Plans for Little Tokyo Design Week Unveiled


Hitoshi Abe (left) and Jon Kaji, co-chairs of Little Tokyo Design Week, get an assist on Thursday from Astro Boy as they announce plans for the five-day festival in July, which will celebrate Japan’s cutting-edge technology and design. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)




For five days in July, architects, designers and artists will gather in Little Tokyo, turning the historic Japantown into a city of the future, showcasing new technology, fashion and design from Japan and California.

“Little Tokyo Design Week (LTDW) allows us to bring together these great minds and explore how this new technology can influence urban lifestyle,” said Hitoshi Abe, LTDW co-chair, director for the UCLA Paul and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, and chair of the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design.

From July 13 to 17, the museums, stores, restaurants and streets of Little Tokyo will showcase exhibitions and symposiums that explore issues from robotics and anime, to personal stories of the March 11 earthquake. LTDW marks the first collaboration of Little Tokyo’s three main cultural institutions: the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum and the the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.

Abe was joined at the press conference last Thursday by Jonathan Kaji, LTDW co-chair and president of Kaji and Associates; Councilmember Jan Perry; Akemi Kikumura Yano, JANM president and CEO; Chris Aihara, JACCC executive director; David Galligan, MOCA executive vice president; and Bill Watanabe, executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center.

Abe explained that the Sendai-based newspaper Kahoku Shimpo is currently gathering stories and images to be featured in one of 20 shipping container galleries that will be located throughout Little Tokyo. Other container galleries will be curated by students from Art Center College of Design, Southern California Institute of Architecture and the USC School of Architecture.

“After the earthquake, we had a talk with Consul General (Junichi) Ihara whether we should have the event or not,” Abe explained. “We decided we should have this event, to cheer them up and show that Japan has a vital future.”

LTDW will be organized around design zones focusing on topics such as fashion, robots, graphic design and architecture. J-Town was selected as the site for the free festival because of its mix of older and younger residents and its pedestrian-friendly small shops and restaurants. Organizers anticipate more than 75,000 will visit Little Tokyo during the week.

Among highlights of the festival is “Ultra Expo,” a symposium exploring aspects of the Osaka Exposition of 1970, the first exposition held in Japan and one of the best attended expos in history; and the U.S. premiere of the architectural exhibition “Struggling Cities: From Japanese Urban Projects in the 1960s.”

The festival will conclude with the Golden Astro Boy Award ceremony, with awards given to the best design installation. Inspired by similar awards such as the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion, this contest will be judged by a jury of important Los Angeles community members, architects, designers, artists, and guest critics from L.A. and Japan.

“We have been able to work together to create a very timely event that opens a door on Japan, not only its architecture and design, but also what has happened most recently in Japan,” said Kaji.

If the first LTDW is successful, the organizers hope to turn it into an annual event.

“The first time is the most difficult, we’d like to see it happen every year,” said Kikumura Yano.

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