15 Best Things to Do in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

Little Tokyo, Los Angeles
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Little Tokyo is one of the many districts you can find in the Los Angeles area.

This Japanese American district has been around since 1885 and is one of three official Japantowns in the U.S.

Currently, it holds the largest population of Japanese-American people in North America and is known as a center for history and culture.

Little Tokyo is the best place to get a peek of Japan and enjoy shopping.

With its long history and multiple spots for exploration, there is a lot you can choose to do in this district.

Bearing that in mind, here are the top 15 things to do in Little Tokyo:

Learn about Japanese American History at the Japanese American National Museum

Exterior view of the Japanese American National Museum
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One of the most prominent places to visit in Little Tokyo is the Japanese American National Museum.

The Japanese American National Museum is a building you can find at North Central Avenue with various exhibits and collections featuring the history and culture of Japanese Americans.

Closer view of the Japanese American National Museum
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The museum has been around since 1992, and currently, there are plenty of tours, workshops, and programs you can check out at this venue.

By visiting this venue, you're sure to get a memorable learning experience.

Aside from the different historical displays, the museum also offers a store where you can purchase various items ranging from retail items to unique gifts.

Oomo cube at Japanese American National Museum
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Explore the Go For Broke National Education Center

After visiting the Japanese American National Museum, you need to make a stop at the Go For Broke National Education Center.

It is a walk away from the museum and is a center meant to provide education about the bravery and contribution of the Japanese American veterans of World War II.

The center started in 1989 and has many programs and collections for you to explore.

While it may not be the happiest place to visit, it is an educational experience to try.

Plus, the admission to the exhibition is free.

Admire the Architecture of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple

Koyasan Buddhist Temple with statues in the enterance
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The Koyasan Buddhist Temple is a gorgeous Japanese Buddhist temple that you need to visit.

Located at 1st Street, the Buddhist temple has been around since 1912 but officially settled in the Japanese-American district in 1940.

Currently, it measures 60x120 feet in size and consists of three floors, with the main hall being large enough to fit a total of 600 people.

Exterior of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple
Tktru, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are services held at the temple during the weekends.

If you happen to miss a service, you can still visit the temple to light incense and provide a prayer.

Either way, you're sure to get a memorable experience in a beautiful structure.

Stroll around the James Irvine Japanese Garden at JACCC

Explore more gorgeous sights in the Japanese-American district by making a stop at the James Irvine Japanese Garden at JACCC.

In this garden, you can find lush greenery and various flowers, along with a waterfall and a running stream.

The garden first came into existence in 1980 and opened to the public in 2009 by the JACCC (Japanese American Cultural & Community Center).

Another name that this garden holds is the “Garden of the Clear Stream.”

More than the various plants and other natural features you can find in the garden, there are Zen-themed handcrafted structures and pieces.

Aside from admiring the beauty of this garden, you'll find that it is an open venue for performances and events.

If you want to visit the James Irvine Japanese Garden at JACCC or check out events, you need to book a ticket or contact the staff for its availability.

View Contemporary Art at The MOCA Geffen

Are you interested in the arts?

Then you need to visit The MOCA Geffen.

The MOCA Geffen is a museum dedicated to contemporary art.

You can find this museum at North Central Avenue and discover various collections to peruse.

Before becoming a museum, the building was once a police car warehouse.

It was in 1983 that the building received a renovation.

Currently, you can find various abstract pieces, photos, and paintings displayed throughout the museum.

If you want to visit this venue, you need to book a ticket in advance.

Aside from this, you can check out the museum's programs or peruse their store items.

Roam at the Japanese Village Plaza

Street view of Japanese Village Plaza
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The best way to see the different shops and eateries available in Little Tokyo is to head over to the Japanese Village Plaza.

The Japanese Village Plaza is set right at the gateway of the Japanese-American district and offers plenty of spots for you to checkout.

Shops and restaurants at Japanese Village Plaza
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Some of the spots you can enjoy in this shopping center include a selection of cafes, sushi places, and various boutiques.

One thing is for certain if you visit this location is that you won't be bored.

Laterns hanging on the streets of Japanese Village Plaza
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Catch a Show at the Union Center for the Arts

The Union Center for the Arts is the home to three organizations and is the prime location to explore more local arts.

The center first started as a Union Church in 1923, and through various hurdles, it received a renovation in 1998 by The Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation.

You can visit this center at any time and find different exhibits displayed each month.

By visiting this venue, you can explore history and art.

Sample Traditional Mochi at the Fugetsu-Do Confectionery

To get an authentic taste of a Japanese treat, you need to visit the Fugetsu-Do Confectionary.

Fugetsu-Do Confectionery has been around since 1903 and specializes in various Japanese treats, mainly those involving mochi.

When visiting this confectionery, you can find all kinds of mochi displayed around the store.

From dusted mochi to plain mochi with fillings, there is a vast and colorful selection of treats for you to peruse in Fugetsu-Do Confectionery.

Depending on the season, you also have the chance to sample seasonal mochi treats, such as sakura mochi and strawberry mochi.

The store sits at East First Street, and you can visit any day.

You can also order sets of mochi online and get the treats shipped to your area.

