Little Tokyo in Los Angeles is one of only three districts of its kind in the entire United States. If you’ve just picked up your LAX rental car it makes a great first stop because there’s so much to do and see. There’s a seemingly unending list of things to do in Little Tokyo, and these experiences are sure to be both fun and educational. From Buddhist temples to arcades full of rare games, there’s something for everyone here. On this page, you’ll find the 5 attractions you owe it to yourself to see.
Japanese Village Plaza
The Japanese Village Plaza is a beautiful outdoor mall. The first thing you’ll notice is the cherry blossoms lining the mall. These cherry blossoms, coupled with the wood-accented architecture of the mall, make for a gorgeous scene that’s perfect for selfies. In the plaza, there’s no shortage of tasty treats like the imagawayki, or freshly griddled red bean cakes, at Mitsuru’s Café. Be sure to try the mochi ice cream at Mikawaya afterwards. Once you’ve had your fill of sweets, you’re in for an entire day’s worth of shopping. The Japanese Village Plaza is sure to please the fussiest shopper.
Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple
At this temple, you can stroll alongside their beautifully kept garden. This temple holds Shinshu Otani Services, which is a sect of Shin Buddhism. If you’re lucky, you’ll be visiting during a community event, which are always lots of fun. For visitors during July, before the Obon Festival, the temple organizes bi-weekly Bon Odori practices. Bon Odori is a traditional dance that celebrates the Bon festival. The Higashi Honganji Buddhist temple is a real crowd pleaser, and a great place to visit in your LAX rental car.
James Irvine Japanese Garden
The James Irvine Japanese Garden can be hard to find if you don’t know where to go. The challenge is worth it, however, as it’s considered one of Little Tokyo’s best kept secrets. The tranquil garden can’t be reached from the street. In order to get to this beautiful urban retreat, you must enter through the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. While you’re inside the center, check in with the information window you’ll find on your left. From there, you take the elevator down level B and make your way through a simple hallway. While you can’t bring a picnic, this is a great place to sit and enjoy a moment of peace away from the busy city.
The Union Center for the Arts
This building is a great destination in your LAX rental car. The Union Center for the Arts has been in the community since the ’20s. There are three community arts groups here that you’ll want to see: Visual Communications, LA Artcore, and the East West Players. Visual Communications uses workshops and training sessions that portray Asian-Americans honestly and accurately to promote intercultural understanding. LA Artcore has contemporary and traditional techniques from various cultures and underrepresented groups. Admission to LA Artcore is free, Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5:00 PM. At the East West Players, you can watch musicals and plays. These plays include original works written by members of the troupe. In addition to the original works, you can find productions of classics like Sweeney Todd, and amusing Japanese spin-offs of popular stories like The Nisei Widows Club: How Tomi Got Her Groove Back.
The Blue Whale
The Blue Whale is a jazz club on the top floor of the Weller Court shopping center. The club is known for its intimate performance space and strong list of shows. The owner, Joon Lee, performs at the club occasionally. In addition to Joon Lee’s performances, he likes to book exceptional local and international talent. The club is kept focused on the music by keeping the house and bar lit with low lights. As a member of the audience, you’ll relax on short, blue cubes. This seating arrangement coupled with great lighting ensures a good view of the show no matter where you are. At $5 to $15 per show, the best jazz venue in the city is very affordable.
Little Tokyo is a great reason to get a LAX rental car and see the sights. The memories you make in this endearing district will last you a lifetime.
Photo of Weller Court in Los Angeles courtesy of Justefrain on Wikimedia, Licensed under Creative Commons