Sunday 5/15: SLT at Two Awesome Events!

Join Sustainable Little Tokyo at these two very awesome events on Sunday, May 15th! 

SLT and FandangObon folks will be participating and tabling at the AgriCultura Block Party at All Peoples Community Center from 11am-3pm, and will also be participating and paneling at the Little Tokyo Historical Society x Visual Communications screening of Crimson Kimono (2pm @ Tateuchi Democracy Forum) !

Flyers with more information for both events found below!

SLT will be tabling and participating in FandangObon!

Following the film screenings, SLT will be joining LTHS for a panel discussion on the future of Little Tokyo!

The Story of the Little Tokyo that Could...and Will

By Shelley Poticha and Dean Matsubayashi

Originally posted on Shelly Poticha's blog at the NRDC Switchboard

Diversity in Los Angeles is a core value.

The city has residents from more than 140 countries who speak 86 languages. It's full of diverse ethnic enclaves, including the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, Chinatown, Koreatown, Leimert Park, Little Tokyo, Thai Town, Little Armenia, Fairfax's Jewish-Russian community, and Little Bangladesh - to name only a few.

It is in these neighborhoods that the city's culture thrives.

We would like to keep it that way.

Responding to a threat

Like other developing urban markets, LA is experiencing gentrification and displacement pressures that threaten the health and financial well-being of many of its residents.

As reported in every major news outlet in 2015, gentrification is a growing force in American cities that is raising home prices, straining transportation, displacing residents, and dividing governing bodies and the citizenry. It has become such a common topic of discussion that "gentrification" as a concept may have lost its meaning.

But the challenges with new development in some of LA's culture-rich neighborhoods are very real.

In November, LA Streetsblog reported on Little Tokyo's neighboring community of Boyle Heights and its ongoing struggle against gentrification and displacement, most recently connected with the arrival of East Coast art dealers. Michele Maccarone, one such dealer from New York, was quoted in The New York Times calling the area unclaimed, "edgy" space ripe for new galleries. Some locals countered that the so-called "discovery" of their neighborhood exemplifies gentrification's devaluation of existing rich cultural and historic neighborhoods in LA.

A painful backstory

Little Tokyo, in the heart of downtown, similarly has a history of being at the center of national debates not of its making.

The second oldest ethnic neighborhood in LA, Little Tokyo started in 1885 when Charles Hama, a seaman from Japan, opened Kame Restaurant on East First Street. By the beginning of the 20th century, Japanese immigrants settling in Los Angeles continued to open up several businesses. The neighborhood thrived with restaurants, shops and markets supplying goods to nearly 30,000 Japanese residents in the area. However, this cultural community was both physically and psychologically displaced during World War II when in 1942 Executive Order 9066 called for the internment of Japanese Americans along the West Coast.

Little Tokyo survived that dark period as well as a series of subsequent urban renewal efforts and city-driven redevelopment.

Today, a smaller geographic footprint reflects that unfortunate history. Little Tokyo continues to see the effects of the gentrification in neighboring Downtown LA and the Arts District - the evidence being the ubiquitous construction cranes visible along the downtown skyline, the development of a new light rail station scheduled to open in 2021, and ever-rising rents. New studio apartments, for example, cost an average of more than $2,000 a month.

Externally, this growth looks like progress but there are downsides. What Little Tokyo is experiencing - that onlookers and passersby perhaps don't see - are long-time community anchors being pushed out. Small businesses with deep roots in Little Tokyo, like the recently closed Oiwake Restaurant, can no longer afford the speculation-driven commercial rents. It's textbook gentrification with its colonizing, profit-driven approach that renders existing occupants invisible, displaces them and makes way for a wealthier class able to pay more.

An urgent need

The year 2015 saw at least a dozen local businesses close their doors in Little Tokyo - a place whose cultural identity is intertwined with local commerce that provides community residents with products and services in their own language while engaging with embedded stakeholders to appreciate and respect the history of the neighborhood. Without this authenticity, such neighborhoods cease to exist.

An initiative called Sustainable Little Tokyo (SLT) is a neighborhood-wide, collaborative and holistic approach seeking to develop a community-driven future for supporting the continued existence of this historic neighborhood. By promoting environmental, cultural and local economic sustainability, it's an innovative model for organizing and activating a community to disrupt the gentrification that began in earnest in 2013.

SLT's leadership is anchored by the Little Tokyo Community Council, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and the Little Tokyo Service Center. Together, with individual residents and local stakeholders, community groups, resource partners and public agencies and departments, SLT has donated more than 2,000 pounds of surplus produce from a local farmers market to a food bank, advised 50 businesses and 160 residents on how to save energy and water, hosted traditional arts events at the three historic trees in the neighborhood, and collaborated with the local council district office to decorate 12 utility boxes with SLT-inspired art.

Inspiration for the future

But perhaps even more importantly, Little Tokyo now has a larger vision for the future, with access to funding sources and a focus on sustainability. It has a platform from which to advocate for itself with local government, transportation agencies and other entities to help determine its future. It's becoming a place where LA wants to live and work, while also preserving its beauty and uniqueness - for both long-time residents and newcomers.

To help support this vision, NRDC has been a resource partner to Sustainable Little Tokyo, along with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Enterprise Community Partners, Global Green, NeighborWorks America, Mithun and others. NRDC's work has been part of Urban Solutions' Green Neighborhoods initiative that assists sustainable community development.

The work began in 2012 when stakeholders reached out to Little Tokyo's external resource partners as they grappled with aggressive cultural displacement. Through this partnership, we were able to start thinking beyond single-building projects and look at whole blocks and at the neighborhood in its entirety. Following a community charrette in the fall of 2013, the Little Tokyo Community Council adopted the proposals and launched the next phase - realizing those plans.

Now, that vision has been established. We plan to continue what has already been a four-year successful commitment, helping to bring in the city, Metro, and others that will play a role in the development process. We are honored to be working alongside each other as Little Tokyo is poised to become a Cultural EcoDistrict and a leader in green urban redevelopment.

All hands on deck

SLT embraces any and all efforts toward a community-driven future for Little Tokyo -- redevelopment that benefits and sustains its 100-year-old nine square blocks -- for the community, itself, not an absentee niche of developers and investors. Moving forward, SLT will continue to bring to life sustainable projects that support local businesses, the environment, the arts and the cultural heritage of Little Tokyo.


SLT includes the participation of over 75 individuals, 20 community groups, eight public agencies or departments, and four resource partners - including the Natural Resources Defense Council. SLT would like to thank all of its funders, especially the Low Income Investment Fund and Citi Foundation for its critical support through Partners in Progress in the early stages of the initiative. For more information, please


Shelley Poticha is the director of Urban Solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Dean Matsubayashi is the executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center.

Sunday 10/25: 3rd Annual FandangObon & the Mottainai 'Eco' Fest!

Join us this Sunday, October 25th, 2015 - 1:00-4:30pm, for the third annual FandangObon and the Mottainai 'Eco' Fest!

Great Leap, Inc. is still partnering with Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzalez from the Mexican band, Quetzal, the communities of Boyle Heights, Sustainable Little Tokyo, and LA Commons located in Leimert Park, to include the African American community. In addition, this year, Nobuko and Quetzal will be joined by special guests Le Ballet Dembaya and Francis and Omowale Awe. You can also pre-order a rain barrel to be picked up at FandangObon, just in time for El Niño season! (more info below)

Feel ready for El Niño? Want to pre-order a barrel for pick-up at FandangObon? Order here (! Even more awesome, LADW and MWD are offering rebates on the rain barrels! Check out their websites for more information! ( &

Looking for a fun, green way to get to FandangObon? Join API Obesity Prevention Alliance on a bike ride from Boyle Heights to Little Tokyo! RSVP  and more info here!

Year 1: EcoDistricts Target Cities Program

By Collin Tateishi, Little Tokyo Service Center CDC

Little Tokyo is the first Cultural Ecodistrict in the United States.  Grounded in rich history and decades of grassroots organizing, recent cultural preservation efforts have evolved into “Sustainable Little Tokyo.”  The Little Tokyo Community Council, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and LTSC Community Development Corporation are leading this community-driven initiative that believes history, art and culture are essential to Little Tokyo’s future as an economically, environmentally, socially sustainable neighborhood.  We strive to achieve harmony between our cultural history and our environmental future.

In the Summer of 2014, Sustainable Little Tokyo was chosen to participate in the EcoDistricts Target Cities Pilot Program – the only West Coast project in the 11-member cohort.  The intention of this program is to accelerate district-scale (in our case, Little Tokyo neighborhood-scale) sustainability projects through the Target Cities roadmap of four phases:  Organization/Governance, District Assessment, Project Financing, and Project Management.  

