Curated by small business consultant Mariko Lochridge and web developer Mieko Beyer, co-creators of the website LittleTokyoisOpen.com, a narrative collection of case studies documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Little Tokyo’s small business community.
We are pleased to present for the third year in a row our holiday gift guide of Nikkei entrepreneurs. In a year of so many challenges we wanted to highlight community-first, small business owners dedicated to making a difference in the world. Whether it’s through raising awareness for important issues, collaborating with neighboring businesses or donating to local organizations, these thoughtful business models are committed to be for people over for profit. Support our vibrant community of entrepreneurs and shop local this holiday season.
Japanese culture is rich with artistic and culinary traditions that many local businesses expertly share. These businesses below help to bring beautiful aspects of Japanese and Japanese American heritage to all.
Stacey Okutake earrings, Mas & Nobu
Mas & Nobu, founded by professional graphic designer and now professional craftsperson Stacey Okutake, brings explorations in fashion and art to her accessory designs. After starting out in the fashion capital New York, New York, Okutake now proudly calls Los Angeles home. Heritage and culture are central to her artistic vision — in fact, the company name itself, Mas & Nobu, comes from the names of her grandmothers, whose lives are celebrated through her designs.
Okutake incorporates the strength and survival of family members incarcerated during WWII and the Japanese-American identity. Her statement-making looks start conversations, catch the eye of fellow fashionistas on the street and visually represent hyphenated life.
“These earrings celebrate being Japanese American and the artwork that stems from this journey,” Okutake stated. “They remind us to hold on to our roots while we grow our lives on different land. They represent the importance of knowing our history and carrying it with us in all aspects of life. These earrings are also a way to share our American story with others, giving depth to who we are as individuals and representing what holds us together.”
The Venus Debris Lenticular Earrings in Pink, $45, are a handmade lenticular illusion design changing when seen at different angles — a visual representation of being Japanese American. Using origami technique to create each precise fold, these earrings carry on the delicate traditional art form while the original printed lenticular artwork brings them into the bright and bold pop art of American culture.
Recommended for the style innovators, adventurers and even those who think that they can’t pull off bold. Wear these proudly. Make your statement. Change perspectives.
Creative Beginnings: Redefining ‘Wa’ Care Package
Kokoro Care Packages, Lillian Hanako Rowlatt
In a country with a declining and aging population, many of Japan’s centuries-old agricultural methods, traditions and products face the very real threat of disappearing as rural communities continue to shrink. Kokoro Care Packages, co-founded by Lillian Hanako Rowlatt, helps to support these farmers, producers and their local communities by connecting people through food.
The company not only shares regional products from Japan but also the stories behind the locals who produce them. They partner with local farmers and producers in Japan, and by doing so offer them access to an international market that would otherwise be unattainable.
Rowlatt is a half-Japanese Canadian who spent two years living in Niigata-ken while on the JET program. She is passionate about all things Japan and sharing her love of its food and culture. After spending almost a decade in finance/capital markets, the mathematics and economics degree holder co-founded Kokoro Care Packages in late 2018.
Kokoro Care Packages’ Creative Beginnings: Redefining “Wa” Care Package is the perfect curation of Japanese pantry essentials to help you create beautiful Japanese dishes in your own kitchen, whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned Japanese cook. A great gift for the holidays, it includes:
Marunaka’s Brewing Soy Sauce (醤油) made using 200-year-old family traditions and three years to brew each bottle.
Pure “Stork” Rice Vinegar (純米酢) has a mild and smooth flavor that is less acidic than Western vinegar.
Shio Koji (塩麹) that will enhance the flavors of all ingredients in your creations.
Yuzu Miso (ゆず味噌) combines the salty umami flavor of miso with one of Japan’s most beloved sweet yet tart citrus fruits: yuzu.
Soda Bushi Dashi Powder (出汁) made from 100% soda bushi, a frigate tuna local to Shikoku island and can be used as a seasoning or a traditional soup stock.
