Experiencing Little Tokyo

Take a trip to Little Tokyo to experience an abundance of exotic foods and unique shopping opportunities.

The+Chimes+staff+photographer+Katie+Evensen+looks+at+the+many+lunch+options+available+at+Shin+Sen+Gumi+in+Little+Tokyo.+%7C+Melanie+Kim%2FTHE+CHIMES

The Chimes staff photographer Katie Evensen looks at the many lunch options available at Shin Sen Gumi in Little Tokyo. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES

Catherine Streng, Writer

The Chimes videographer Megan Mead observes the Dodgers exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. See the full gallery from Little Tokyo here. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES

 

On my last mini vacation, I touched ceramic tea sets, tasted authentic ramen, purchased imported foreign candy and saw several different kinds of people in insane Lolita and cosplay outfits. I did not even have to leave the country. Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles gives you the opportunity to discover the Japanese culture you would not normally be able to without purchasing a $2,000 flight.

Come to Little Tokyo hungry to fully experience the culture. Numerous restaurants encompass this neighborhood, giving anyone an opportunity to try authentic Japanese food. From sushi to ramen to bento boxes, they lie within a block. One restaurant, named Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi, serves utterly delectable ramen. No, not the 99 cent packets you find at grocery stores that most college kids live on, but true ramen, cooked the way it should be.

Upon entering the restaurant, employees greet you with a loud “youkosu!” meaning welcome. The Japanese decor combined with the friendly staff create an exciting atmosphere for the eater.

Have no fear if you are a picky eater, Hakata Ramen also serves rice with chicken, edamame and other tame plates. However, if you are an adventurous eater, pages of authentic foods cover the menu. A photo accompanies every menu item for those who do not know the names of specific foods. Unfortunately, this restaurant only splits the receipt into a maximum of four checks, so plan ahead if you come with a large group. While leaving the restaurant, the workers shout “Arigatou! Itterasshai!” meaning “Thank you! Please go and come back!”

After rolling yourself out of the restaurant with your satisfied belly, the stores nearby give you an opportunity to shop while you digest. The Japanese Village Plaza contains many different stores for all your Japanese merchandise needs. The Sanrio store sells as many Hello Kitty products as you could want. Tokyo Japanese Outlet, across from Sanrio, vends Japanese home goods, such as bento boxes, chopsticks, tea sets and random Japanese products you probably did not know existed. My favorite, the Nijiya Market, sells a variety of Japanese foods. From green tea Kit-Kats, to mochi, sushi and Ramune, I drain my wallet walking out of that grocery store. Buy something you have never seen before, as it could easily become your next favorite snack.

Once you feel more room in your stomach, I suggest going to Mikawaya Mochi just two stores down from Nijiya Market. In this amazing ice cream parlor, they sell mochi ice cream for only one dollar. If you dislike mochi, a Japanese rice cake, they also sell gelato. The flavors range from green tea to raspberry cream to vanilla. Also located in the Japanese Village Plaza, Cafe Dulce sells an incredible Vietnamese iced coffee for $4.50.

Take your sweets and head down the street to Kinokuniya Book Store. This bookstore will satisfy all your book loving needs. It provides Japanese learning books, manga, magazines, cookbooks, travel books and more — all in Japanese or English. For anime fans, Anime Jungle has an even wider variety of anime and manga.

Before leaving Little Tokyo, purchase a student ticket with a student ID for $5 at the Japanese American National Museum, or JANM. The exhibits change constantly, so look beforehand to see if you wish to view one. Their main exhibit, which never changes, reminds us of the time our country placed Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II. Everyone who visits Little Tokyo must visit JANM.

With so much to do in Little Tokyo, anyone can easily spend an entire Saturday discovering new places and foods while immersing themselves in the Japanese culture.

 

Follow the Chimes staff as they take you through the various restaurants and other attractions in downtown L.A.'s Little Tokyo in a Travel Channel-style video.
 

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