Whirlwind Weekend in L.A.’s Little Tokyo

Los Angeles Little Tokyo

The air was cool on my shoulders. I shivered a bit. I’m used to warmer weather in July. This time of year, it’s sweltering in Chicago, day and night. I always thought of L.A. as perpetually warm, so I wasn’t prepared for the lowered nighttime temperatures. But that pleasant breeze was just another thing about L.A. that surprised me on my second trip to the city.

After locking up my dingy little $40-a-night room at the Sogo Hotel, I walked down to 1st street, where all the action was taking place. Like others, I was lured to the strip of eateries by glowing red lights and irresistible smells that escaped every time the doors of a restaurant swung open. Long lines and crowds of young scenesters were starting to form outside certain restaurants; others, which apparently didn’t have as much clout, stayed fairly empty.

I took it all in. I was here, I was alone, and I was going to do whatever I wanted in Little Tokyo.

I’m not sure L.A. would be a top choice for a weekend trip for most savvy travelers. For one thing, it’s huge and daunting to traverse, especially since it lacks sophisticated public transportation. Also, if you’re planning to do all the important tourist activities, a weekend probably won’t be enough.

So how did I end up in Little Tokyo for a weekend trip? Well, I spent the week at a conference held near Universal Studios, and rather than head straight back to Chicago on Friday, I decided to stay on for the weekend and focus on this one particular ethnic enclave, which attracted me because of a trip to Japan only months before, where I fell in love with anything and everything Japan.

I had been to Los Angeles before to visit my cousin and had already crossed most of the major bucket items off my list. Here was my approach this time: forgo the beach, forget Santa Monica Boulevard, and forswear anything to do with celebrities or movie stars or any of that nonsense. I wanted udon, sushi, Kirin or Sapporo…anything that would take me back to one of my most memorable international trips.

L.A.’s Little Tokyo is just a few blocks long. It doesn’t go on for ages like New York’s Chinatown and some other cities’ ethnic enclaves. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. While this section of the city doesn’t seem to be solely populated by people of Japanese decent, you will hear the language spoken and see signs of the culture everywhere. For me, it was enchanting.

When it came time to choose a place to eat, I settled on a little family-owned, no-frills noodle shop, devoid of crowds, where the udon (noodle soup) was fairly priced and rather tasty. Later, I wandered down the block into a dark, nearly-empty, seedy-looking bar and ordered a cold Sapporo. Despite my wish to be social, no one talked to me. I sat hunched over my beer until it was gone, paid the tab and traveled on.

L.A.’s Little Tokyo is
just a few blocks long.
But what it lacks in size,
it makes up for in character.

Next, I headed to the charming Japanese Village Plaza and peered into the windows of number of restaurants and small shops selling sweets, trinkets, clothing and other items. The red lanterns strung above the center’s walkways were a nice touch.

Once it got late, I had to face reality. Shadows were getting deeper, and footsteps behind me starting to seem a little ominous. Besides that, I was staying in a part of the city where walking around late at night is not recommended. Reluctantly, I headed back to the Sogo Hotel, which, by the way, was as much a part of the Little Tokyo experience as what I described above.

Los_Angeles_Little_Tokyo_croquettes
Los_Angeles_Little_Tokyo_lantern

Stay tuned for a future post about the Sogo, as well as a little clown puppet video that I filmed during my trip. (Don’t worry, it won’t be weird or anything. You know, just a regular clown puppet video.)

See, just about anything can happen if you look beyond the expected and let yourself be inspired by Los Angeles.

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