Whether during the lunchtime rush or for 2:00 a.m. late-night munchies, Hiroshi Yamauchi, owner of Japanese restaurant Kouraku, serves up comfort food the way he remembers it in post-WWII Japan. During this time of reconstruction, foods like ramen and curry rice were the most accessible to the average person.
If the plastic food models in the glass display case at the storefront don’t give it away, read our one-on-one interview below to learn how Hiroshi is sharing authentic Japanese food with Americans, one plate at a time.
How did you get your start in Little Tokyo?
Hiroshi Yamauchi: The restaurant opened about 40 years ago in 1976, and I took over the restaurant from the previous proprietor in 1986. Today, my wife and I both operate Kouraku together, serving the same style of food since the restaurant’s opening.
The food we serve is inspired by the struggles many Japanese people faced after World War II, during a period of reconstruction spurred by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. After the war, everybody had to work and cooperate with one another to recover from the devastation that was left behind. Dishes like ramen and curry rice were the cheapest and most accessible while things like sukiyaki and katsu-don were rarely available.
My style of food reflects this period of reconstruction and my home country. I want to introduce to the American people what many Japanese people ate to keep their energy and spirits high.
What is your most memorable experience in Little Tokyo?
HY: The Nisei Week Parades in the 1990s were quite memorable. Hundreds of people from all over flooded the streets to celebrate the festivities of the day.
What is your most favorite restaurant, business or shop in Little Tokyo?
HY: My favorite restaurants and shops in Little Tokyo are Suehiro Café, Anzen Hardware and Torigoya. Suehiro Café has a similar history to Kouraku and the owners of all three businesses are very friendly.
What makes Little Tokyo different from other neighborhoods?
HY: The history of the neighborhood and what it means for many Japanese Americans is what makes Little Tokyo unique. For many people Little Tokyo represents their heart and home. There is no better place in Los Angeles where you can learn and experience real Japanese culture.
What do you hope for the future of Little Tokyo?
HY: In the future, I hope that more people get excited about Japanese culture and that Little Tokyo maintains its historic and cultural identity. As I said earlier, Little Tokyo is the home and heart of many Japanese and Japanese Americans. I would like to see the history of our culture passed on to future generations.
With the new housing and retail developments in Little Tokyo, I want them to feel welcomed by our community but to always keep the cultural identity of the neighborhood in mind. In my opinion, it would be nice to see some of the major chain stores here incorporate aspects of Japanese culture into their goods and services.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Meet Little Tokyo is brought to you by Go Little Tokyo: a community led effort by the Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC) aimed at highlighting the unique cultural programs, community events, and dining and shopping experiences found in Little Tokyo.
314 E. Second St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 a.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.