Since the 1880s, Little Tokyo has been a cultural and civic center for Japanese Americans in Southern California. It’s a community anchored by multi-generational family businesses, churches, and temples. One of the neighborhood’s oldest traditions is the annual Nisei Week festival, first celebrated in 1934.
Originally planned to draw in first-generation, American-born Japanese to the Great Depression-stricken district, the nine-day long event now celebrates Japanese-American culture and history. The yearly bash brings in thousands from Los Angeles and beyond, to enjoy ondo dancing, Japanese floral arrangements, tea ceremonies, martial arts, fashion shows, calligraphy, art exhibitions, talent shows, and more—all free and open to the public!
Nisei Week’s largest event, the Grand Parade, takes places Sunday, August 14. See traditional Japanese dances, taiko drumming, haneto dances, and a large Nebuta float made from special Japanese paper as they wind through the streets of Little Tokyo. This year’s theme, “Celebrating our Culture and Community,” will be on full display during the parade. Community groups, high school and elected officials, will be part of the parade and precede the newly crowned Nisei Week Queen and Court.
Getting to Nisei Week is easy when you take the Metro Gold Line to the Little Tokyo/Arts District Station. If you prefer driving, Metro is offering two hours of free parking through its parking validation program. Upon arrival, you’ll likely notice large streamers, or kazari, lining the plaza between Temple and 1st St, adjacent to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and the Japanese American National Museum. These displays are unique and handmade by individuals, community organizations, and others. Nearby at the Japanese American Community and Cultural Center find taiko, geta tap, martial arts exhibitions, and free family activities.
Unlike the name suggests, Nisei Week continues into a second weekend with more free events and exhibits. There’s a gyoza eating contest, a car show, and ondo street dancing happening. Nisei Week is Little Tokyo’s most popular event for good reason! Check out the full schedule of events at NiseiWeek.org
Check the Go Little Tokyo guide to find out more about this walkable and historic neighborhood.