Anth 338 – Section 1
February 27, 2012
On an ordinary Saturday afternoon, my sister and I made our way to 1st St. and Central Ave. from a failed attempt at another left-to-be-unnamed cultural epicenter, which was a very disappointing trip. Little Tokyo proved to be quite the opposite, as I was able to ascertain a much deeper understanding of the Japanese culture because of it, and at the same time was able to reflect on the differences and similarities of my Filipino heritage. From what I was able to gather, the Japanese and Filipino cultures have quite a few significant differences, but have more similarities than I originally anticipated. As the name would suggest, Little Tokyo is fairly little, with its borders spanning a radius of only a few blocks. Walking from one end of the town to the other took no more than five minutes. That afternoon, we started our trip right in the middle of all the activity, into the mouth of a little alley known as the Japanese Village Plaza. People were walking in and out of cosmetic stores, bakeries, bars, gift shops, a brightly lit Sanrio store, cafes, a market, and a number of restaurants serving sushi, shabu shabu, ramen, even Korean barbeque. Many of these shops were playing traditional Japanese music, and interestingly, almost all of the employees that worked in these shops were women. The same could be said about the restaurants, as many of the servers were also women. The chefs on the other hand were all men, which may be one aspect of gender roles in the neighborhood. The Japanese had great pride in serving the food they prepared, something my sister and I noticed while eating at one of the more traditional ramen houses. There was a mixture of different kinds of people that afternoon: several Caucasians and Hispanics, a handful African-Americans, and of course plenty of Asians. There was also a sense of fusion about the Plaza between the East and West. For example, price tags were typically displayed in both Japanese and English. Furthermore, along 2nd Street one can find a Pinkberry and Japanese tavern sharing close proximity to one another, just one example of the comingled culture of Little Tokyo. We met many friendly people during our visit, but had the most luck getting interviews while we were in the shops and making small talk with the workers and customers. The predominant religion in Little Tokyo is Buddhism, but sentiment varies widely depending on their connection to the Japanese culture and their age. I was told that there were a handful of temples scattered throughout the area, and according to an elderly female store owner many people find it very important to observe the religious decrees and go every Sunday to meditate. A younger Japanese woman who worked in one of the shops seemed to think otherwise, as she expressed that nobody really follows the customs anymore, but certainly like to profess it. She continued by saying, “The only time we really care is during funerals”, but during weddings they are seen in churches wearing American style gowns, bearing a mark of Judeo-Christian Western ideology. Although Buddhism is widely recognized to be the major religion among the Japanese, some of the smaller religions like Shinto and Christianity bring in a small following also, just not in Little Tokyo. Strolling along the Plaza, I encountered a pleasant Japanese American student in her mid-20s who had come all the way from Orange County. She told me that there are in fact a couple Shinto temples and Japanese Christian churches where she is from. But as far as religion is concerned, the only cues I was able to detect were the Buddhist figurines and sculptures coupled with lit incense in some of the shops. Aside from that, not many other signs were present indicating the significance of religion. The store owner I spoke to at the Plaza also spoke of several cultural events throughout the year, all of which take place along the major streets in Little...
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