FREE: New Year’s Day Festival in Little Tokyo

Because of its location, I’m in Little Tokyo as much as I’m seen wandering around the Arts District. I love going there because, even with recent gentrification happening there as well, you still find traditional Japanese art and culture alive and thriving.

Coming soon is Little Tokyo’s celebration of the New Year on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, now in its 15th year. Hosted by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, the Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) Festival is a FREE community event that offers traditional food, martial arts demonstrations, taiko drumming, arts and crafts, dance performances, and this year, even a kimono fashion show!

OPENING CEREMONY – 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Weller Court
123 Astronaut E. S. Onizuka St.
Los Angeles 90012

FESTIVITIES – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Japanese Village Plaza
335 E. 2nd St.
Los Angeles 90012

Scroll down to read more about this annual celebration, plus information on Japanese foods and other “first” traditions surrounding the New Year:

Oshogatsu (New Year; literally means “new month”) is one of the most important celebrations of the year in Japan. It is a festive occasion that evolved from rituals associated with the changes of season, which is important to Japanese farming. In Japan, events begin on New Year’s Eve (called “Omisoka”) with the tradition of striking the Joya no kane (Joya means “New Year’s Eve” and kane means “bell”) shrine bell at Buddhist temples. There are 108 strikes representing 108 bonno (human sins or worldly concerns in Buddhist belief); each toll symbolizes leaving each bonno from the old year behind. During this ceremony, reverberations from the preceding toll must dissipate before the next strike occurs. The last peal of the bell is struck at midnight, coinciding with the first few seconds of the New Year; signifying a new beginning, enabling the start of a prosperous and joyous year. After the bells finish ringing, the ritual is to feast on soba noodles to celebrate.

TRADITIONAL FOODS: In addition to soba noodles, other foods enjoyed during the Japanese New Year celebration include osechi-ryōri typically shortened to osechi. This consists of boiled seaweed (konbu), fish cakes (kamaboko), mashed sweet potato with chestnut (kurikinton), simmered burdock root (kinpira gobō), and sweetened black soybeans (kuromame). Many of these dishes are sweet, sour, or dried, so they can keep without refrigeration — the culinary traditions date to a time before households had refrigerators and now when most stores closed for the holidays. There are many variations of osechi, and some foods eaten in one region are not eaten in other places (or are considered unfortunate or even banned) on New Year’s Day. Another popular dish is ozōnia soup with mochi rice cake and other ingredients that differ based on various regions of Japan. Today, sashimi and sushi are often eaten, as well as non-Japanese foods. To let the overworked stomach rest, seven-herb rice soup (nanakusa-gayu) is prepared on the seventh day of January, a day known as jinjitsu. Another custom is creating rice cakes (mochi). Boiled sticky rice (mochigome) is put into a wooden shallow bucket-like container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet. Mashing the rice, it forms a sticky white dumpling. This is made before New Year’s Day and eaten during the beginning of January. Mochi is also made into a New Year’s decoration called kagami mochi, formed from two round cakes of mochi with a tangerine daidai placed on top. The name daidai is supposed to be auspicious since it means “several generations.”

OTHER NEW YEAR’S FIRSTS TO CELEBRATE: Celebrating the new year in Japan also means paying special attention to the first time something is done in the new year. There are many “firsts” to celebrate; the two most popular are: (1) Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the year. Before sunrise on January 1, people often drive to the coast or climb a mountain so that they can see the first sunrise of the new year; and, (2) Hatsumōde is the first trip to a shrine or temple. Many people visit a shrine after midnight on December 31 or sometime during the day on January 1. If the weather is good, people often dress up or wear a kimono. Other “firsts” to celebrate include waraizome (first laughter), starting the New Year with a smile is considered a good sign; hatsuyume (first dream); hatsudayori (first letter), meaning the first exchange of letters; shigoto-hajime (the first work of the new year), keiko-hajime (the first practice of the new year), hatsugama (the first tea ceremony of the new year), and hatsu-uri (the first shopping sale of the new year).

The end of December and the beginning of January are the busiest times for the Japanese post offices. The Japanese have a custom of sending New Year’s Day postcards (nengajō) to their friends and relatives, similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. However, the origin of this custom exists for people to tell others whom they did not often meet that they were alive and well.

Share Your Memories of Historic Atomic & Troy Cafés

Featured Photo: Atomic Nancy (dublab)

Senor Fish - Atomic Cafe

TOP: Atomic Cafe (1982) William Reagh. Courtesy of LAPL and BOTTOM: Senor Fish (2005) @viewfromlaoft

The corner of 1st and Alameda streets in Downtown Los Angeles is an important place in local history — one rich in the L.A. cultural and music scene that should not be forgotten. Currently home to Señor Fish Cocina and Cantina, the Atomic Café was a Little Tokyo noodle shop owned and operated by Minoru and Ito Matoba from 1946 to 1989.

During the late 1970s to mid-1980s, their daughter, Nancy Sekizawa (known as “Atomic Nancy”) quickly transformed the quiet neighborhood bar/cafe in to one of L.A.’s most popular hangouts for local punk rockers, politicians, artists, and others. On any given night, you could see (and hear) the likes of Blondie, The Go-Go’s, Devo, X, and David Bowie sitting down having a bowl of noodles in the company of artists like Andy Warhol and old Japanese men with full-body tattoos. Troy sign_FBThe legendary jukebox played everything from The Germs to Shinichi Mori until 4:00 in the morning as crazed waitresses would be jumping on top of tables trying to serve food.

