-owned since 1945, Bunkado is a kitschy shop selling one-of-a-kind gifts, housewares, books, kitchen items, and other Japanese knick-knacks.
  • Pop Killer stocks fun knick-knacks, vintage clothing, cool t-shirts and tons of gag gifts.
  • For an extra dose of cuteness, visit the Sanrio store to check out the latest Hello Kitty products.
  • Little Tokyo Galleria is an indoor mall with a Japanese market, a few restaurants, and independent shops.
  • Sing your heart out at Max Karaoke at Little Tokyo Galleria.
  • Weller Court is home to restaurants, shops and the Marukai Japanese Market. Walk through the courthouse’s neon tunnel to see a lighting installation. It’s also a great place to take a picture.
  • Weller Court also houses a memorial dedicated to astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who died in the 1986 Challenger disaster.
  • Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore chain that was founded in Tokyo in 1927. The store stocks Japanese books and magazines.

Where to eat in Little Tokyo?

Sashimi Deluxe by Sushi Gen
Sashimi Deluxe by Sushi Gen. Photo by Christina Champlin.
  • Open since 1991, Shabu Shabu House is the first Shabu Shabu restaurant in North America.
  • At Hama Sushi you will find fresh fish made into rolls and sashimi. Simple and tasty, the food makes up for the long wait.
  • TaNoTa Takoyaki opened in 2009 and serves takoyaki, the most popular street food in all of Japan.
  • Get a taste of traditional Japanese dishes and beautifully presented sushi boxes at Sushi Komasa. There is always a wait at this place, so come early.
  • Hiroshima’s chinchikurin has found a home in Little Tokyo. The hearty omelet serves Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and consists of 11 layers of ingredients.
  • Sushi Gen has been in business for over 40 years and is one of the best places for sushi. The sashimi deluxe is the most popular item here.
  • Try Japanese-Italian pasta at PASTA e PASTA by Allegro.
  • Enjoy Hawaiian comfort food at Aloha Cafe, which features items like Loco Moco, Kalua Pork and Spam Musubi.
  • Enjoy a solid tonkotsu broth at popular ramen joint Daikokuya.
  • RAKKAN Ramen is an award-winning ramen restaurant straight from Japan that serves a delicious plant-based broth.
  • Marugame Monzo prepares freshly made, hand-cut udon in front of guests. The fresh chewy noodles are served Japanese style or Italian fusion.
  • Order a Japanese beer at Far Bar. Drinking companions like wasabi fries, Asian-inspired tacos, and burgers are also on the menu.
  • French and Japanese brasserie Azay offers classics like Kakuni Omurice alongside boeuf bourguignon, duck confit and a full Japanese breakfast service.
  • Discover imaginative vegan macrobiotic sushi at Shojin.

Annual and ongoing events

Delicious little Tokyo
Photo via Delicious Little Tokyo
  • Nisei Week is a summer festival celebrating Japanese and Japanese-American culture. The week-long celebration is packed with live performances, activities and a grand parade. The 80th Nisei Week Japanese Festival will be held from August 13th to 21st, 2022.
  • The Natsumatsuri Family Festival is an annual summer celebration of cultural performances, handicrafts, and activities for families and children at the Japanese American National Museum. This year the festival will take place on August 13, 2022.
  • Oshogatsu is a New Year’s celebration in Little Tokyo that includes traditional activities like mochi pounding, cultural entertainment, and activities for all ages at local storefronts, malls, museums, and the JACCC.
  • Each year, the public is invited to take a culinary journey through the historic district with the help of Delicious Little Tokyo. Activities included in the pass include a Little Tokyo history food tour, pop-up shops, workshops, live demos, and specialty food dishes.
  • The Zenshuji Obon Carnival honors ancestors with cultural ceremonies, live entertainment and traditional food. Held at Zenshuji Soto Mission in Summer.
  • Not a traditional Japanese celebration, Haunted Little Tokyo is a new spooky month-long event taking place in October. Last year’s edition included film screenings, a pumpkin patch, a block party, and a trick-or-treating night.

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