The area that later came to be known as Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California started as an ethnically mixed area populated by Chinese, Black and Jewish ethnic groups. The first Japanese business in the neighborhood was a restaurant opened in 1885. By 1890, two more restaurants had opened. By the late 1890s there were 16 Japanese-owned restaurants; most of these establishments served American meals to the ethnically diverse local working class. It was not until 1903 that the area began to be known as Little Tokyo. The growth of Little Tokyo was further augmented by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which caused many “Nikkei” (persons of Japanese heritage) to relocate to Los Angeles. This precipitated the opening of the first sushi-ya and nomiya (sushi bars and traditional Japanese drinking places) in the Los Angeles area. Little Tokyo continued to grow and thrive into the 1920s and 1930s and many of the historic buildings in the area were either built or updated during this time. This golden age was brought to an abrupt halt when the “Nikkei” were sent to relocation centers around the country following the declaration of war between the United States and Japan. The suddenly empty area was quickly settled by African Americans from the rural South. After the war, some Japanese did resettle in Little Tokyo, but the sense of community had been irreparably damaged. Little Tokyo still draws people from around the world for culture, entertainment, and shopping, and serves as a historic reminder of the Japanese immigrant experience in Los Angeles.
Images for top banner from NPS Historic Photograph Collection (Rainbow over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by Thomas C. Gray, [HPC-001345]) and the Palau Historic Preservation Office.