One of only three historic Japantowns in the United States, Downtown L.A.'s Little Tokyo is a compact commercial district centered around the Village Plaza, a warren of food stalls, restaurants, and shops jam-packed with Japanese products. Home of the first California Roll (created at the now-closed Tokyo Kaikan sushi restaurant) and the oldest food purveyor in Los Angeles (mochi bakery Fugetsu-do), the Village Plaza sits across from the 85,000 square-foot, Smithsonian-affiliated Japanese American National Museum, dedicated to the 130-plus year history of Japanese people in California and beyond.
Though Little Tokyo had been a thriving residential and commercial center for L.A.'s large Japanese community since the early 20th century, the U.S. policy of relocating Japanese-American immigrants to internment camps during World War II all but emptied this neighborhood in the early 1940s. When the war ended, some original residents returned, but many moved out to the nearby San Gabriel Valley. The district remained culturally important to the local Japanese community, however, and when Japanese-owned businesses and banks began investing in the area in the 1970s and '80s, it experienced a financial resurgence that has continued to protect it from most non-cultural re-development.
Today, area attractions include a monument to Japanese-American astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986; a small Japanese garden on the rooftop of the Kyoto Grand Hotel; the Go For Broke Monument, which honors Japanese-Americans who served in the U.S. Military during World War II; the Geffen Contemporary, a special-exhibition space affiliated with the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA); and several early 20th-century Buddhist temples.
Little Tokyo offers street and public-lot parking, lies within walking distance of The Walt Disney Concert Hall and MOCA, and is easily accessed by subway stations at Union Station (the Red Line) and Little Tokyo itself (the Gold Line).