JapanLA is a Japanese pop culture shop selling character and anime goods. Their products range from Japanese characters like the worldwide phenomenon Hello Kitty to Japanese-inspired characters like Tokidoki, an American brand by an Italian artist who loves Japanese pop culture.
The name JapanLA comes from the fact that this shop regularly hosts independent artists inspired by L.A. to sell their merchandise in their store as a pop-up. This creates a unique blend of Japanese and Los Angeles pop culture.
JapanLA has the perfect kawaii gifts for the young and young at heart. Every month the shop rotates in new releases and invites independent artists to set up their pop-up shops, so there’s always something new to check out.
Meet Jamie Rivadeneira, owner of JapanLA!
How did you get your start in Little Tokyo?
Jamie Rivadeneira (JR): I’ve had my store at Melrose for 13 years now and we do a lot of pop-up shops with different brands and when we have a pop-up shop, like with Studio Ghibli, we had these huge lines that wrap around the neighborhood. But then after it’s over, there are not that many places for the attendees to go to.
When Brunswig Square contacted us and encouraged us to move to Little Tokyo, it made sense to me. I opened this location in Little Tokyo mainly for pop-ups and events so that our customers would have a better experience for the whole day.
What is your most memorable experience in Little Tokyo?
JR: When I was three or four years old my mom used to do business in Little Tokyo. I was really quiet as a kid so she would bring me to business meetings and her clients would teach me how to use chopsticks or teach me about Japanese food. My mom would always tell me, “If you behave you will get to choose something from the store over here.”
There was a little store, I don’t remember what it was called, but it had Hello Kitty and all the cute Japanese pop culture stuff. So that’s where my affinity for Japanese pop culture comes from and why it feels natural that I am here with JapanLA now.
Do you have any favorite places you like to go to in Little Tokyo or if someone was visiting L.A. and they only had a couple of hours in Little Tokyo, what would you recommend that they do?
JR: When our customers ask us we always tell them to go to Anime Jungle because it’s like a secret underground mall. Our friends at Q Pop are down there and all the other little stores like Ficklewish and Retro Game Camp. Since it is hidden, it is easy to miss and a lot of our customers don’t know about it. We tell them when you go to Japan you have to really search to find the best shops, so Anime Jungle feels similar to that.
Also I really like Kinokuniya and go there a lot. And the red bean cakes, taiyaki, at Mitsuru Café in the Japanese Village Plaza are so good. They have a window that you can look into and there’s also fried chicken on sticks. I like that it really has the feel of a local family-owned business. My daughter really likes the soft-serve ice cream at the traditional Japanese bakery, Yamazaki Bakery, in the Japanese Village Plaza.
What do you think it is that makes Little Tokyo different or unique from all the other neighborhoods in L.A.?
JR: Well it definitely has a theme, right? It’s Japanese food, Japanese stuff and it’s a go-to destination if you’re into this stuff. If you’re into anime or character goods or Japanese food or even if you’re looking for traditional souvenirs then you should be able to find it in Little Tokyo.
What are your hopes for the neighborhood in the future and what is JapanLA’s role in this?
JR: Well, I hope all the small businesses on First Street stay especially the little hardware store, Anzen, is so cute. There are also a lot of great family-owned restaurants, so I just hope we can all coexist in a mutually beneficial way where there’s still room for everybody.
For JapanLA we’re just trying to make people more aware of Little Tokyo because I feel like a lot of people don’t really know how cool it is. I grew up coming here so sometimes it’s hard for me to be outside of that, but when we post things like Haunted Little Tokyo, a lot of our customers don’t know this area and all the great things happening, which surprised me. But they’re not here every day, so I guess they wouldn’t really know.
Mostly I just really want to create a bigger community of Japanese pop culture fans who want to meet other fans to start friendships and have experiences together in Little Tokyo.
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.