Diners share a toast to celebrate the debut of alfresco dining at Honda Plaza in Little Tokyo on July 30. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Report

Honda Plaza in Little Tokyo officially launched outdoor dining in its parking lot with a brief ceremony on July 30.

Customers are invited to patronize the plaza’s eating and drinking establishments and dine on-site. Until recently those businesses were limited to take-out only due to coronavirus-related restrictions. Those who attended the opening ceremony received free samples from Aloha Cafe, BBQ Chicken, Men Oh, Mermaid, Pasta e Pasta, and Tous Le Jours Bakery.

Ellen Endo, co-chair of the Little Tokyo BID (Business Improvement District) and past president of the Little Tokyo Business Association (LTBA), commended the Honda family, who worked with the business owners in the plaza to make sure health regulations were followed as they transformed the area with tables and umbrellas into a peaceful and relaxing place to have lunch or dinner.

David Kudo, president of All Japan News, which he published in Little Tokyo for many years, and advisor to the Japanese Restaurant Association, drove from the South Bay to attend the event. Noting that there are some 22,000 Japanese restaurants across the U.S., he proposed a toast to wish the best of luck and good fortune to Honda Plaza’s new venture.

Angie Aramayo, who represents the Central Area (which includes Little Tokyo) in the Mayor’s Office, spoke on behalf of Mayor Eric Garcetti. She said that if it weren’t for the fact that most of the mayor’s staff is working from home these days, many of her colleagues would have been present for the opening. She congratulated the Honda family on transforming the plaza into a great new dining area and promised that she would be back with friends from City Hall.

Susan Oiwake shares memories of her father, Bob Honda, who built Honda Plaza. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Doug Aihara, chairman of the Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC) and owner of Aihara & Associates Insurance Services, commented, “It seems like just a little while ago we were celebrating the opening of Honda Plaza, and here we are 40 years later. It’s like no time has passed at all.”

Alan Kumamoto, past chair of the Historic/Cultural Neighborhood Council (HCNC), pointed out that Honda Plaza is located in Little Tokyo but it faces the Arts District on the other side of Alameda Street and actually is representative of both districts.

Susan Oiwake of Honda Plaza Associates spoke on behalf of the Honda family and described the repurposed space as ikoi, meaning a place of rest and relaxation for body and mind. She co-owns the plaza with three siblings: Steven Honda, Janet Koyama, who lives in Japan, and manager Victor Honda.

Oiwake told the story of her father, Bob Masami Honda, who was born in Washington state in 1921, raised in Japan, and returned to the U.S. at age 17. After graduating from high school in Washington, he worked on a chicken farm in Norwalk. Incarcerated at the Rohwer camp in Arkansas during World War II, he found work as a sign painter and continued that vocation after camp in Chicago and later Southern California, where he started the Three Star Sign Company with two partners in Little Tokyo in 1949.

As a successful businessman and developer, he built a three-story building on Second Street in 1970, Honda Plaza in 1980, and Tokyo Villa, a condominium complex, in 1985. A plaque honoring his parents, Matsujiro and Chiyo, can be found on the office building in Honda Plaza. Outside Tokyo Villa he erected a statue depicting a ship and an Issei family coming to America with hope and expectations of a better life.

“Honda Plaza was his pride and joy,” Oiwake said. “He imagined Honda Plaza as a place for people of Little Tokyo to gather and enjoy its services. He cared for its tenants, engaging with them and offering business advise when asked, and helping young Japanese entrepreneurs get started.

“Underneath all the hard work, unsurmountable problems that arise when developing that he dealt with daily and the many sleepless nights, he finally had his dream, to bring honor to his family back in Japan, and his parents, who by this time had already passed away.”

Joanne Kumamoto, president of the LTBA Foundation and co-chair of the Little Tokyo BID, also spoke.

Other VIPs in attendance included: Paul Abe, branch manager, Union Bank; Kristin Fukushima, managing director, LTCC, and board member, HCNC; Mariko Lochridge, small business counselor, Little Tokyo Service Center; Jeanmarie Hance, community relations manager, Metro; Wendy Cardona, community relations officer, Metro.

Hance and Cardona helped arrange free parking for those who attended the open-air event.

The Rafu Shimpo was represented by Michael Komai, publisher; Gail Miyasaki, advertising manager; Mario Reyes, photo editor; and J.K. Yamamoto, staff writer.


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