Peruse the Adorable Merchandise at Sanrio Japanese Village

The san rio shop along Japanese Village
Nandaro, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who is a fan of anything cute needs to check out the Sanrio Japanese Village.

The Sanrio Japanese Village is a store that offers all kinds of items, featuring the characters from Sanrio.

For anyone unfamiliar with Sanrio, it is a Japanese company known for creating various adorable characters like Hello Kitty and My Melody, to name a few.

Exterior of the Sanrio shop
Nandaro, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the products you can find at the Sanrio Japanese Village include accessories, themed clothing, and cute plush items.

To visit this store, you'll need to head over to the Japanese Village Plaza Mall.

Otherwise, you can purchase their products online and have them shipped to your area.

People waiting in a queue outside Sanrio Japanese Village
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Try the Udon of Marugame Monzo

There are all kinds of dishes for you to try in Little Tokyo.

Among the different options available in the district, one of the top dishes you need to sample is the udon at Marugame Monzo.

Marugame Monzo is an udon shop you can find at 1st Street and features hand-pulled noodles for its various dishes.

If you are unfamiliar with udon, it is a dish featuring noodles made from wheat flour and is a thick noodle dish in a broth.

While Marugame Monzo mainly creates udon the traditional way and features authentic udon dishes, they also offer fusion dishes such as an udon dish with carbonara.

In addition to all this, the eatery features an open kitchen where you can see the noodle-making process live.

Make Your Meal at the Shabu Shabu House

Another place you need to check out for a classic Japanese dish is the Shabu Shabu House.

Located at the Japanese Village Plaza Mall, the Shabu Shabu House is one of the oldest eateries in the district and features the freshest ingredients.

If you are unfamiliar with shabu-shabu, it is a type of hotpot dish involving thinly sliced meat with vegetables all boiled in broth and served with dipping sauces,

By visiting the Shabu Shabu House, you have the chance to experience making your meal.

You should know that you can only enjoy their shabu-shabu during dinner hours.

During lunch hours, you'll mainly find set meals available.

For a hearty meal and fun experience, the Shabu Shabu House is the place to visit.

Experience Nisei Week

Young mwn and women dancing with the traditional dress at Nisei Week
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Several festivals take place in Little Tokyo, and one of the most prominent ones you need to join in is Nisei Week.

Nisei Week is a summer festival that celebrates the culture and history of the Japanese-American district.

People playing music at Nisei Week
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The festival came into existence during the Great Depression to help generate more youthful exuberance in the district.

Nisei Week is now a month-long celebration during August and features several shows, exhibits, and treats for you to experience.

Crowd enjoying the performance at Nisei Week
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

A few shows you can enjoy at the festival include traditional performances and fun competitions.

As one of the longest-running celebrations in Little Tokyo, you can find plenty to experience in Nisei Week.

You also have the option to volunteer for the festivities if you'd like.

A wishing tree filled with pieces of colorful paper at Nisei Week
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Get Unique Doughnuts at Donatsu

For more treats to indulge your sweet tooth,  check out Donatsu.

Donatsu is a doughnut shop you can find at East 2nd Street Suite C and features a selection of uniquely flavored doughnuts.

It is a relatively new store, but it is an experience to sample their products.

A few unique doughnuts you can taste at this store include those flavored with matcha and dragon fruit.

Another notable feature about Donatsu is that their doughnuts are all vegan.

Aside from this, Donatsu also offers catering and takes part in different events.

Donatsu also offers delivery, but you need to contact the staff to confirm where they can deliver.

Indulge in Matcha at Tea Master

You can find all kinds of treats to dig into around Little Tokyo, but one of the top items you need to sample is the local tea.

More specifically, the tea from Tea Master.

Tea Master is a Matcha Cafe & Green Tea Shop that's been around since 2014 and features a selection of teas and tea-related products for you to sample.

If you are a fan of matcha, you can enjoy either matcha ice cream or a smoothie for a treat.

You can also purchase tea leaves or powders on the shop's online store if you'd like.

To visit the shop, you'll need to head to East 2nd Street.

Shop at Popkiller

Among the different retail stores available in Little Tokyo, Popkiller is the best place to visit for eye-catching shirts and other apparel.

You can find various works from different artists printed on several items in the store.

As items that feature Japanese and Los Angeles street style, you'll stand out with the apparel from this store.

In addition to various apparel that feature pieces from different artists, Popkiller offers you the option to get a custom print applied to your choice of a retail item.

You can visit this store by heading to East 2nd Street or purchasing items online.

Final Thoughts

Little Tokyo is one of many districts you can explore in Los Angeles, California and is a prime area for culture and history.

As a district that's been around since 1885, you'll find no shortage of sights and attractions to experience.

If you are a fan of trying new food, you can find plenty of traditional dishes and treats to sample in the area.

Some of the more prominent eateries you'll want to check out are those that have been around for a long time.

More than the various dishes you can try, you can enjoy plenty of window shopping with fun shops, such as the one that features Sanrio characters.

To top this off, you can find several historical and natural locations open for exploration.

Consider Little Tokyo as your next stop for peeking into a different culture.

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