Cruisin’ J-Town Memories: With Family
With the news that the Los Angeles City Council “began a planning process to build a new Police Headquarters, a Jail, Emergency Operations Center, Fire Station, and other facilities next to the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo”, I have been reminiscing about my life there–my salad days.
Born and raised in LA, I went to J-Town for as long as I can remember. Our family was active at Maryknoll, the local Japanese Catholic Mission located on the east edge of J-Town. We went to school there and to church. And every Sunday, after church, the big deal for us was to go to Nihonjin Machi, as the Issei referred to it–hence the referent Japanese Town, or J-Town–and shop. My mom would go to Bunkadō 文化堂, on 1st between San Pedro and Central next to Kōyasan temple, to buy her Japanese magazines and journals, like Hōseki with the nudey photos on the first couple of pages. She also bought for me my copies of the original Tezuka Osamu’s Atomu 手塚治のアトム–that’s Astro Boy to you and me. Back then I couldn’t read the Japanese, so I used to make up story lines based on the illustrations. If my mom needed something for the home, she would go to Uyeda Dept. Store 上田百貨店. It was a really small place with only a first floor and basement and it used to crack me up that they actually called it a department store, but it had everything Japanese that my mom would want–sewing scissors, yukata, and even zori–back then, flip-flops (or jap-slaps, as my friends called them) were still very ethnic.
We also did our shopping there. While my dad might go to Ida Market or Enbun, we usually went to Modern Market to buy rice, sashimi, tsukemono, and Japanese vegetable. Dad was also a charter member of Senryū Tsubame, a poetic salon, and met once a month with his poetry friends to compose poems–I still think it was their excuse to have a party. Anyway, when they had a contest, he would need a trophy and he would drag us to Mickey’s Watch Shop on San Pedro (it’s in Honda Plaza now as Mickey Seki and Son, I think). He also published his own little magazine for Senryū enthusiasts in the LA area.1 There were a couple of ads on the back cover, one was Mickey’s Watch Shop, for which he got the trophy’s at a discount and engraving for free. There were also ads for two sweet shops: Fūgetsudō and Mikawaya. For these, he got a dozen manjū from each store for free for his monthly Senryū meetings. Now I like manjū, but going to the sweet shops meant more than manjū. It was, for me, more about anpan–which might explain why I look like Onigiriman, now–as well as Tomoe Ame, Glico Caramel, and Marble Choco.
If my dad was in the mood, we’d get sushi at Matsuno-zushi–where I developed my taste for shime saba. Often we would go to Far East Café, the local Chinese place with partitioned seating, a juke box, and the salted plums at the cash register. For that rare treat, we would go to the Sugar Bowl Café on San Pedro. It was the first place I ever ate a club sandwich with avocados in it. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Anyway, my parents knew many of the shop owners there, and I always saw my friends from school and church. It was a place for us to mingle and associate with others from the JA community. I must admit that J-Town today doesn’t seem to reflect that sense anymore, but it is still a community. It may be small, and maybe even a little run down, but it’s still our community.
1For his activities, dad received a couple of awards for his contribution to the Japanese American Community—one from the Japanese government and the other from the LA City Council.
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