Reflecting On a Decade

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(MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
THE LITTLE TOKYO THAT ONCE WAS: A view of Little Tokyo taken in 2004. Today most of the block as well as other significant parcels have been developed. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA

RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF

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The opening of the new LAPD headquarters in September was fitting closure to a decade of tremendous change for Little Tokyo. It was in 2004 that the Japanese American community concluded a year-long effort to fight the LAPD’s plans to move a jail next to Nishi Hongwanji temple.

Through community pressure, the jail did find a home away from Little Tokyo. But as this past year’s wranglings over Metro’s plans to build a regional connector on the very same intersection show, the community’s fight to maintain its distinctive character will continue to collide with the ambitions of the larger entities that surround it.

In the summer of 2002, some of the largest stakeholders in the community, including the Japanese American National Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center and Little Tokyo Service Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art clashed over a proposal to construct a gymnasium on the First Street North block. That block still remains undeveloped although Go For Broke recently received $1.5 million from the federal government towards the building of its new headquarters.

In 2008, LTSC was given the go-ahead to build the gymnasium, now called the Budokan of Los Angeles, on Los Angeles Street, coincidentally next to the former site of The Rafu’s old office. In late 2006, we moved as well, relocating to the Kajima Building.

The pieces keep moving around this small downtown neighborhood that has seen new players come and go. In those giddy days in 2007 before the real estate collapse of 2008, 3D Investments and American Commercial Equities emerged as major players with their purchases of the New Otani Hotel and Gardens and Weller Court and Japanese Village Plaza respectively. No doubt the new reality of tightened credit and a weakened economy will be felt here as well, as the Great Recession plays out into the next decade. How this will impact the next phase of building projects in J-Town – the gym, Nikkei Center and Go For Broke – will be seen.

If you were to walk around J-Town ten years ago, it would have been a drastically different experience. Large open parking lots left the downtown skyline unobscured. At night, the streets were largely deserted and there were no residents from Teramachi, Sakura Crossing, Savoy Condominiums or Hikari who now call this place home. There is a life, a new energy and momentum that is unmistakable.

A key question for the next 10 years will be whether Japanese Americans will continue to consider Little Tokyo their home. It will depend on us. So we say goodbye to the aughts and look forward to the next 10. Let’s hope for happiness, good health and prosperity.

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2 Comments

  1. Your reflection on a decade didn’t mention that the acquisition of property by an investment group was by Korean investors. So far this hasn’t changed the Japanese flavor of Little Tokyo but a number of old timers are worried that bulgogi will replace teriyaki, and the scent of garlic will infuse Japanese Village Plaza.

    It is good to see Far East Cafe back in business. The Oshogatsu was delightful, as always.

  2. You mentioned the Regional Connector, but you forgot to mention the beautiful new light rail station at that corner, which will add greatly to the neighborhood’s momentum and new energy.

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