Months after the Atomic closed its doors on November 23, 1989, Sean Carrillo and Bibbe Hansen opened the Troy Café, a coffee shop that provided a welcoming and nurturing space for young Chicano artists — musicians, visual artists, and spoken word performers — to share and hone their talents. Among many others, Grammy-Award-winning Quetzal played their first gig at the Troy [EDITOR’S NOTE: Quetzal is the headline act at the FREE Target Feria de la Familia at Plaza de la Raza on Sunday, September 22, 2013 @ 12 noon to 6 PM – Quetzal plays at 5:15 PM.]. Other performers at the Troy included BeckCulture ClashMaceo “Demon Drummer” Hernandez, Illegal Interns (Flavio Morales & Richard Estrada), Chicano Secret Service (artist, cartoonist, and writer Lalo Alcaraz was a member), Y Que Mas (female spoken word group), Boca de Sandia, and Cholita.

This corner will soon be transformed into a new light rail station as part of Metro Regional Connector Transit Project. This means that the historic single-story brick building will be permanently removed. The Little Tokyo Service Center, in conjunction with a number of community stakeholders, is working to ensure this story is preserved and represented in a permanent public art piece at the future Metro station.

Want to learn more? Visit Facebook HERE and share your stories about the Atomic and Troy Cafés. Follow the project on Instagram!

~ Contributed by Remy De La Peza, Sr. Planner and Policy Counsel, Little Tokyo Service Center (213) 473-3030, ext. 164

~ Edited and supplemented by Melissa Richardson Banks of Downtown Muse

“Atomic Show” by Depth of Sense: More Than Meets the Ear
“Atomic Nancy: Atomic Show ‘Fuck That’ music session” by dublab, January 17, 2009

RECAP: The A.D. in the News

In case you missed these recent stories about the Arts District … Wow, just a few years ago, no one really knew much about our neighborhood. Now, it’s increasingly a topic in the news. What are your thoughts about these? What news have you seen online or in print recently about the Arts District? Let me know!

Spotted: Stumptown’s New Home
by Lesley Balla, Zagat, July 18, 2013

“…A loft-dwelling spy saw the new roaster being delivered to a space at the corner of Santa Fe and 7th Place earlier this week …”

New Italian Restaurant Coming to Arts District
Downtown News, July 24, 2013

“… Matteo Ferdinandi, who in 2008 partnered with chef Celestino Drago to open the 9,500-square-foot Drago Centro, is working on a new project called The Factory Kitchen, a 3,000-square-foot Italian restaurant set to open in late September …”

The Arts District Demands an Audience
by Julie Nakashima, Real Estate BisNow, June 27, 2013

“… Central City East Association executive director Estela Lopez discussed the recent Superior Court decision to shut down the Arts District BID, which her org administered … The BID is on a path to be reinstated so that the district can again enjoy the same public space management and benefits as the rest of Downtown.”

How Bill Chait Became the Most Important Non-Chef in the Downtown Dining Scene
by Richard Guzmán, Downtown News, July 22, 2013

“… Downtown is probably the most important restaurant and social market right now in Los Angeles and it’ll arguably define Los Angeles in a way that was never done before by any area in the city, said Chait.”

Cronut Knockoffs Finally Hit L.A. at Semi Sweet Bakery and Frances Bakery”
by Kat Odell, Eater LA, June 28, 2013

“… It was only a matter of time before LA bakers decided to take a stab at the cronut, a hybrid croissant meets donut…”

Guerilla Atelier’s DTLA Pop-Up Sticking Around for Good
by Natalie Alcala, Racked L.A., June 26, 2013

“…I’ve never met so many beautifully engaging and interesting people,” Guerilla founder Carl Louisville (aka the “unofficial mayor of Rodeo Drive”) explains. “This is a real community with deep compassion for who, what and why something comes into this community. The community is asking ‘Are you for real, and does what you are doing fit with what is here already and for what we want in the community, and for where we see our community going?’…”

A Royal Lesson
by Carl Louisville, Cultural Weekly, July 17, 2013

Unofficial Mayor of Rodeo Drive Opens DTLA Pop-Up
by Natalie Alcala, Racked L.A., May 22, 2013

Guerilla Galleries/Guerilla Atelier
821 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles 90012

Seagull on light pole against foggy morning sunrise #dtla #losangeles #littletokyo #dtlascenes (at Downtown Los Angeles)

Xmas tree already up in Little Tokyo … We need one in the Arts District! #dtla #losangeles #littletokyo (at Little Tokyo – Downtown Los Angeles)

Corner concert at 2nd and Alameda #dtla #dtlascenes #losangeles #littletokyo (at Little Tokyo – Downtown Los Angeles)

ROSE SURPRISE: Statue of Chiune Sugihara greeted me with a red rose today #dtla #losangeles #littletokyo (Taken with Instagram at Little Tokyo – Downtown Los Angeles)

New splash of color and sunrise at Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (Little Tokyo – Downtown Los Angeles)