In September 2014, the Sustainable Little Tokyo team flew to Washington DC for Phase 1 to learn new ways to strengthen the internal governance structure within the Little Tokyo Community Council to create the necessary spaces for greater involvement amongst local community members, our political representatives, and resource partners.  As a result, we have created a leadership Cabinet, Steering Committee, and three working committees (Arts and Culture, Outreach and Education, Real Estate and Build Environment) as well as a Declaration of Cooperation which outlines general commitments from all of our initiative partners. 

In April 2015, EcoDistricts staff came to Los Angeles for Phase 2 to help us articulate where our neighborhood is now and identify measurable goals to track our progress and success moving forward.  Around this time, the Mayor’s citywide Sustainability Plan (pLAn) was also released and showed how Little Tokyo’s interests could connect with these larger regional goals as well as how Little Tokyo’s dynamic arts and cultural resources could enhance the City’s vision for a sustainable Los Angeles.  All of this fed into the development of work plans for each of our working committees, which now have specific short, medium, and long-term goals to strive for that support our vision for a sustainable Little Tokyo.

In June 2015, our team flew to Atlanta, Georgia for Phase 3 to breakdown the “how-to” challenges for kickstarting implementation of specific projects.  At this one-year mark in the program, we are continuing to grow the Sustainable Little Tokyo initiative, recognizing that our ideas need human and financial resources to become a reality.  With the support of our core resource partners – Enterprise Community Partners, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Global Green USA, and NeighborWorks America – we are diving deeper into this resource analysis and working to lay the foundation for future projects in Little Tokyo. 

Summer in Little Tokyo is a time for celebration and reflection.  As our community embraces annual celebrations like Nisei Week, Tanabata, and summer Obon festivals, it is amazing to see how Little Tokyo’s art and cultural traditions have sustained over the past 131 years.  Around us are relics of a beautiful and irreplaceable community with a history unlike any other place in the country.  Here, it is clear that what is truly sustainable about our dream for Little Tokyo are the experiences and stories nested in the very fabric of our community.

Big Step Towards a Sustainable Obon

On July 23rd, 2015, an article written by Amy Honjiyo was published in the Rafu Shimpo.


From left: Trish Nicholson, Higashi Obon dance instructor, Calvin Kamimura, Janet Ito, Corey Kamimura, Katey Kamimura and Grant Hashimoto hold recyclable drinking bottles that will be sold at the Higashi Honganji Obon carnival this weekend. Each bottle sells for $3 and includes a drink coupon worth $2. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

From left: Trish Nicholson, Higashi Obon dance instructor, Calvin Kamimura, Janet Ito, Corey Kamimura, Katey Kamimura and Grant Hashimoto hold recyclable drinking bottles that will be sold at the Higashi Honganji Obon carnival this weekend. Each bottle sells for $3 and includes a drink coupon worth $2. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Part of the continuing series “Towards a Sustainable Little Tokyo.”

This year at Higashi Honganji’s 56th Obon there will be a noticeable absence at the food booths; no Styrofoam food containers will be used.

Styrofoam, known as an inexpensive material for food containers, is also a product made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. And because it is not compostable, it typically ends up in our landfills.

Janet Ito, buyer for the temple’s supplies and coordinator of the Lumbini Child Care lunch program, has “done her homework” researching the pricing and quality for a broad array of recyclable and compostable food containers...

Read the full article here.

Upcoming Community Forum

Save the Date!

The Sustainable Little Tokyo quarterly Community Forum will take place on Thursday, August 13th at 6:30pm, in Garden Room B (basement level) at JACCC. Please join us for information and updates about the Sustainable Little Tokyo project, a chance to give input and feedback on the project, and opportunities to get involved with the subcommittees and their projects. This event is open to the public and refreshments will be provided. Please RSVP to

What: Sustainable Little Tokyo Community Forum
When: Thursday, August 13th, 2015 - 6:30pm

Where: Garden Room B, JACCC, 244 S. San Pedro St.

Mottainai Tip

 Often, we find ourselves throwing out fruits/vegetables and packaged food that has expired or gone bad. Save resources and money by making smaller grocery trips and by buying only what you plan to eat or cook. Do your fruits get mushy after only a day? Consumer expert Clark Howard has some tips to help keep your produce stay fresher for longer!