Little Tokyo Community Profiles

Discover Nikkei partnered with Professor Morgan Pitelka of Occidental College and his students taking the Spring 2009 seminar "Japanophilia: Orientalism, Nationalism, Transnationalism" on a meaningful community-based documentation project. The students interviewed owners of five long-time Little Tokyo businesses to create Nikkei Album collections and articles.

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Bunkado and the Tsukada Family Pull

Irene Tsukuda-Germain grew up with Bunkado, a family business opened in 1945 by her aunt and uncle, Suye and Tokio Ueyama. Her parents moved to Little Tokyo to run their own store, the Tsukada Company, but when it closed due to development in the area, the family then helped to run the Bunkado store. Irene recalls coming to the store after the school day at Maryknoll, a Japanese Catholic school a few blocks away, which many children within her community attended. She and her sister would help put price tags on toys in the stockroom, anything that was “fun”; she …

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The Aoi Restaurant: A Little Tokyo Treasure

Mrs. Hiroko Yamagata and the Aoi Restaurant have a remarkable story. The Aoi Restaurant is located on historic First Street in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Founded in 1976 by Mrs. Hiroko Yamagata, Aoi Restaurant has braved the highs and lows and remained in the same location for 33 years. Now a Little Tokyo mainstay, the restaurant has always offered delicious home-style cooking and a comforting atmosphere. As a Japanese immigrant in the 1960s, Mrs. Yamagata showed incredible perseverance and bravery starting and maintaining her own successful and celebrated business.

Grace Maruyama, Mrs. Hiroko Yamagata’s older sister, immigrated to America in …

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Community Connections: Aihara Insurance’s 61-Year Commitment to Little Tokyo

Upon his return to Little Tokyo after World War II, veteran Luis K. Aihara found the community much changed. Though his own family had been uprooted and incarcerated in internment camps, they, and many other families of Japanese descent, flocked back to Little Tokyo where the majority of Buddhist temples and Japanese markets were located. Even after the chaos and displacement of war, Little Tokyo’s sense of community reemerged, and it was here in 1948 that Aihara founded his company, the Aihara Insurance Agency.

Aihara’s life insurance business, initially located on San Pedro Street in the heart of the Japanese …

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The Aihara Family

Doug Aihara, a third generation Japanese American, considers his family to be a “J-town family.” When he lived in Boyle Heights as a child, he and his family went into Little Tokyo at least once a week to buy their groceries and enjoy the community’s company and festivities. “You couldn’t even get rice outside of Little Tokyo, except for Uncle Ben’s… but that just doesn’t hold well for sushi” says Doug. Little Tokyo was the center of Japanese culture in Los Angeles. Japanese products and businesses couldn’t be found elsewhere. Doug Aihara and his family have been a part of …

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The Little Tokyo Café: A Family Business

Mitsuko Minohara is the owner of the cozy Little Tokyo Café located at 116 N. San Pedro Street in Los Angeles. Mitsuko is a second-generation Japanese American and was born in Manzanar, California, in 1943. Manzanar served as one of the ten concentration camps that contained roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Mitsuko and her family came to Los Angeles in 1946, a year after the WRA (War Relocation Authority) closed Manzanar. Mitsuko has four children: an older son who is a computer programmer at Universal Studios, two daughters who work for the Los Angeles Police Department, and …

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Aihara insurance Aoi Restaurant Bunkado business community food insurance interview Irene Tsukuda-Simonian japantowns little tokyo little tokyo cafe oxy-littletokyo restaurant