With gardens to stroll, sushi, and shopping, L.A.’s Japantown is the real deal

Little Tokyo in L.A.
Joe Schmelzer
Intricate and colorful Japanese-style sweet treats at Fugetsu-do

The closest you can come to experiencing Japan without a ride across the Pacific is in Little Tokyo, one of the few remaining Japantowns in the United States.

The neighborhood is changing fast as downtown L.A. becomes a hot spot again ― but for now, a refreshingly simple Japanese aesthetic still rules among the many fine gardens and shops.

How to get there: Little Tokyo is 10 blocks southeast of the L.A. Civic Center and downtown L.A. Heading south on U.S. 101, exit at Los Angeles St. and go two blocks south. From U.S. 101 north, exit south on Alameda St.


James Irvine Japanese Garden. Surrounded by pines, this classic shuyu (stroll) garden is its own quiet world. Free; in the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St.

Japanese American National Museum. Follow the community’s history from first-generation pioneers through WWII internment to the present. Tue-Sun; 369 E. First St.; www.janm.org or 213/625-0414. 


Frying Fish. Select your own sushi as it sails by on a conveyor belt. $$; 120 Japanese Village Plaza; 213/680-0567.

A Thousand Cranes. Kimono-clad waitresses and a bird’s-eye view of the New Otani Hotel’s rooftop garden. Dine at a low table in a tatami room for the full experience. $$; 120 S. Los Angeles St.; 213/253-9255.


Waraku I. Japanese furniture, scrolls, fountains, and kimonos. 350 E. First St.; 213/995-4115.

Mitsuwa Marketplace. A traditional Japanese supermarket with meticulously displayed produce and all sorts of sakes and green tea. 333 S. Alameda St.; 213/687-6699.

Fugetsu-do Sweet Shop. One of the oldest stores in Little Tokyo, specializing in mochi (pounded rice) and shaved ices in exotic flavors. 315 E. First St.; 213/625-8595.

Jungle Special Collector’s Shop. Tokyo pop: anime DVDs and a huge selection of manga (graphic novels). Wed-Mon; 319 E. Second St.; 213/621-1661. STAY OVERNIGHT

New Otani Hotel & Garden. Boasting a prime location in the heart of Little Tokyo, the New Otani (434 rooms from $149; www.newotani.com or 800/639-6826) is the place to be. Stroll in the rooftop garden, dine at Garden Grill (a teppan-yaki steak-house), enjoy a shiatsu massage at Sanwa Health Spa, and, if you’re feeling brave, try a Japanese-style breakfast of rice, egg custard, and fish at A Thousand Cranes before checkout.

Keep Reading: