As a part of Kizuna’s new Community Thrives program, high school students considered the question, “How might we build an inspired community project that will help Little Tokyo thrive?” As a result, Kizuna’s 40 participants created five distinct community service projects aimed at supporting and sustaining the Little Tokyo community, including this article written by Lia Meza, Yuji Wexler, and Jason Yasuda, with guidance from Kizuna staff. We hope you’ll consider supporting one of the causes at the end of this article and enjoy reading our participants’ favorite memories of Little Tokyo.
Summertime is often filled with get-togethers, international trips, and lots of fun, unforgettable memories. During a visit to Little Tokyo in the summer, one may run into members of Kizuna’s Leadership Program. Whether they are taking a field trip through Little Tokyo or visiting Cafe Dulce, Leadership members experience exciting and insightful summers in Little Tokyo.
Unfortunately, things have had to change. In light of the worldwide pandemic, typical gatherings and events have had to be put on hold due to major safety concerns. Despite the complications created by COVID-19, high school leaders still managed to get together via online meetings. Through these weekly meetings, former and new members of the Leadership Program have taken part in “Community Thrives,” the online Kizuna summer program for 2020.
Community Thrives has given members of the next generation the chance to learn about and give back to Little Tokyo and their community. As part of an effort to bring attention to the small businesses that may be going through hard times, members of the next generation were asked a question: What is your favorite memory of Little Tokyo and what do you miss?
Below you will find the responses from our peers and counselors in the Community Thrives program:
• I remember going to help my grandma with fundraising events near Aratani Theater. I miss going to events with her and meeting new people.
• My favorite memory from Little Tokyo is drinking a Calpico in my grandma’s apartment while watching Spongebob on her TV. I miss going out into the plaza and going shopping while listening to the karaoke and instrument players.
• My favorite memory from Little Tokyo during the summer is engaging with the students in the Kizuna high school program.
• My favorite memory is playing games with Kizuna students in Nishi’s gym because I learned how much this community means to my friends.
• My favorite memory of little Tokyo is hanging out with friends and I miss the boba shops.
• I miss buying random things in the store for Craig Ishi(shi shi) and I miss being able to walk around and hang out with my friends.
• I miss walking around all the shops with friends, enjoying the food, and drinks special to Little Tokyo.
• The memories of going shop to shop buying boba, merch, sweets, and stationery with my team.
• My favorite memory of Little Tokyo is just walking around with my friends and family and I miss being able to eat all the delicious foods!
• My favorite memory is just hanging out with my friends right before that year’s LABCC reunion.
• My favorite memory is going to JANM with my family. I miss going to eat at all of the restaurants and getting boba.
• My favorite memory is helping out in a basketball clinic with a group of Olympic athletes and getting to meet them and I miss hanging out with my friends and getting boba.
• I miss going to Little Tokyo for the Kizuna field trip.
• My favorite memory is going to the JANM Store with my brothers.
• My favorite memory is walking around LT and eating Imagawayaki. I miss eating out with my friends at Daikokuya.
• I miss being able to buy onigiri or a tamago sando from Nijiya or Marukai, and seeing all the community people. My favorite memory is every memory of Leadership.
• My favorite memory is volunteering at Obon, fundraisers, Kizuna, etc. Being together in one place and working together to accomplish a goal always feels special in this community. I miss meeting new people in person and getting to know each other through Little Tokyo.
• My favorite thing about Little Tokyo and what I miss most is seeing community friends and attending events together. My favorite memory is when Summer Campers came to visit the Kizuna office to play games and hang with the staff.
• My favorite memory is going shopping or getting boba. I miss going to Japangeles with my friends.
• My favorite memory is hanging out with my friends in Little Tokyo and I miss all the good food.
• I miss going to Nishi for like pretty much everything. My favorite little Tokyo memory was this one time me and my friends walked around Little Tokyo before an LABCC reunion 🙂
• My favorite memory is getting ramen with my friends and walking around the neighborhood and randomly bumping into people I know.
• My favorite memory is eating at Mitsuru Grill every Sunday after Nishi’s morning service. I miss seeing all my friends and dancing at Obon (especially Nishi’s).
• My favorite memory is going with my team and going to the cultural events.
These cherished memories all showcase the importance of Little Tokyo as a space to experience and understand our culture, while also building community with one another. Unfortunately, many businesses in Little Tokyo are having a much harder time sustaining their traditional business models. Most of the businesses in Little Tokyo are stores and restaurants that normally require human interaction. However, due to the pandemic, this interaction is severely limited and forces businesses to find other ways to sell their products.
There have been major successful efforts to help these businesses, such as the Little Tokyo Community Council’s Community Feeding Community program, in which meals were bought full-price from local Little Tokyo restaurants, and were redistributed to people whose jobs were impacted by COVID-19. This program is a key example of how the Little Tokyo community can come together and uplift itself.
However, this isn’t to say that the Little Tokyo community is completely self-reliant. A recent study found 24% of small businesses nationwide have already temporarily shut down, and 43% believe that a permanent shutdown will become unavoidable within the next 6 months.*
For this reason, we discussed why the Japanese American community, specifically Little Tokyo, is important to us as high school students: we don’t learn about our own culture in school. Little Tokyo serves as one of the ways that we can truly understand what being Japanese American means.
The buildings and businesses within Little Tokyo mark moments in history, some of which appear frozen in place, like a living museum full of cultural time capsules. The oldest and one of the many amazing businesses, Fugetsu-Do, has been in business since 1903. Fugetsu-Do has provided so much for the community for generation after generation.
Usually, a stop in Little Tokyo could result in hours wandering through delicious delicacies and catching up with friends you haven’t seen in years. So we asked ourselves, what can be done to support our favorite Little Tokyo destinations to overcome these challenging times so we may sustain it for future generations?
As the Community Thrives 2020 program, we are supporting Little Tokyo in the following ways:
1) Letter-writing in Japanese and English to older adults living in Little Tokyo.
2) Collecting face masks that will be distributed to low-income families and those experiencing houselessness with our community partner, the Little Tokyo Service Center. Unused washable masks or disposable masks may be dropped off at the Kizuna office on Saturday, Aug. 15, from 12 to 3 p.m., or sent to the Kizuna office.
3) Creating a Discord server to bring awareness to our peers and to create a brand new virtual repository accessible to high school students.
4) Designing social media posts highlighting the issues the COVID-19 pandemic has created for small businesses and older adults, along with ways the community can support Little Tokyo.
5) Writing this article to share why we love Little Tokyo and bring awareness of our peers’ community projects.
We hope that you will support our initiatives by supporting our mask drive, engaging with us @gokizuna on Instagram and Facebook, and sharing our projects. Additionally, we hope that if you are able you would consider supporting community efforts such as the Little Tokyo Community Council’s Small Business Relief Fund, ordering take-out from your favorite Little Tokyo restaurants, and supporting the Little Tokyo small businesses and organizations. It is our hope that Little Tokyo will continue to thrive for generations.
M., & C. (2020, April 3). MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Special Report on Coronavirus and Small Business April 3, 2020. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/metlife_uscc_coronavirus_and_small_business_report_april_3.pdf