Over the last several months, the coronavirus has dominated practically every moment of each day. The daily White House briefings have been muddied by misdirection, hidden agendas, confusion, scapegoating and finger-pointing. The lack of national leadership during this pandemic has deepened the agony, and threatens to make things worse.

Fortunately, state and local government have been trying to fill the leadership void through working with level-headed public health officials and scientists to formulate recommendations based on hard scientific facts.

This daily deluge of COVID-19 and the New Normal we are living under has been traumatic, and people are seeking to bring some light into our lives.

I needed only to look at Little Tokyo to bring some lightness into my life. Seeing our community immediately jump into action to support our legacy restaurants, residents and workers is living and breathing proof that the Spirit of Little Tokyo survives. Community food programs initiated by LT community organizations, local restaurants, volunteers and donations are offering lifelines to our seniors and frontline workers while providing a constant stream of work and business benefitting our local restaurants.

You see, Little Tokyo legacy restaurants, like most restaurants, have been hit hard by the pandemic. But Little Tokyo is resilient, seeking new ways to adapt and survive in the age of COVID-19. JiST Restaurant, for example, located in Union Plaza, is owned by the Ishii family, who ran Tokyo Gardens, a popular café, from 1967 to 2000. A whole bunch of us — especially those of us from *JACS-AI days — have fond memories of Tokyo Gardens.

*JACS-AI, the Japanese American Community Service-Asian Involvement office was the first “Asian Movement Center,” introducing many Issei, social welfare, youth, health, drug abuse and social justice programs during the ’70s. Despite our tattoos, long hair, Army jackets and berets – there was always a place for us at Tokyo Gardens, and we all loved Tokiko-san, who was a warm and welcoming presence.

To help revitalize JiST during this New Normal, grandson Glen Seiji Ishii (former executive chef of Omni Hotel) and his partner Carolyn Shin (a founder of Kogi BBQ) decided to draw upon the legacy of Tokyo Gardens, and bring back the famed Friday TG Chashu-Shumai special for the first two weekends in May.

And people remembered! An avalanche of orders poured in – 100 in the first 30 minutes! They had to cut off at 560 orders for the first two weekends. It got front-page coverage in The L.A. Times. They added another TG Special weekend, and then another. People couldn’t get enough of their “pork belly chashu deeply marinated in family history” and the shumai made from scratch. Now they are taking a break, to get some rest, and to recalibrate. They plan to start up again in July, doing the first and third weekends. So, no more pre-orders will be taken until probably the last week of June.

I was one of the lucky ones who got their order in when they first started. I also got lucky to sneak in a last order for Friday, May 22, because it is my birthday!!

The JiST of It

Chashu-Shumai a match made in heaven

A faded memory of good-ole-days

Nostalgia and normalcy

An unexpected boon for us Boomers

In 30 minutes 100 orders sold

At 560 a final cutoff count

But I was one of the fortunate.


I carefully selected my first bite

Seeking the most succulent slice of

Chashu – slightly charred

Glistening with a hint of fat.

“Pork belly chashu

Deeply marinated in family history.”


As I delicately dipped it into the

Familiar hot mustard shoyu sauce

I was flooded with memories of

JACS AI and the

Asian Movement of the ’70s

And the Sun Building on Weller Street

Where we came every day

To do the People’s Work.

Mostly volunteers,

We had very little money

But every Friday was a feast

Chashu-Shumai Special at Tokyo Gardens

Where we could eat like starving Samurai.




Miya Iwataki has been an advocate for communities of color for many years, from the JACS Asian Involvement Office in Little Tokyo in the ’70s, through the JA redress/reparations struggle with NCRR while working for Congressman Mervyn Dymally, to statewide health rights advocacy. She also worked in public media at KCET-TV, then KPFK Pacifica Radio as host for a weekly radio program, “East Wind.” She can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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