Hontaka Shichimi Togarashi (七味唐辛子) a seven-spice blend that includes domestic Japanese chili peppers — the first variety to come to Japan 400 years ago.
$60 to $65. www.kokorocares.com
Japanese Rice Kit from TENZO, Jeffrey Ozawa
Tenzo specializes in unique and beautiful culinary tools, dishes and ingredients that each have a travel story behind them. Founded by a group of friends with incredible culinary expertise and storytelling ability, this gourmet shop continues to amaze its fans with incredible products season after season.
One of its founders, Jeffrey Ozawa, brings a well-honed, Japanese culinary expertise to the group’s product selections and recipe recommendations. He worked as a cook at a homestyle Japanese restaurant in Chicago and founded a popular gourmet, bento-box style catering company, Gourmando, in Los Angeles. Ozawa brings authentic Japanese kitchen tools and instruction to Tenzo’s fans.
Their new Tenzo rice kit teaches you how to make perfect Japanese rice at home. Designed to be a workshop in a box, the kit includes ingredients and instructions on how to make perfect Japanese rice, sushi rice, ochazuke, and onigiri. It also includes a hinoki kimasu, a small wooden box traditionally used to measure 1 go (Japanese cup) of rice or water.
The centerpiece of the kit is their very own hand-blended ochazuke mix, made with organic Japanese green tea, katsuobushi, kombu, and Celtic sea salt. Simply add to rice with the toppings of your choice and pour boiling water over to make the perfect ochazuke any time.
While you can make rice in any pot or rice cooker, Tenzo recommends their amazing Hagama Rice Cooker for the perfect Japanese rice.
The kit contains: premium short-grain rice, grown and milled in Japan; a hinoki kimasu rice cup; Tenzo ochazuke mix + arare rice crackers (contains fish); 20 sheets of temaki nori from Japan; three photo recipe cards — perfect Japanese rice + sushi rice, ochazuke, and onigiri (designed to make 10 servings of ochazuke + onigiri.)
DIY Japanese New Year Decoration
KaGOcraft, Misaki Murai
KaGOcraft specializes in paper craft bands, which have become a huge hit, making basket-making a fun, approachable art activity for adults and kids alike.
Torrance-based KaGOcraft offers DIY workshops and an instructor education course year-round at their studio shop. KaGOcraft stocks a wide selection of premium quality craft band and supplies at competitive prices. Because they care about the environment, all of KaGOcraft’s Craft Bands are produced from 100% recycled paper products.
They are regularly releasing new designs on their website and a YouTube channel. This year, embrace Japanese cultural tradition and create your very own “shimenawa” to ring in the new year.
Shimenawa is often decorated on the door or at the entrance of the home and creates a pure space to welcome Toshigami-sama. Would you like to try making shimenawa with Craft Band to help make your new year a great one?
Prices vary depending on size and complexity of design. kagocraft.com
From self-care to mental health, there are so many businesses in the community that strive to care about us all during a particularly difficult time. Give the gift of self-care to your loved ones and help them take care of themselves.
Cast-Iron Daruma Handheld Sculptures by Luna Ikuta
Luna Ikuta is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. Her works range from sculpture, installations, object design, and experimental aquascaping. She brings her artistic abilities to the traditional Japanese Daruma dolls, talismans of good luck.
Daruma dolls are traditionally gifted to people to wish them good fortune for the new year. As a talisman, Daruma dolls signify new beginnings and encourage perseverance in achieving one’s goals.
“I hope these Daruma dolls will help engage the community to show gestures of support and encouragement towards one another by activating conversations about future goals even in these difficult times,” Ikuta said.
These Darumas are plated in mirror black nickel and cast in iron, adding significant weight to the sculpture to echo the significance of the individual’s ambition.
A handheld size, these art objects are 3” tall and each doll is custom-stamped as a limited edition.
Dr. Pianist’s On-Call Service! by Makiko Hirata
Music is an overlooked resource that enhances our physical and mental well-being, strengthens our bonds, and reminds us that what we share is greater than our differences.
