Tea and Art in Little Tokyo

The more I explore Los Angeles the more I get to know it’s many diverse neighborhoods and grow to love them. Take Little Tokyo which consists of a few city blocks between Downtown and the Arts District. Upon first glance, it may seem to consist mostly of restaurants and shops but there’s so much more beneath the surface. It’s filled with cultural landmarks, great works of art and a vibrant community. Honestly, it’s fast becoming one of my favorite spots in the city. This past weekend I returned to partake in a Japanese tea ceremony and ended up spending most of the afternoon there discovering its hidden gems.

I attended the tea ceremony at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center as part of Delicious Little Tokyo, a weekend celebration of the neighborhood’s food and drink.

I had long heard of Japanese tea ceremonies but never before had the opportunity to take part. Led by Tea Master Nishimura it was a beautiful ceremony filled with traditional rituals that gave a glimpse into Japanese culture. Every item and movement was rich with symbolism, especially pertaining to the current season. The colors, decor and dress all represented  summertime and the tea seemed a fitting celebration of it.

We were treated to sweets from Fugestu-Do and high quality green from Tea Master of Little Tokyo. The delicate sweet offset the bitterness of the tea and I absolutely loved it. After the ceremony was over I wasn’t ready to leave the area so I decided to embark on a self-guided art walk provided by Go Little Tokyo (the folks behind the event).

I started at the Go For Broke Monument located just outside the Geffen Contemporary. This monument honors the Japanese American units that fought so valiantly in Word War II. Go for broke was the motto of the soldiers and they certainly gave there all for our country.

Located a few doors down is the Go For Broke National Education Center. Through multi-media displays the interactive exhibit tells the story of the Japanese Internment during World War II and the brave Nisei soldiers who fought while their families were imprisoned.

It’s a heartbreaking, but necessary, exhibit that reminds us of one of the darker periods of our country’s history.

Just outside the center is another piece of public art – Toyo Miyataka’s Camera.

Miyataka was a photographer who had a studio in Little Tokyo. During the internment he smuggled a camera lens into the camp and continued to capture images of life during the war years. The statue is a replica of the handmade camera he used to capture those images.

Down the street I came across the next monument, the Chiune Sugihara Memorial.

Sugihara was the Japanese consulate to Lithuania and during World War II and, defying orders, he issued over 2,000 visas to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi’s. He provided aid at great personal risk to himself and his family and fully deserves a memorial in his honor.

Across the street I came across Tea Master, the shop that provided the tea for the ceremony. I had heard good things about their matcha ice cream so I decided it was the perfect time for a pit stop.

I love matcha and the ice cream did not disappoint. Delicious creamy it had the perfect hint of green tea. It’s actually the best green tea ice cream I’ve ever had!

Feeling refreshed, I continued on and located the Towers of Peace, Prosperity and Hope just outside the Little Tokyo Mall.

They’re in an unusual spot and I’m not sure how many people actually notice them as they enter the mail. It’s a shame because they’re quite beautiful and filled with abstract symbols of Japanese culture.

A few steps away at the far edge of the neighborhood is the California Japantown Landmarks Project.

The 3 sided bronze sculpture recognizes the contributions of Japanese Americans through images of Japantowns over the years. Prior to the war there were over 40 such areas throughout the state but today Little Tokyo is one of just three. The statue serves as a remembrance of these once vibrant areas.

Omoide No Shotokyo (Remembering Old Little Tokyo) can easily be missed if you don’t look down as its images are embedded in the sidewalk on 1st street. Luckily, I first noticed it last year so I made sure to keep an eye out.

There are several symbolic pictures representing memories of the community members as well as quotes detailing what it’s like to live and work in Little Tokyo.

The remembrances marked the end of my tour and my afternoon in Little Tokyo. I had a wonderful time learning more about Japanese American culture and history and am so appreciative of the efforts the community has made to present its past to its fellow Angeleno’s. Little Tokyo is a small neighborhood rich in arts and culture and I can’t wait to visit again.

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