On the Sunny Side of Little Tokyo

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JACCC replaces soil for beloved grapefruit tree.

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From left: Dave Le, Mac Smith, Hirokazu Kosaka, Scott Oshima, Jon Ngai, Kenji Liu and Andrew Jewell gave Sunny the grapefruit tree at JACCC Plaza a boost of nutrients that should help the beloved 150-year-old icon live for many years to come.

By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer

On May 22, at the JACCC Plaza in front of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo, the soil of the grapefruit tree in the northwest corner along San Pedro Street was replaced.

The tree is said to be about 150 years old, and is one of the two trees that still survives as a remnant of the previous era in Little Tokyo, which is said to have started forming around 1885. The other tree is on the grounds of the San Pedro Firm Building near First Street.

The volunteers work to replace the soil around Sunny’s roots.

Every year, in early summer, the tree has been producing yellow fruits, while calmly watching the history of Little Tokyo unfold. The tree is cherished by the locals and is nicknamed Sunny. He has already borne fruit this year, but he has also sprouted a trunk offshoot that makes us feel his age and history.

On this day, they were replacing the soil with some nutrient-rich compost soil so that Sunny will be healthier. They first brought in John Trager, a horticultural consultant from the Huntington Library, who recommended we supplement the soil. Jon Ngai is working with Master Artist-in-Residence Hirokazu Kosaka and Mellon Fellow Kenji Liu. Jon is a master’s candidate in landscape architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and helped oversee our group of volunteers.

Until two years ago, community events were held, such as a night to enjoy a grapefruit cocktail, to commemorate Sunny, but unfortunately COVID-19 canceled everything for 2020 and so far for 2021. But for Sunny, the pandemic will be quietly engraved in his long history. This pandemic, for him, is the second, after the Spanish flu a hundred years ago.

I can’t help but hope that the trees will continue to grow older for many years to come, and continue to watch the future of our community after we are gone.

Sunny has stood in Little Tokyo for around 150 years.

Photos by TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo

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