The sun radiates down on the four acres of Little Tokyo, lanterns and Christmas lights decorate the Japanese Central Plaza for festive cheer. People are speaking in many different tongues, Japanese, English, and occasionally Korean—it’s enough to feel as if you’re no longer in Los Angeles, but in a shopping center in Japan.
Small shops are opened to the public and ready to sell all sorts of merchandise such as slimes, plushies, bento boxes, and manga books. Restaurants welcome their hungry customers and the smell of curry spices beckoned them to enter. Workers of Sanrio Little Tokyo welcome their customers enthusiastically on the Sunday afternoon. Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle (or Anime Jungle) opens up for all fans of anime, manga, and cosplay. Fickle Wish Kawaii Shop is open to all harajuku girls enthusiastic to shop for their favorite fashions. Nijiya Market opens their mini mart that resembles a Japanese market with many different foods and dishes that you can’t find in a Food for Less. Outside of the Nijiya Market, a huge Christmas tree covered in lights and ornaments and in front of the tree is an old Japanese man in a wheelchair whom many wouldn’t have guessed was on America’s Got Talent and Late Night Show with Jimmy Kimmel is setting up instruments and speakers for his one-man band, tip jars at his feet.
Incidentally, Japanese culture affects the American lifestyle in many ways, an example of this would be the specific community at Da Vinci Communications that show their love and appreciation towards Japanese pop culture.
According to Patricia Foxman, DVC’s Administrative Services Manager, eight percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students make up DVC’s student body during the 2017-2018 year. It comes to question whether or not Japanese-American students and staff feel as if they are being represented inside of school because of the low demographic of Asian American students.
Tomie Lambert, a junior at DVC who identifies as Japanese-American has much to say on the matter, “There aren’t that very many Asians here at Da Vinci. Granted, as we expand we are getting, like, more [students], but I still feel like we don’t really get represented here in like any way, there are some people who like our music, but that’s kind of it.”
While Tyler Mar, DVC’s 11th grade biology teacher who identifies as Japanese-American, doesn’t believe Japanese culture is represented at DVC, he believes it is represented in certain geographical locations inside or outside LA.
“It’s only represented in Little Tokyo,” says Mar, “I mean, Torrance has a pretty big Japanese population but it’s usually kind of in certain towns and geographical locations [in LA], like Little Tokyo, right? Everything there is pretty much Japanese centered. Like when you go to Koreatown, everything is Korean centered, the food, the shops, the signs. So, those are the only places where I feel Japanese culture is emphasized.”
However, there are students at DVC who are not Japanese-American that have a great appreciation for their pop culture inside and outside of school. Many students watch anime shows on Netflix or Crunchyroll and heat up their instant ramen noodles/Japanese food during lunch. Young adults and teens listen to Japanese pop music and even people of all ages play video games such as Mario Kart.
“There are a lot of American kids who are into anime that mainly sparked from Japan,” said Lambert, “And there are a lot Americans that I meet who are just like, ‘Pokemon is really cool’ or ‘Naruto is really cool’. And I’m just like, ‘That’s all from Japan!’ So, it’s definitely cool seeing how Japan can introduce these new concepts to different countries and like actually have them interested in it.”
Anime is a style of Japanese animated films that attract a wide audience, and part of that audience is DVC senior, Chris Torres. There are all sorts of genres you can watch from, such as action, adventure, romantic comedy, etc. Anime means a lot to a large community of fans who enjoy the stories and life lessons that come from the shows. Torres has grown up watching anime such as Tokyo Ghoul, Berserk, and Studio Ghibli films such as Princess Mononoke.
“There’s this show called Apple Seed,” Torres starts off, “and there’s this big old robot and he protects one of the Marines and they go on missions together. It’s the companionship that they have with each other and that reminds me of my best friend and I. So all of these anime shows, manga that I read, all have these similar connections to my real life. I can enjoy reading something that reminds me of my best friend while at the same time, reading something that’s sick and fictional.”
Some students have to agree with the concept that the reason they find anime so enjoyable is that they can find moments where they relate with the characters in some sort of way. DVC sophomore and co-leader of the newly founded Anime Club, Amani Santa Maria, is one of those people.
“My favorite part of anime is when there’s a group of friends that say stupid stuff and it turns into a constant battle between friends.” says Santa Maria, “And it makes me think, ‘Hey, that’s me and my friends sometimes!’ we like battle about which [opinion] is better.”
Anime, manga, video games, and Japanese fashion styles such as harajuku are often painted in a bad light with stereotypes, such as the shows corrupting or manipulating children and young adults to think a certain way or other misconceptions. But, what are some ways to steer away from stereotypes to get a better understanding of Japanese pop culture?
“If learning more about Japanese culture gets rid of stereotypes of local culture then I feel that’s a good thing,” said Ocean, a college student who was shopping at Kinokuniya Bookstore. “Stereotypes cover the hard work of the artists and these animators. Keep up with the news about upcoming Japanese cultural events. You don’t have to know everything about Japan. Just know that before having negative preconceptions, it’s better to just know what the culture is about.”
“Give it a try!” Daisy, a college student, added on to Ocean’s previous statement. “People have one general idea of what anime and manga is. But there are so many different kinds, not everything fits in one box neatly. Try to find the anime that you would prefer to watch and don’t look at the weird parts.”
With that being said, what are some ways to learn about Japanese pop culture or the culture in general? Students and workers at Little Tokyo gave their own feedback on the matter.
Santa Maria and DVC sophomore, Andrew Morales had co-founded an anime club that will take place Fridays after school 4:30pm-5:30pm in Room 3302. Santa Maria and Morales plan to have activities such as watching anime, learning how to draw manga, and talk about animes that students like. Santa Maria and Morales’ goal is for everyone to have a place to be accepted, to be themselves and watch the shows they want to watch.
“It’s open to everyone,” said Santa Maria, “It’s after school, feel free to come and geek out, you don’t have to hide it from your friends.”
“There are no rules,” Morales smiled, “You can just come in and just watch it for a little bit.”
Santa Maria discusses plans to go to the 2019 Anime Expo that will take in Downtown Los Angeles from July 4-7 over summer break. “I went last year [to the Anime Expo] and I loved it! It was so cool! I stepped out of my comfort zone and went as a Pokemon trainer with my Pikachu backpack!”
Morales has an ambition that by the end of the year the anime club will have one little community where they can have a place to relax and geek out.
At a Sanrio store in Japanese Village Plaza, an employee has suggestions of ways to learn more about the Japanese culture.
Krystle, a Little Tokyo Sanrio employee says the best part of Little Tokyo would be the Annual Tanabata Festival that takes place every August, “Everyone’s out and about, there’s so many people, there’s a parade and everything. It’s all about second generation Japanese-Americans, like me and my parents.”
Krystle also adds that there’s the Japanese American National Museum across the street from the Japanese Village Plaza where you can learn more about the Japanese-American culture, as well as the Little Tokyo information center where you can learn more about how Little Tokyo was founded and how to find your way around.
As the sun goes down on Little Tokyo, the Christmas lights illuminate Japanese Central Plaza like stars. You can hear children giggle, holding their parent’s hand as they walk about the plaza. Fickle Wish closes in the Little Tokyo Mall, harajuku girls with their beautiful outfits and striking smiles leave home for the night.
You can see Arthur Nakane performing musical on a late evening in front of a huge Christmas tree in Japanese Village Plaza—he’s making small talk with tourists, singing Christmas songs that make his audience laugh and their eyes light up with glee. “I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.”
A dollar falls into an old tip jar. The city keeps moving. Life goes on.