Sep 042016
Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

Every then and again, we all experience wanderlust. Who doesn’t want to travel the world, explore various sights and cultures, or meet new people? Well, not everybody can afford world travel. Lucky for us, in Los Angeles there are many distinct communities where you can experience the benefits of world travel without leaving L.A.

Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is bordered by the Los Angeles River to the east, downtown Los Angeles to the west, L.A. City Hall and the Parker Center to the north, and the newly named Arts District to the south.
In the early 1900, Little Tokyo was the hearth of the Japanese community that resided in the area. It remained that through the 1940s. Today, very few Japanese reside there, while some still work there. Little Tokyo is mainly a destination for cultural and religious events as well as shopping for the American Japanese community as well as tourists.

Among the must-sees of Little Tokyo are:

  • The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (with adjacent Japanese garden)
  • Japanese American National Museum
  • Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple
  • Go For Broke Monument, a tribute to Japanese Americans who served in the United States Military during World War II while 110,000 of their fellow Japanese (62% of them Japanese Americans!) were forced into internment camps.
  • Part of the Museum of Contemporary Art (the Geffen Contemporary)
  • David Henry Hwang Theater, the home of East West Players, one of the first Asian American theater companies in the US based entirely on the work of Asian American artists.
  • Aratani / Japan America Theater

The streets of Little Tokyo feature traditional and modern sculptures and other works of art, including two Japanese gardens.

The above is quite a lot to behold. Sightseeing alone however isn’t world travel. Food is a large part of discovering a new culture and Japanese food is no exception. There several Japanese restaurants in Little Tokyo that serve authentic Japanese cuisine as well as tea houses. (There are other restaurants that compromise a bit between the Japanese and Californian cuisine.) As for shopping, there are two types of shopping available: for the Japanese (with Japanese-language books, magazines, CDs and DVDs) and for tourists. Needless to say, both are worth exploring.

Finally, the most important part, discovering the people of Japan and Japanese Americans. In my personal opinion, the best way to connect with people in any neck of the woods is to share either a meal or an activity together. As for activities, I highly recommend:

  • visiting a Japanese karaoke club (there are several in The Weller Court)
  • joining a group for a Morning Meditation (Mon-Fri 6:20 am – 7 am) at the Zenshuji Soto Temple at 123 S. Hewitt St. (Go to for more info.)

Unfortunately for us, the all-out celebration of Japan, its culture, sports, beauty, technology and more, including a festive street parade – the Nisei Week – is held just once a year (in August).

Little Tokyo may not be Japan, but taking in the sights, tasting Japanese cuisine, shopping and mingling with other visitors is certainly a fascinating experience whether you are a native Angeleno exploring other cultures on a dime or a tourist.


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Aug 052016


Schindler House | Photo courtesy of Michael Locke, Flickr

Some of the most interesting places in L.A. have free admission days! Read through the list below; take notes and take in all the sights free of charge. Great experiences, great things to see, opportunities to bond with family and friends while discovering L.A. cultural treasures regardless of your budget!

  1. Autry National Center: The center’s galleries explore broad themes relating to the history and diverse cultures of the American West. Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month.
  2. Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM): Exploring the leading edge of craft, art and design, CAFAM gives audience to diverse makers and artists whose work is often not represented in larger art institutions. CAFAM is a place to see art and make art – all under one roof. Free admission every Sunday.
  3. USC Pacific Asia Museum: With more than 15,000 objects in their extensive collections, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena span 5000 years of Asia’s and the Pacific Islands’ history and include paintings and drawings, ceramics, textiles and more. Free admission the second Sunday of every month.
  4. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens: An oasis of art and culture on 207 acres, explore breathtaking themed gardens, a conservatory, four art galleries and a library showcasing collections of rare books. Free admission on the first Thursday of every month with advance tickets, which can be reserved online or by phone.
  5. Japanese American National Museum: This museum is internationally recognized for its commitment to exploring the meaning of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the experience of Japanese Americans through exhibitions, public programs, an award-winning museum store, and resource center. Free admission every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and every third Thursday of the month.
  6. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA): With more than 120,000 works in its permanent collection, LACMA is the premier visual art museum in the western United States. With the addition of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), LACMA became the first encyclopedic museum with a dedicated facility for contemporary art, which is uniquely appropriate to Los Angeles. Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month; Target sponsors free admission on select federal holidays; free admission for L.A. County residents after 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
  7. MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House: One of L.A.’s most significant cultural venues, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture is located in the historic Schindler House and features rotating art exhibitions about cultural issues, experimentation and invention. Free admission on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., as well as on International Museum Day (held annually in May) and Schindler’s birthday (September 10).
  8. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA): Downtown’s premier art museum features one of the best permanent collections in the country, with works by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko and more. Free admission every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  9. The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA: With cutting-edge exhibitions, hands-on education programs and popular evening events, this is your source for inspiration and a must-see for contemporary art enthusiasts. Free admission every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  10. Museum of Latin American Art: With a focus on rotating exhibitions, the museum highlights significant contributions to the field of contemporary Latin American art. Meanwhile, its permanent collection anchors the museum with works by Wilfredo Lam and Alejandro Colunga, among others. Free admission every Sunday.
  11. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: The museum, recognizable by its 1913 original fitted marble walls and rotunda, holds the title of being the third-largest museum of its type in the U.S., boasting more than 3.5 million specimens and counting. Free admission on the first Tuesday of most months, except July and August; free every Tuesday in September.
  12. Norton Simon Museum of Art: The permanent collection features European art from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century, including works by Raphael, Botticelli, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau, Goya, Monet, Renoir, Degas and van Gogh, and sculptures from India and Southeast Asia. Free admission on the first Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  13. Skirball Cultural Center: At the Skirball, enjoy museum exhibitions — including the ever-popular Noah’s Ark at the Skirball — family programs, performing arts, world music, film, lectures, classes, dining, shopping and more. Free admission every Thursday.

Free admission information reprinted from LA Tourism & Convention Board, a GREAT resource for visitors AND residents of Los Angeles.