As we face our challenges, Dr. Pianist (Makiko Hirata) is on a mission to bring awareness to the power of music to as many people as possible. Her music and expertise are beautiful and enjoyable, as well as therapeutic and educational.
L.A.-based international pianist and recording artist Hirata is passionate about music and musicians as healing agents. In addition to her performances, lectures, media appearances and workshops, she is currently authoring her first book, “Why Piano Now?” Based on her own career and practice, her doctoral dissertation, and neuroscience, her book re-introduces music as a practice to enhance our sense of happiness, well-being and humanity.
Dr. Pianist is available for hire (virtually for now) to perform, to teach, and to share her expertise on the healing power of music.
$100 per hour. For details, visit: musicalmakiko.com.
Rose Quartz Jade Roller & Gua Sha Set with Serum
Soulfully Whole Wellness & Self-Care
Camille A. Cribbs is a certified massage therapist who is dedicated to educating others about the importance of self-care. Through her website, Soulfully Whole, she provides suggestions and services in hope to inspire and encourage folks to place priority in nurturing themselves for a quality life.
In this especially stressful time for many, Soulfully Whole’s jade roller and gua sha set provides a physical relief through its cold, comforting touch of the jade stone. By adding this set to your morning and night routine, you allow a moment to be present with yourself and give some self-love to start your day or decompress at the end of it.
The jade roller and gua sha set is an amazing self-massage tool to relieve tension. When used on your face it has anti-aging power by increasing circulation.
The set comes with a vitamin C + hyaluronic acid facial serum for the face before jade rolling and using the gua sha.
Many local businesses do an amazing job year-round of donating both time and money to important organizations and issues within their community.
They also happen to create outstanding products that you’ll love, and also love knowing that part of your purchase goes towards supporting a worthy cause.
Uprisers World Original Crewneck Sweatshirt and Tee
by We Are Uprisers, Michelle K. Hanabusa
After a career-ending injury in figure skating, Michelle K. Hanabusa pivoted and dived into design and contemporary fashion working for high-profile companies like BCBGMAXAZRIA and AEG.
Following her time in the corporate world, she endured trial-and-error venture-backed experiences pioneering her own entrepreneurial narrative. In 2019, Michelle bootstrapped WeAreUprisers – a community-driven streetwear brand. The brand’s core DNA is rooted in valuing collaborations with activists, trendsetters, and warriors of change to amplify impactful and authentic stories to mobilize change.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” said Hanabusa.
Five percent of every Uprisers World Original Crewneck Sweatshirt and Uprisers World Original Tee in white or pink purchase goes back to KOSUMOSU: a program of Little Tokyo Service Center that started in 2003. This is a transitional facility for survivors of domestic violence. They provide consultation to get housing, counseling, and life skills to provide future success.
Uprisers World Original Crewneck Sweatshirt has a structured feel with a unisex style displaying the “UPRISERS” original logo and “Did You Know” graphic in a puff-print that adds a bit of texture. The Uprisers World Original Tee in white or pink is a super-soft yet heavyweight material with a structured look and unisex style.
Sweatshirt $80, tee $35. www.weareuprisers.com
Gua Sha Beauty Tool
Head Spa EN, Sayuri Tsuchitani
Sayuri Tsuchitani, owner of Head Spa EN, is a specialist who uniquely delivers quality sleep to everyone. Originally from Japan, the world’s most sleep-deprived country, her goal is to deliver quality sleep for everyone to get through this challenging time during COVID-19.
Regularly donating her time to provide free-of-charge haircuts to low-income seniors, Sayuri donates both time and money to local senior housing organizations like Sakura Gardens.
Gua Sha is a healing technique of traditional East Asian medicine.
$1 from each purchase of her luxurious Gua Sha Beauty Tool goes to Sakura Gardens in Los Angeles.
$30. 421 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills; www.headspaen.com
These businesses build community among neighbors, business to business. From supporting historic First Street North in Little Tokyo to creating a space for upcoming artists and designers, these thriving local businesses
are committed to succeeding together.
