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A collection of Japanese foods and home goods collaged together with Mount Fuji in the background.
(Patrick Hruby / Los Angeles Times)

16 places in L.A. that make you feel like you’ve transported to Tokyo

This summer, a friend brought me to Hitachiya, a Japanese kitchen supply store tucked in a strip mall in Torrance. While browsing the shelves of beautifully designed cookware, I heard a familiar sound — a bright, rhythmic whir. I turned around to see a man in the corner of the shop sharpening a chef’s knife by gliding it back and forth on a whetstone.

The sound took me back to my travels in Japan — I imagined myself walking through the damp pathways of famed fish market Tsukiji, where fishmongers would sharpen knives and call out orders over the early morning flurry. I thought about the outer-market shops, where rows of vendors sold everything from spices to preserved foods to hand-woven fabrics.

Back at Hitachiya, just a half-hour away from my home in L.A., I stood in awe as I watched the craft of professional sharpener Masa Hirota, who spent his childhood in Tokyo helping his father make small knives called takewari houcho using samurai swords. I decided to buy a chef’s knife of my own, one with a blue handle and textured finish. Today it holds a special place in my kitchen, reminding me of one of my favorite countries to visit.

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Los Angeles is home to a vibrant Japanese American community and large population of Japanese expats. As someone who writes about the influence of Japanese culture in L.A., I’ve visited many shops around the city that make me feel like I’ve briefly been transported back to Japan: a tea shop in downtown L.A., a home goods store in Mar Vista, a sandwich spot in Echo Park. If you are dreaming of your first or next trip to Tokyo, browse these spaces. And pick up some delicious and beautifully designed items while you’re there.

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A woman at the check-out desk of a staionery store
(Julie Wolfson)

Paper Plant

Chinatown Paper goods
Friedia Niimura, who worked in Tokyo as a model and actress, often browsed Japanese stationery shops and dreamed about having her own line of cards one day. That dream came true — she’s the creator of New Moon Paper Goods and the owner of Paper Plant, a stationery store in Chinatown.

At Paper Plant, you can find washi tape adorned with illustrations of popular Asian snacks (tiny Yakult and Pocky — adorable!), Japanese rubber stamps featuring cats in mushroom hats and the ever-popular Le Pen pens in every color. I especially love the stationery sets that come with paper, envelopes and stickers. Those would always be my go-to gift to bring home from Japan.

While you’re there, be sure to order a coffee or tea drink from Thank You Coffee in the same space and check out Pearl River Deli for Cantonese food next door.
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Interior of a supplies store
(Julie Wolfson)

Hightide Store DTLA

Downtown L.A. Home goods
Opened in Row DTLA in 2018, the Los Angeles shop is Hightide’s second location — the first being in Japan on the island of Kyushu in Fukuoka. It’s the place to go for beautifully designed office, home and school supplies, as well as clothing and accessories. Look for rubber-soled Moonstar Shoes, supremely comfortable Obscure Socks and totes with Noritake illustrations. If you’re a notebook lover, check out Penco’s gridded notebooks with soft covers. They come in just about every color.
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A box of six decorated mochi
(Julie Wolfson)

Chikara Mochi 

Gardena Confectionery
This small wagashi shop in Torrance makes the most exquisitely decorated mochis in Los Angeles. The red-bean-filled matcha mochi is topped with a tiny white bunny and pastel hearts. A chrysanthemum mochi is adorned with a yellow stem and translucent green leaf. The ringo (apple) mochi looks like a miniature crunchy apple but is filled with soft white bean.

Only the uguisu option comes unadorned, covered only in kinako, roasted soy bean powder. With one bite, you learn why for this delicate and delicious mochi, no extra décor is necessary.

Browsing the shop, you will find yourself asking, “What’s this? And this and this?” Arrive early and bring cash — you’ll want to buy boxes of mochi for your loved ones or bring them home for yourself.
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Minimalist store
(Julie Wolfson)

The Good Liver

Downtown L.A. Home goods
This small, light-filled boutique — a “modern-day version of a general store,” as its described on its website — feels minimalist yet full of surprises. Most of the carefully curated inventory of home goods, apothecary products and office supplies is from Japan, with a few items from Europe, Korea and Thailand. There’s a focus on high-quality materials — you’ll find items such as a handmade ceramic cup from Iruma city in Saitama, a glass coffee dripper from a manufacturer founded in 1912 in downtown Tokyo and a pair of traditional Japanese scissors sharpened by hand by a father-son duo in Ono. Every piece has a story.

