Plan your next retail therapy session in Little Tokyo for eclectic and authentic Japanese finds. From imported Japanese ceramics to handpicked vintage threads, the shops and malls of this quaint neighborhood offer an array of goods that will intrigue even the most reserved shopper. Buy a stack of manga for your comic-obsessed brother, a pretty paper parasol for Grandma, or a new rice cooker for your apartment—spend your day discovering Little Tokyo with this guide to the nabe's best shops and malls.
RECOMMENDED: Little Tokyo neighborhood guide
Opened in 1978, Japanese Village Plaza was a community effort meant to assist in the revitalization of the neighborhood after a period of decay. Since its inception the mall has brimmed with shops and eateries—most of them small business owners—though a few local chains have joined the ranks. While shopping is a must at this outdoor mall, don’t leave the cherry blossom lined area, without sampling a few street snacks. Join the constant line at the Mitsuru Café’s sidewalk window for a taste of imagawayki (freshly griddled red bean cakes) or freshly made mochi across the way at Mikawaya. After filling up on sweet treats, head out for a day of shopping alongside the iconic yagura (tower) and wood-accented buildings inspired by architecture common in rural villages in Japan.
If you’re searching for the latest copy of Japanese Vogue or enough volumes of manga to last you a lifetime, head to the second floor of Weller Court (located just above the Japanese grocery store, Marukai Market) and find Kinokuniya Bookstore. Magazines and books in Japanese, Chinese and English abound, but the buck doesn’t stop there. Hours could be spent perusing shelves stacked with fine-tipped pens and pencils, stationary and notebooks, stickers and toys— it’s a treasure trove for lovers of office supplies. If you have little ones in tow, take a break at a tiny table in the shop’s children’s book section, located at the back of the store.
One step inside Raggedy Threads and you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Grandpa’s attic— assuming your Grandpa was a stylish old chap. The secondhand shop is teeming with fashions and memorabilia from decades past, and the vintage treasures are anything but raggedy. Distressed leather boots with brass clamps shine under the store lights, 1940s Beacon blankets are spotlessly clean, and men and women’s apparel from every 20th century decade are ironed and hung tidily, ready for you to flip through. Owner Jaime Wong mans the counter herself when she’s not traveling the country on buying trips, picking out items from dealers and conventions across the states. Her more prized finds? A collection of plaid and jean-clad Buddy Lee dolls that are on display only, as Wong can’t bare to part with them
There’s enough dishware to stock all of the kitchens in LA in this gift shop, and it’s been serving shoppers in Little Tokyo since 1958. Walk the long first aisle for gorgeous sake sets, bowls, and teacups, then consider the selection of Zojirushi products toward the back— every household should have a rice cooker or hot pot, right? Don’t forget to sift through their collection of chopsticks, origami paper, imported teas and candies. There’s also an assortment of fancy vases in the front room.
Weller Court patrons would be remiss to stride passed this kitchy boutique that doubles as an art gallery and performance space. Illustrator/designer Chris Mitchell, who’s worked on shows like Ren and Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants, co-owns the shop with Miki Panteepo, and together the duo curates a serious selection of unique goods by local and international artists and designers. Peruse ceramics, prints, sculptures, textiles, comic books, plush toys, apparel and more. Clothes from quirky Japanese labels Sex Pot Revenge, Super Lover, and Algonguin are on hand. Pay special attention to the shop’s walls, where Mitchell and Panteepo display the art for each exhibition. Shows rotate regularly, some themed and others solo displays. A recent exhibition celebrated the 50th anniversary of James Bond, and when we visited the store recently it was chockablock with soft sculptures of felt and fabric for a show called Fuwa Fuwa. Check the website for information on past and upcoming exhibitions.
You’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier group of sales people than those milling around Bukado, a gift shop that’s full of Japanese imports and has been in Little Tokyo since 1945. Showing the faintest interest in local Japanese history will likely result in a clerk bringing out a half-dozen papers on shopkeepers and community activists that have made the neighborhood what it is today. After brushing up on your history, peruse the aisles for ceramic dishware, koi sock kites, art books and cards and paper parasols.
Step through the blue panel curtains adorning Pop Killer’s doorway and behold a funky collection of vintage and house-designed goods: dangly air fresheners shaped like lucky cats or sashimi, backpack patches of equally odd subject matter, a slew of retro cut-off jean shorts and other throwback clothing items for men, women and kids. The T-shirt wall is another highlight, each shirt custom styled by a Pop Killer designer, including slogans such as “Jesus Shaves” or an image of a mullet-clad bald eagle.