A family arrives for an event at the Japanese American Cultural Center on a late November morning. Though at it’s peak before World War II, Little Tokyo had 30,000 residents, since then LA’s Japanese American community has been dispersed. But, as Steve Nagano points out, many have remained tied to the district, “When we talk about us being part of the community—they’re being part of the community too, although they might live in Anaheim, Silver Lake, Culver City, Torrance. They still feel like they’re a part of it, which I guess speaks to the uniqueness of Little Tokyo, the history it has among Japanese Americans particularly, and we’re just fortunate in many ways to be living in it.”
At roughly five blocks, Little Tokyo is one of LA’s smallest and densest neighborhoods, bringing together luxury hotels, Buddhist temples and mom-and-pop shops that have been in business for almost a century.
It’s one of the most popular tourist stops in the Downtown area and a vibrant neighborhood where almost one-fifth of its residents are 65 and older – twice the proportion of seniors you find in the rest of the city.
When it comes to “aging in place” in LA, Little Tokyo sets a positive example for other parts of the city. There are 950 units of affordable housing available – most of them dedicated to seniors – as well as access to multilingual case management, caregiving, and public transportation – all within walking distance.
But with its prime central location, there’s a lot of pressure on Little Tokyo these days. Steve Nagano, a former school teacher who moved to Little Tokyo from Torrance after retiring a few years ago has been working to keep the neighborhood the way it is. “We think it will be around when we die,” he says. “But you know, what it’ll be, we’re not sure. Especially with the gentrification, the change in demographics, does Little Tokyo still have same or similar character to what we had when we were growing up? What control do we have?”
Explore Little Tokyo
Hey! Did you enjoy this piece? We can’t do it without you. We are member-supported, so your donation is critical to KCRW's music programming, news reporting, and cultural coverage. Help support the DJs, journalists, and staff of the station you love.