In the back of the shop, the in-house kitchen is set up for tea tastings featuring tea from Kettl, a Brooklyn-based company that sources tea directly from farms in Japan.
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interior of a clothing store
(Julie Wolfson)

Visvim Exposition

Downtown L.A. Clothing store
Walking into Visvim Exposition in the downtown L.A.'s historic Bradbury Building feels like you’re stepping into a modern boutique in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Enter off 3rd Street to find a minimalist retail space for this Japanese apparel brand founded by Hiroki Nakamura in 2001. Work-style boots are displayed on a central platform surrounded by racks of clothes, a vintage camper and an oversized lantern. I spotted an indigo-dyed Sashiko Market bag made from vintage linen with intricate stitching. It looked beautiful enough to frame.
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A shop with shelves of Japanese wares
(Julie Wolfson)

Tortoise General Store

Mar Vista Home goods
When Tortoise General Store moved from its original Abbot Kinney bungalow to Venice Boulevard in 2018, regular customers might have worried it would lose some of its magic. But the reveal of its new airy space did not disappoint. The large brick building, divided into three spaces, features everyday home goods, ceramics and apparel made using traditional methods. Look for beautiful textiles and a vast array of tenugui cloths.

Tortoise continues to stock iron animals produced in the Kamasada casting studio in Morioka city, which has been working with iron for three generations. More than 10 years ago, I bought a small iron bunny rabbit that has been our kitchen protector and mascot ever since.
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A woman speaks to customers looking at menus at a bar
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Konbi

Echo Park Restaurant
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you might have discovered that the convenience stores like 7-Eleven sell egg sandwiches that are actually amazing. These Konbini-style sandwiches have become popular in Los Angeles and local chefs are putting their culinary spin on the casual meal. Head to Konbi for their often-photographed egg salad, layered omelet (sometimes filled with Jonah crab) and katsu sandwiches.

More sustenance can be found at Katsu Sando in Chinatown. Don’t miss their sweet and savory honey walnut shrimp sando or katsu sandos made with chicken, pork or mushrooms. Check the fridge for fresh fruit and whip cream sandos too. The restaurant will expand this fall, opening a new konbini-style space in Alhambra.
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Inside of a restaurant
(Julie Wolfson)

Ototo 

Echo Park Restaurant
Los Angeles is fortunate to not only have a plethora of Japanese restaurants but also a few really fantastic sake bars. Our favorite is Ototo in Echo Park, the “little brother” of chef Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan’s izakaya Tsubaki.

At both spaces, each sake is served with a story about where it was brewed and the history of the brewery. Ask the staff for suggestions, whether you’re looking to try something brewed in traditional methods or something new and surprising. Kaplan, Ototo’s resident sake translator, might see what types of drinks you like. A few of her comparisons: If you like West Coast IPAs, try the Chiyonosono “Kumamoto Shinriki” Junmai Ginjo. If you like gin martinis try the Eiko Fuji “Honkara” Honjozo Karakuchi. If you like savory red wines, try the Shichida “75" Junmai. If you find something you love, you can buy a bottle to take home.
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Gallery Nucleus
(Julie Wolfson)

Gallery Nucleus

Alhambra Art gallery
A haven for pop-culture art, Gallery Nucleus feels like a place you might walk into in Tokyo’s Shinjuku or Shibuya neighborhoods. The gallery includes several Japanese and Japanese American artists on its roster. (This month, anime artist Junko Mizuno returns with her fourth and final food-themed show.) You can find prints and books by Studio Ghibli background painter Yoichi Nishikawa, Mizuno and vintage-style illustrator Nanaco Yashiro. The Pisces in me is pining for Jen Kuroki’s adorable stoneware sculpture, “Ocean.”

While you’re in Alhambra, be sure to head to Yang‘s Kitchen a few blocks away to try their Japanese-style breakfast.
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door of a small shop
(Julie Wolfson)

Meiji Tofu

Gardena Tofu shop
If you’ve ever eaten at Tsubaki or Yang’s Kitchen and ordered a tofu dish, you might have wondered, “Why is this the best tofu I’ve ever had?” And the answer will be because it’s from Meiji. The maker of silken tofu that’s custardy, delicate and divine, Meiji has a tiny shop in Torrance where you can stock up on regular, supreme and seasonal offerings. It also offers soy milk that you can use to make your own tofu at home. (All you’d need to do is add nigari, a natural tofu coagulant.)

