EAST MEETS WEST
A FEW MILES FROM THE DOWNTOWN GARMENT DISTRICT — AND A WORLD AWAY FROM THE GRITTY STREETS THAT SURROUND IT — JAPANESE CULTURE THRIVES IN LITTLE TOKYO, AN OASIS OF EXOTIC IMPORTS, CHOICE CUISINE AND WELL-PRESERVED TRADITIONS.
Footland Sports, 107 Japanese Village Plaza, (213) 626-0181. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Athletic shoe junkies get their fix at Footland Sports, which boasts a kaleidoscopic array of the latest styles from Nike, Puma, New Balance and Adidas. In addition to the standard stock, the shop offers samples of hard-to-find and discontinued Nikes as well as smaller sizes. The sales staff, used to attending to fashion-obsessed teens, are well versed in sneaker-speak and know the street cred of each model.
Fugetsu-do, 315 East First Street, (213) 625-8595. Open daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
This 88-year-old sweet shop titillates the taste buds with an endless variety of rice flour pastries, sticky buns, fortune cookies, gummi candies and milk chews. Find it on a vintage strip of First Street, where many of the original buildings from the early 1900s still stand. Note the inlaid brass timeline along the sidewalk. It dates the businesses that operated along the street, including the first American-style restaurant opened by a Japanese immigrant in 1890, and the first hotel in 1910.
Yamazaki Bakery, 123 Japanese Village Plaza, (213) 624-2773. Open 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
A modern-day bakery by comparison (it opened in 1978), Yamazaki specializes in various breads (called pans) like koshi an pan and tobu an pan (filled with sweet red beans), panch pan (raspberry cream) and melon pan, as well as Western cakes, tarts, peanut butter donuts, cream puffs and apple empanadas (a nod to the Spanish-speaking bakers).
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 North Central Avenue (213) 626-6222. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday.
The vast four-story warehouse, originally intended as a temporary MOCA exhibit space, may seem small upon walking through the tinted-glass doors, but as visitors wend their way from gallery to gallery, it’s apparent that looks can be deceiving. The Geffen Contemporary houses hundreds of large-scale, often interactive works by artists such as Chuck Close, Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, Chris Ofili and Tsuyoshi Ozawa. Some works, like Renee Green’s “Import/Export Funk Office,” are housed in custom, carved-out rooms that give visitors the feeling of entering a completely new museum.
Japanese American Cultural Museum, 369 East First Street, (213) 625-0414. Open 10 a.m.5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday.
The dazzling modern steel and glass structure of the main building belies the antique treasures housed inside. Among displays of clothing and other artifacts that belonged to the first immigrants from Japan and thousands of preserved manuscripts, there is a haunting exhibit that details the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Across the way, an old temple with an original stone facade imported from Japan houses traveling art exhibitions.
Shabu-Shabu House, 127 Japanese Village Plaza, (213) 680-3890. Lunch served 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; dinner served 6:30-10:00 p.m.
As if the perpetual line outside this small restaurant weren’t enough to pique a diner’s curiosity, the hustle and bustle at the U-shaped counter is a surefire enticement. A favorite is the Japanese shabu-shabu, in which meat and vegetables are cooked in individual stone pots of boiling water.
Diners can choose from either a regular or large plate of fresh greens, turnips, carrots, tofu and noodles with or without thinly sliced beef, both of which amount to no more than
$6.00. With chopsticks, you’re instructed to drop pieces into a pot of boiling water for no more than a few minutes, after which the tasty morsels are shaken free of excess water and seasoned from cups of soy sauce and broth.
In addition to the shabu-shabu, the menu offers traditional teriyaki dishes and sushi a la carte. For dessert, try walking across the courtyard to the various ice cream shops and bakeries for a sweet red bean bun or a sampling of mochi (that’s a sweet rice flour pastry) ice cream: bite-size balls of ice cream or sorbet wrapped in soft rice flour dough.