Tsuru Paisley Bandana, Darin Maki at CRFT by Maki
Darin Maki is the founder and owner of CRFT by Maki. After spending over a decade overseas playing professional basketball in Japan, the Los Angeles native has moved back and opened a flagship store in the heart of Little Tokyo. A talented and innovative streetwear/athleisure designer, Maki recently lent his design chops to creating an amazing, limited-edition T-shirt for historic Anzen Hardware on First Street.
You can shop CRFT by Maki’s Tsuru Paisley Bandana (previous page), 22” by 22” made with a heavyweight cotton/spandex blend that you can style any way you please. A spin on a classic design, it is also thick enough for a CDC-recommended face covering.
“We thought to create a face covering during the pandemic that could identify with the JA community and also fans of Little Tokyo. Just doing face masks would be restrictive, so we created a bandana that you can utilize in several different ways,” stated Maki.
$12. 341 E. First Street, Los Angeles; crftbymaki.com
Ceramics Lessons from Shoshi Watanabe at Zakka Bakka
Shoshi Watanabe maintains a beautiful storefront in Los Feliz, where you can view and shop his amazing sculptural and ceramic work. A huge supporter of other sculptors and artists, you will often find an incredible selection of other work, from bowls to jewelry to cutting-edge fashion, often by artists new from Japan you will not see anywhere else in the U.S.
Watanabe has been instrumental in helping artists new to America get their work seen at his shop, where his ardent clientele love to shop.
You can learn from Watanabe’s artistic expertise by taking ceramics lessons yourself right in his Zakka Bakka shop located at 1709 N. Kenmore in Los Angeles.
Watanabe was born in Tokyo in 1986 and received an MFA from UCLA in 2014. His sculptural and ceramic work has been featured in several group exhibitions at galleries including including the Pacific Design Center, the Los Angeles Museum of Ceramic Art, the Torrance Art Museum, Arturo Bandini, and the Hildebrandt Studio.
Price varies, contact [email protected] for more details.
World-class Cuisine at Azay Restaurant
Akira and Jo Ann Hirose
Supporting small businesses that are invested in the community is an investment in the community as a whole. With three generations of community engagement, Azay’s goal is to create an intergenerational space where you can experience everything that 130+-year-old Little Tokyo has to offer.
First and foremost, however, it must be noted of course that Azay is an incredible restaurant that brings the huge talent of Chef Akira Hirose to Los Angeles.
Azay is the homecoming of Chef Akira as he explores the intersection of history, cuisine, and community in the former space of Anzen Hardware, Little Tokyo, previously owned and operated by wife Jo Ann’s father, Tsutomu Maehara (currently owned by Nori Takatani). Their son Philip was central to bringing together the incredible collaboration T-shirt between CRFT by Maki and Anzen Hardware.
This outstanding eatery is a pillar of the Little Tokyo community, with the whole family pitching in every day.
Order Azay gift cards, $5-$100, at https://squareup.com/gift/ZCXECV4F5Y046/order.
Tombo (Dragonfly) Series Face Masks
Bunkado, Irene Simonian
The third-generation owner of Bunkado store, Irene Tsukuda Simonian helms a family business that has been in Little Tokyo since 1946. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Irene spent her childhood in Little Tokyo, and then lived in New York City for 17 years.
Returning to L.A. in 1992 to help her mom manage the store, Irene became the third owner of the business in 2006 and makes it a point to support local writers, artists and entrepreneurs by selling their wares in her Little Tokyo retail store.
A necessity since the pandemic began, these handmade face masks are sewn by a local seamstress based at Little Tokyo Bridal and Tuxedo in Hashimoto Plaza. The inner lining is a disposable face mask, but is reusable with hand washing and line drying.
For those who are crafty, you can cut out the inner lining and have a light, one-layered mask. For double layers, sew two no-liner masks together to create one reversible mask.
$28 for a set of three dragonfly designs, available in-store.
340 E. First St., Los Angeles; online at bunkadoonline.com