Bonus: Meiji Tofu is down the street from Otafuku, a restaurant known for its signature Seiro white soba.
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shelves of action figures
(Julie Wolfson)

Q Pop

Downtown L.A. Art
There’s a section of the Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo that feels like underground area of Shibuya. It’s on the San Pedro Street side, where anime shops and other pop culture offerings lead you to Q Pop, a bright and energetic shop and mini gallery co-owned by Chris Mitchell and Miki Panteepo.

Mitchell, an artist for “Ren and Stimpy,” “The Powerpuff Girls” and other shows, curates the gallery with Japanese designer vinyl toys and art by many Japanese and Japanese American artists. Look for vibrant Naoshi sand paintings, extra-large prints by Konatsu and — my favorite — appearances by the Japanese toy Monchichi. After seeing the entire Sekiguchi section at Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Kiddy Land in Tokyo, it’s always a welcome sight to spot the adorable fuzzy monkey toys here in Los Angeles.
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A butter dish and spoon on a table
(Julie Wolfson)

Toiro

Kitchen supply shop
You may be surprised when I say my favorite thing I have bought at Toiro, known for their wide selection of donabes, is a white porcelain butter dish with a cherry wood top. It sits on the counter next to our stove, right there whenever I need a knob of butter for soft scrambled eggs or to spread on toast. On one of my favorite episodes of “Midnight Diner,” a fancy restaurant critic finds himself drawn to a humble diner at all hours of the night to order his childhood favorite, butter rice, a small bowl of rice with a dollop of butter and a splash of soy sauce. Sometimes the simplest foods are the most satisfying.
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A chef holds a knife
(Julie Wolfson)

Hitachiya 

Kitchen supply shop
When I asked my friend Tomoko Imade Dyen, the founder of Create Japan, where she shops in Los Angeles for items she is missing from her home in Tokyo, she exclaimed, “We must go to Hitachiya in Torrance!” This small kitchen store is filled with items imported from Japan, including a set of pans and colanders designed by renowned industrial designer Sori Yanagi. His ingenious design innovations include a stainless steel pot with a lid that you can turn to either seal or vent and a spout on the side that allows you to pour hot liquids easily. One wall of the store is lined with knife display cases, including one with its own namesake knives.
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Shelves of tea wares
(Julie Wolfson)

Tea Master

Downtown L.A. Tea shop
When asking where to buy Japanese tea, the same name is recommended to me over and over: Tea Master in Little Tokyo. You might miss seeing this small shop in the Honda Plaza across from the always popular Sushi Gen, but it’s worth a visit. They stock their shelves with beautiful teaware and specialize in high-quality matcha and greens teas from Japan. Find premium first harvest senchas, houjicha and some black tea options. They also make green tea drinks, smoothies and lattes. Be sure to order a matcha soft serve — it might just be the best in L.A.
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Storefront in a mall
(Julie Wolfson)

K. Minamoto 

Century City Confectionery
An unspoken rule of etiquette when visiting a friend, colleague or family member in Japan: Never arrive empty-handed. Gifts are a sign of appreciation and respect. K Minamoto at the Westfield Century City Mall is the kind of place where just about any item would be happily received.

The Japanese confectionery offers both sweet and savory items that are available all year, along with special treats that celebrate the seasons and holidays. For the mid-autumn festival, the store offers bunny-shaped usagi cakes filled with white bean paste and yuzu and mooncakes filled with red bean and black sesame paste. My family loves the kasutera sponge cakes and extra crispy rice crackers that come in three flavors. Pick up an assortment box to try a bit of everything.
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Two people look at a book in a bookstore
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Kinokuniya Books

Downtown L.A. Bookstore
Founded in 1927 in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, Kinokuniya Books now has locations throughout Asia, Australia, the U.A.E. and the U.S. Perusing the shelves of the store on the second floor of Weller Court in Little Tokyo, you’ll find a variety of books in Japanese and English, including a large selection of manga, anime and bunko. The racks in the extensive magazine section are layered with food and design magazines. There are also stationery, gifts and toys.

Kinokuniya is my go-to place to find issues of Japanese design magazine Casa and Brutus (I especially love their coffee-themed issues). Look for fashion magazines that are wrapped with items like tote bags and makeup pouches. The company also offers a Japanese magazine subscription service with more than 100 titles that can be picked up in store or sent to your home.
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