Back in the day, many locals considered Boyle Heights as part of Little Tokyo. From the early 1900’s up until the 1970’s it was an enclave for Japanese immigrants and their growing families. Japanese folk worked and played in Little Tokyo and they lived across the bridge in Boyle Heights. My parent’s first apartment was off of 2nd and St. Louis and as a child my dad used to put me on his lap and “let me drive” over the bridge from The Atomic. Both neighborhoods are experiencing drastic changes as gentrification tries to erase the rich cultural history of these areas. Otomisan is the last Japanese restaurant in Boyle Heights, big props to them for holding it down for all these years
By the 1960’s, The Crenshaw District had the largest population of Japanese Americans in the continental United States.
Crenshaw began as a segregated and restricted white neighborhood, in the years following World War II, Japanese Americans stood at the forefront of the drive to break down racial exclusion and restrictive covenants. White flight emerged only after white resistance failed and the area soon became a national model for racial integration and a hub of Black and Japanese American political activism. This neighborhood is home to many of the Asian American Movement’s most prominent entities such as Westside Collective, Gidra and Yellow Brotherhood. Some locals used to refer to this area as “Bumble Bee” because of the predominantly Black and Asian population. Tak’s coffee shop in Crenshaw Square is one of the few special places where you can still get fried chicken wings, biscuits and gravy, char siu pork, a bowl of rice and sunomono.
Gardena —The Ultimate Japanese American Suburb a.k.a. Buddha Head Heaven
Described by one historian as a “once rundown suburb” south of Los Angeles, Gardena by the 1950s had become home to many Japanese Americans.
For the burgeoning numbers of Japanese American realtors, gardeners, businessmen, and others, Gardena represented an unprecedented opportunity. Numerous Japanese Americans ascended to elected political positions and Gardena’s new arrivals reshaped the town using family and transnational networks, in particular those connected to Japan, to establish new businesses and draw industry to the town.
By 1984, companies such as Toyota, Sapporo, Mazda, and Hitachi invested roughly $200 million into the suburb.
During this period of economic growth the Yonsei (fourth generation) birthed a subculture that turned a racial slur into a into a symbol of empowerment giving rise to the “Super Jap” (nope you can’t say unless you are Japanese and yes I know it’s problematic) or SJ. I was lucky to witness this first hand during the one year I spent at Mark Keppel High School in 1990. They were the popular kids who were in R&B dance crews, drove dropped Honda Civics, the guys wore Z.Cavaricci pants, Oakley sunglasses and Vans. The girls wore Z.Cavaricci shorts, Esprit sandals, Liz Claiborne snake skin sunglasses and Louis Vuitton Clutch bags — pretty magnificent. There isn’t much out there about SJ culture but I’m sure Gardena Bowl had to be SJ HQ back in the day.