Libo Matshazi, Iris Blake, Mario Martin and Beth Kopacz at Sake Dojo.

The popular Delicious Little Tokyo, held June 25-26, drew many people to Japantown to enjoy Japanese food and food culture.

Café Dolce hosted a creative donut-decorating stand.

According to Kristin Fukushima and Kisa Ito of the Little Tokyo Community Council, who hosted the event, they introduced new activities this year, such as “Go Little Tokyo Pop-up Shop” and “J Town Bingo.” The shop sold original pins, stickers, and T-shirts with Little Tokyo and Japanese food themes. Participants in the free bingo games won prizes by answering questions and doing interesting tasks, such as “Take a photo with a Go Little Tokyo volunteer.”

Other activities included “Kakigori” (shaved ice) in the Japanese garden of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, the Hawaiian noodle dish saimin, and such workshops as “Spam Musubi,” “Kokedama (Moss Ball Bonsai),” and “Furoshiki (Cloth Wrapping Technique),” as well as a donut decoration station and a calligraphy demonstration, enabling people to enjoy Little Tokyo from various angles.

Of course the food-themed, self-guided walking tour of restaurants and shops was the most popular attraction. The last year two courses were offered, but this year the number was increased to three.

Coleen Uchida-Tamiya and Mark Tamny from San Diego hold their bingo prizes at Yoboseyo.

Matcha, or green tea powder, is a very popular food ingredient these days. “Matcha Mania” include matcha manju at Fugetsudo, matcha soft cream at Midori Matcha, iced matcha latte with oat milk at Tea Master Matcha Café, and matcha creme brulee at Azay. A souvenir, a matcha soft cream pin by Little Tokyo Community Council, finishes the matcha course, which also pleased the vegetarians and those who admire gluten-free food.

The sweet and savory treats offered through “J-Town Treat & Eats” were MILK+T’s  bottled ice tea, Cafe Dolce’s sausage donuts, Okayama Kobo bakery’s character pastries, Rakkan Ramen’s pork gyoza, and Rice & Nori’s salmon yuzu miso onigiri. With these foods in hand (or in stomach), the tour participants made stops at two of the oldest retail stores in Japantown, Bunkado and Rafu Bussan, and finally ended up at the Japanese garden of the JACCC.

Taki Nakatani, Shohei Matsui and Takato Miyake at Far Bar.

Coleen Uchida-Tamiya and Mark Tamny drove up from San Diego for the sole purpose of enjoying the event. They said of J-Town Treat & Eats on Saturday, “Everything was delicious, but the onigiri was surprisingly good!”

Chicken karaage waffles are paired with a beer plate at Sake Dojo.

On Sunday, they were spinning the wheel at J-Town Bingo’s destination, the soft opening of Yoboseyo Superette store on Second Street. With the goods from the game in their bag, the two headed for the guided history tour of Little Tokyo.

Little Tipsy Tokyo is the most boozy brunch tour of this year’s event. The course visited three iconic drinking places: Sake Dojo, Far Bar, and Wolf & Crane.

“This is a great way to enjoy a weekend with friends.” At Sake Dojo, four friends, Mario Martin, Beth Kopacz, Iris Blake, and Libo Matshazi, praised the event. They added, “I wanted to know more about Little Tokyo” and “I wanted to support the community more.” Then the food arrived to make their smiles bigger.

Sake Dojo’s special event food was chicken karaage and waffles with wasabi maple syrup, which is a Japanese twist on a favorite American dish. “There is also a choice of agedashi tofu for vegetarians,” said Cat, the restaurant manager.

A group from Huntington Beach tried onigiri.

The food was paired with a beer flight of Sapporo-Orion-Suntory, or a cocktail called Maple Spice Old-Fashioned.

Karim Chee and Robin Dobashi at Wolf and Crane.

Going forward, they were to enjoy two more drinks at two other locations with food: mabo tofu tacos at Far Bar and mushroom toast at Wolf & Crane. These creative dishes transcended the boundaries of typical Japanese cuisine.

Delicious Little Tokyo self-guided gourmet tours were very popular and all sold out, as was as the Food History Tour presented in partnership with the Japanese American National Museum and the Little Tokyo Historical Society. Kisa Ito said the organizer had sold about 500 advance tickets. An estimated 2,500 people participated, including the weekend’s walk-in events.

In Little Tokyo, many new stores have now opened in locations that used to be vacant during the pandemic. The neighborhood was lively and crowded, and it is expected that the popularity of Little Tokyo will continue to increase in the future.

The Japanese food culture presented by Delicious Little Tokyo was not limited to traditional Japanese cuisine, but was more inclusive with Japanese American food from Hawaii such as Spam musubi and saimin, and legacy establishments linked to the history of Little Tokyo. The event made it clear that Japanese and Japanese American food culture is firmly rooted in the United States.

Event organizers Kristin Fukushima and Kisa Ito at a Go Little Tokyo Pop-up Shop.
Nicole Oshima, Corinne Dyson and Vivian Chong at Far Bar.

Photos by TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo

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