How to spend 36 hours in Little Tokyo, L.A., with photos

betty ming liu Money, Relationships, Travel, Writing how-to's 5 Comments

Just got back from the V3 Digital Media Conference in Los Angeles, which gave me a chance to explore both blogging issues  — and Little Tokyo. What a great chance for me to expand my sense of community!

The trip got off to an excellent start because I flew from JFK to LAX on jetBlue. The airline’s New York terminal really knows how to do up the shopping and eating options. Imagine, an expensive vending machine that sells Stila makeup…how insane is that? And no need to go down to Manhattan for  Balthazar’s famous baked goods in Soho; the butter scones are right here. I bought one before hopping onto my flight.

CHEAP TRAVEL TIP: Getting from LAX to downtown Los Angeles is pricey. Instead of taking a $55 cab ride from the airport, I opted for one of the many $15 PrimeTime red vans instead. These folks will accept cash or credit card on the spot. Going home the next day, I booked in advance, paid via credit card over the phone and was both promptly picked up and then delivered back at LAX.

The V3 conference took place in Little Tokyo. Organizers found us an excellent $125-per-night room rate at the Miyako Hotel, where the regular rate starts at $129. The room was clean, cozy and affordable, with free WiFi. The best part was the $16, all-you-can-eat Japanese breakfast at the hotel’s Tamon restaurant on the second floor. Everything from sausage links, bacon and corn flakes to salmon fillets, stewed vegetables, oshinko pickles, shrimp shumai and tasty little gelatin desserts. There was even congee, a rice gruel that is so comforting in the morning. I was blissed out by breakfast.

Then, on to the conference. If you missed it, you can catch the details on the website. It was a great event that attracted 500 attendees. Co-sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the V3 folks packed Saturday, Aug. 25, with non-stop workshops.

The conference venue was just steps away from the hotel, at the beautiful Japanese American National Museum, It was built in 1992 and features a permanent exhibition on the World War II horror of the internment of Japanese-Americans. I’m sure you remember this from your history classes: The U.S. government threw innocent people of Japanese heritage into concentration camps. When the feds finally paid reparations to survivors, many of them donated their blood money to the museum, which today anchors Little Tokyo as a wonderful tourist attraction.

I also used my time in Little Tokyo to check out the food. The eating was quite good. My reviews are posted on In the photo below, the burger is from Far Bar. The middle shot is Wakasaya restaurant’s donburi — Japanese work for “bowl.” The concept refers to getting a bowl of rice topped with goodies, in this case, salmon roe, sea urchin and fatty tuna. Then  on  your right is ramen soup from Mr. Ramen, which makes a good bowl of noodles served up with sliced pork, half a boiled egg and steamed spinach.

Right after the conference ended, I had about half an hour before the shuttle van was scheduled to take me back to LAX. That was enough of a window to sprint down the block to Far Bar, which today, serves up craft beers, sakes and cocktails to a hipster crowd. Fronting the edifice of its historic location is a fabulous “chop suey” sign from its past life as a Chinese restaurant.

For generations, that Chinese restaurant sat in the center of Little Tokyo for generations, according to local newscaster David Ono.  Here’s what he had to say about it on the V3 website in a little story that really moved me:

When the Japanese American community was sent to the internment camps during World War Two, the folks at “Chop Suey” were left alone since they were of Chinese descent. They stayed in the J-Town community protecting residents’ property. After the war, when people returned from the camps, they had little money, so “Chop Suey” provided cheap but good warm food to them so they could reestablish that sense of community. Now, times have changed and few people know the history of this place. Today, we call it FarBar but the “Chop Suey” sign remains and the old authentic turn of the century booths are still part of its interior. Most people  think it’s just a cool downtown bar…but it’s much more than that to the people who care about Little Tokyo.

After reading that, I knew that before I went home, I had to raise a glass at Far Bar. David, the spiky-haired bartender, made me a “Cool Scotty” from Hakushu Japanese whiskey, Drambuie malt whiskey liquer, honey syrup and lemon juice with a ball of ice in the middle of the glass. Shaken, not stirred. Very, very smooth.

The drink was a perfect ending to a trip that enriched me in countless ways…

~I loved meeting in person all the bloggers who up until now, were virtual acquaintances that I chatted with on Facebook and twitter.

~There was tremendous information in the workshops. I especially enjoyed learning about how YouTube can help each of us develop an audience, how Japanese comics in the form of manga and anime have evolved as communication tools and how to overcome the ill effects that Confucianism has had on so many of our lives.

~I was also blown away by the museum and its permanent exhibition on the internment camps, the exciting origami display and the irresistible gift shop.

~After growing up Manhattan’s Chinatown, it was pretty crazy to be on the West Coast in my first experience with a Japan town. So different and yet so similar.

~And finally, there is the power of the takeaway. The most important message I heard during the convention came from Thick Dumpling Skin blogger Lisa Lee. She said that it’s really important to find something to champion in this life: “Each of us should adopt one cause,  then we can really begin to change things.”


Comments 5

  1. Betty,
    The biggest group of Vitenamese refugees are in Westminster (Little Siagon) which is 37% Vietnamese (47% Asian) There is also a large population of Lao and Cambodian refugees. Back in the late 70’s my sister-in-law served as mission in Fresno, California. She was a bit surprised when they told her she would be in training an additional three months because she was going to s foreign speaking mission. Turns out she had to learn Laotian because she was supose to with Lao refugees.
    At the moment my brother and his wife has a girl from Myanmar (Burma) living with them. She was a victim of human traficking.
    A good airport for a stop over is Pittsburgh(PIT). They designed the airport like a mall with mall prices! Thus you have a chance to do some shopping and don’t have to pay anymore than you would in a mall.

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  2. Hi Betty,

    I’m always so jealous of the trips you take! This one looks like it was a lot of fun (especially because there was ramen involved; you know how I like my ramen!), and that museum sounds really interesting. I’d love to visit eventually, and maybe I can since I’m in Cali at least once a year :) Hope all’s well now that you’re back on the East Coast!



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      Courteney — how wonderful to hear from you! Yes, all’s well now that I’m back home. The museum was definitely worth a visit. As for Little Tokyo, I only saw a little bit of it. Bet hanging out there at night is totally different. The ramen place next door to Mr. Ramen is supposed to the hot place. But my dinner was delish. Of course, I would love to get your opinion since you’re such a ramen expert. Big hug to you! :)

  3. Great little vignette on the history of Little Tokyo! And also nice to find you blogging about somethings on the left coast :) I’ll have to check out the Chop Suey/Far Bar one of these days. As for your takeaway “Each of us should adopt one cause,” here’s one that i just came across the other day:

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