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Friday, October 27, 2023

Little Tokyo

If you want to get a small taste of Japan, Little Tokyo or Torrance is the place to be. I have never been to Torrance except to pass through to get from point A to B. But one of these days, I would like to check it out. For now, Little Tokyo will have to do. It is an area in downtown Los Angeles with everything Japanese
hotels, apartment buildings, Japanese garden, knickknack shops, interesting stores, cafes, bakeries, a few small grocery stores and plenty of restaurants.
I have been here many times, including during Covid, when this once lively place was dead. Many owners had closed shop, waiting for life to get back to normal. Where there was once a wishing tree, there was just a plain sad looking one, and retailers looked unhappy.

Nowadays, things are back to normal, and the Tokyo Village is again crowded and lively on weekends. If you don’t like crowds, come during the week or in the evening. I don’t enjoy places that are too crowded, but I was so happy to see this area full of life and hustle and bustle, just the way it used to be. The photos you will see in this blog are from various occasions that I’ve been here. One of my favorite place at the Tokyo village is Café Dulce. This is the place where Tessa, the protagonist in The American Outsider, orders her salad. Come early or you will see people lining up outside.
From Sandwiches to Salads to sweets and drinks, nothing will disappoint because the quality of the food is great. I usually get a Caprese sandwich which comes with a salad. Sometimes I have a green tea custard doughnut with a latte or a blueberry matcha drink. It’s best to eat your food here, because the sandwich can get soggy by the time you take it home, the doughnut will no longer be fresh out of the oven, and the latte is much better when you drink it out of their ceramic cup. At the time I took the above picture, they were still in covid mode, and used paper plates and cups. They will still try to do it this way, so make sure that you ask them to use real plates and cups. Also, take your friends with you, and share a bunch of stuff, since it’s not everyday that you will come here.
So, here is the wishing tree that I talk about in my book. Tessa made a wish and tied it to this Tree, and Toshiro came here later and read her wish, not realizing that she was the one who had written it. Do go ahead and write your wish on a strip of paper, and tie it to the tree. Who knows? It may just come true…
There is a small grocery store, Nijiya Market, that sells Japanese products. One time I bought a bag full of Japanese curly cucumbers here and ate the entire thing in one sitting. It was so good, but I haven’t been able to find ones like it since. When I was a kid in Tehran, my mom would buy them at the market. They are delicious, but not so easy to find.
Anyway, I ended up buying a few things here
cucumber and matcha cookies which were meh, but the chips and the mushrooms were yum.The wholefoods near me used to carry these mushrooms, but I can't find them there anymore. So, I usually end up getting them at an Asian supermarket.

I ended up making a quick vegan Miso mushroom soup, the "Persian" way, because I added tumeric. Iranians eat everything with tumeric. I added onion, garlic, tumeric, ginger, Miso, Chinese noodles (I really like the brand you see in the photo, and I get it at wholefoods. It makes the soup tastes just like a ramen soup), organic tofu, sesame seed oil, and water. Bring the water to a boil, and lower to a simmer for five minutes, add the noodles, wait a few minutes, stir to break the noodles apart and it's ready to eat. They came out pretty good.


This gentleman's name is Arthur Nakane, and he has been singing at the Tokyo Village for many years. He is kind and sweet. You can google his name and learn more about him. One time I put some money in his basket, and he wanted to have a full-on conversation with me on his microphone, announce my name, tell everyone where I was from, and sing a song for me. I was not comfortable doing that, and so I just nodded at him, shook my head no, and walked away.
Long ago, I was at this Revolving Sushi place with my nieces. The food is just okay. If you have never been to one, it’s worth a try at least once, because it’s a different experience. People line up outside, and sometimes the wait can be more than 30 minutes.
The above places are two different restaurants in one spaceChinchikurin, and Takoyaki Tanota. I don’t eat Takoyaki because I like octopuses, and they’re quite intelligent. But a lot of people sit behind a bar here, and eat them. I once asked them if they make a vegan or a vegetarian one, they said no. However, I have ordered vegetarian okonomiyaki from Chinchikurin in the past. But again, it is best if you eat it there. They can either make it and serve it to you at one of the tables inside, or you can sit behind the kitchen bar and watch the chef make it for you. Another option is to sit outside, and they give you the ingredients, and you can make it on the grill yourself.
Once you walk away from the Tokyo village, there are other things you could do. There is a hidden pretty garden, the James Irvine Japanese garden at the Japanese American Cultural and community center which is a nice getaway from the crowds. If they’re having a private event, you may only be allowed to see it from the outside. You may want to call them before you go.
I like museums because it is a reminder to me that history repeats itself, even when governments around the world claim that they are "progressive." The essence of politicians do not change as they make poor decisions, bringing harm to civilians. Here is the Japanese American National Museum in the area, highly recommended. It's truly informative about World War II and the placement of the Japanese population in the concentration camps. There is an area where you can get a glimpse of the conditions under which they lived.
I was here twice. The first time I visited the permanent collection which I really enjoyed. It felt so real that I was able to feel their pain and hardship.
The second time, there was an exhibit showcasing the work of Miné Okubo, an amazing writer and artist. In 1984, She wrote a book, Citizen 13660, about her experiences, and living under appalling living conditions during World War II.
Weller Court is another area in Little Tokyo where a variety of eateries, and the Marukai market is located. It’s quieter than Tokyo Village, feels more relaxed, and has shady areas to stretch your legs.
I wanted to check out the Marukai market to see if I can find Inari sushi. This is one of my favorite Japanese foods. A lot of people have no idea what this is. Inari is Tofu skin with a slightly sweet taste wrapped around sushi rice. Not many places sell it. I used to get it at one of the restaurants I frequented in Little Tokyo, but they no longer make it. I was surprised to find it here. They were tasty, but not as good as the ones I used to buy at the restaurant. Nevertheless, the store employee who helped me find it, told me that these sell out fast. Another item I was looking for were the frozen wafers which I had tried once long ago. They are hard to find, and I haven’t seen them anywhere else. The Strawberry one comes with a layer of white chocolate. But if you’re like me, you will absolutely love the chocolate one with a dark chocolate layer. So, there you have it. My tour of Little Tokyo. Maybe at another point in time, I will cover the Torrance Japanese areas.