Japantown and Why I Love LA

When I was growing up Japanese American in the SF Bay Area in the 1960's, Japanese tourists were so rare that my parents would whisper "Nihonjin" whenever they saw them on the streets of San Francisco. To us (my mother, a 2nd generation "Nisei", had never been to Japan in her life), they were like a subspecies and somehow indirectly related to us.

The Japanese Americans developed their own unique insular culture in America, in part based on Japan of the early 1900's when the first immigrants arrived at Angel Island, the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island. From that point on, the cultures diverged and then hit a disconnect with World War II. The internment of Japanese Americans into camps off the West Coast during the War obliterated Japaneseness in a people who are genetically predisposed to hiding their shame and denying their being in the face of it. My Tokyo-born wife is amazed at how distinctive and alien JA culture is, sometimes rootless to the base culture... our Japanese restaurants are divided into "Korean run", "JA run" and "Japanese enough", and we choose eating at the latter.

I was reminded of the Japanese American experience during soba lunch with SocketSite's Adam yesterday in San Francisco's Japantown Mall. Japantown Mall is retail oddity... filled with odd "Japanese" shops housed in the 1960's East German project architecture with a few Japanese frills, it's a blatant misrepresentation of modern Tokyo... my wife is taken aback that Japantown might be construed as real Japan. Yet, Japantown just represents a completely unique microcosmic culture. It should be a tourist destination.

And that is why I love LA. LA is huge and sprawling enough to house complete authentic neighborhoods like Koreatowns, barrios and Vietnamtowns that extend over square miles. Once in the heart of  them, you're travelling in that ethnic microcosm (and you know it's the LA version of it) that defines what America has always been - an immigrant nation. California is a magnet for immigrants, its industries and economy a magnet for the educated and ambitious, and it stands at the gateway to the next Asian economic powerhouses. In real estate terms, is it no wonder prices are now bouncing upward again?


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  • 2/16/2007 9:20 AM Karl Lingenfelder wrote:
    Very interesting insight.
    There is great strength in cultural diversity, not to mention richness and California is a beneficiary of this as its economy continues to thrive.
    California should act more like a Country.
    Remember Median can be misleading and the Market could be livelier than the Median indicates.
    Did you ever go to Oritalia?
    Reply to this
    1. 2/16/2007 9:45 AM Pat Kitano wrote:
      Hi Karl, yes I've been to Oritalia (Orient/Italian)... it's gone now... fusion cooking had its prime in San Francisco earlier this century. I think one driving force in cuisine here (and probably in LA) is ultra-authentic regional cooking. LA has far better restaurants for this than the Bay Area because of the intensity and concentration of its ethnic neighborhoods like Vietnamese Garden Grove and Koreatown.

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  • 2/16/2007 11:06 PM asher wrote:
    55 out of 179. hmm, maybe i'm not JA afterall. i suspect there's a sansei/westside bias built into the survey.

    great post, pat. having grown up in LA (my parents still work in little tokyo) and now living in the bay area, i've had similar experiences and made similar observations. i admit now that the bay area is a nicer place to work and live, but it's still much easier to find a good izakaya and taqueria in LA because of it's shear size and ethnic heterogeneity.
    Reply to this

  • 2/17/2007 2:13 PM Ben K wrote:
    In reading the "Ways to Tell if You're JA", I guess I'm barely JA. Though, reading what you wrote does bring to mind different JA experiences, particularly between Hawaii and mainland born/raised. The Hawaii AJAs did keep their Japanesess (though it's diluted)...the vast majority never had to endure the internment camps.
    Reply to this
    1. 2/17/2007 6:50 PM Pat Kitano wrote:
      Thanks Ben, I think with Asher and you, we've covered the JA real estate blogger community as of now!

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  • 2/24/2007 8:51 AM Geno Petro wrote:
    Hey Pat...I really like this post. I think there's a glitch though as it is posted on my MyHouseKey Blog page. I don't want to delete it so just log into my account and transfer it...or advise me what to do...Peace, Geno
    Reply to this

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