Did you know that at one time there were 43 different Japantowns (Little Tokyos, J-Towns, Nihonmachis) in California alone?
They provided welcome respite for the Japanese community — a “cultural home” with markets, restaurants, newspapers, Buddhist and Christian churches — at a time when the U.S. did not welcome Japanese Americans.
After World War II and imprisonment in camp, many of the J-Towns disappeared. JAs were dispersed, and visits to Little Tokyo became infrequent. But most of us still cherish shared memories of families and friends and trips to Little Tokyo from our childhood. Little Tokyo remains the “cultural soul” of the Japanese American community.
Today there are only four Japantowns left in the United States. And those precious four are being ravaged by issues of gentrification, non-cultural commercialization, reconstruction.
In August at a gathering at the JACCC, a group of Little Tokyo advocates launched the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund (LTCIF), a real estate investment fund that will seek to purchase and manage properties for the purpose of supporting heritage-based businesses and properties in Little Tokyo. Around 70 people attended that meeting.
A second informational meeting for people concerned about preserving the cultural legacy and character of Little Tokyo will take place on Sunday, Sept. 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, 1964 W. 162nd St., Gardena. The program, co-sponsored by LTCIF and the GVJCI, will provide an update on Little Tokyo; and the mission, structure and operation of the new LT Impact Fund will be presented, followed by a Q&A session.
“Gentrification is taking a toll. Mom-and-pops and legacy businesses are being squeezed out,” says Miya Iwataki, one of the organizers. “In the past few years, over two dozen mom-and-pop stores have been dislocated or closed; and there are a number of properties currently on the market.”
“The old adage is if you don’t own it, you don’t control it,” says Bill Watanabe, president of the fund’s board. “With the opening of the Metro (Regional) Connector train in Little Tokyo in a couple more years, it is inevitable that land prices and rents will escalate even faster, and only the deep-pocket businesses will be able to afford doing business in Little Tokyo.”
Organizers hope that the investment fund, with a target of accumulating up to $10 million, will be able to buy property and still offer a reduced but significant rate of return on the investment; and also provide rent subsidies for heritage-based small businesses.
“I am interested in the concept and the potential for the future of promoting and preserving Little Tokyo as our cultural heritage,” says Iku Kiriyama, founding member of the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California in Torrance.
All those who are interested in investing in the future of Little Tokyo, or in learning more about the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund are invited to come to the meeting, and to visit the LTCIF website (www.littletokyocif.com) and to RSVP.