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A Los Angeles Primer: Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo sold me on Los Angeles. My northern Californian childhood introduced the delights of San Francisco’s Japantown, still one of my beloved areas, but every time I go there, it looks to have wearily endured yet another wave of exodus and surrendered to yet another degree of decrepitude. This, of course, makes for its own kind of charm; fallen places often seem to me the only ones worth visiting. Little Tokyo, too, feels fallen, and richly so, though with an accent of resilience I no longer sense in its San Franciscan predecessor. Whatever becomes of either of these neighborhoods — whose residents will always describe them as more vibrant twenty, thirty, forty years ago — I can’t imagine them losing their core usefulness when you need to stock up on canned green tea, buy a genuine futon, burn an hour at the arcade, eat a heaping plateful of hayashi rice, or gaze upon the finest men’s style magazines.

Free & Easy, for the record, ranks as the finest men’s style magazine, at least for my sensibility and money (when I can bear to part with the price of an imported issue). But Japan, an incubator of unusually robust print and menswear cultures, produces dozens more, all meriting the serious dresser’s attention. I read them, and occasionally purchase them, in Little Tokyo’s branch of the Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya, whose Seattle location absorbed much of my adolescent allowance. In each session at their Free & Easy shelf, I practice my Japanese reading while beholding full-page photos of middle-aged graphic designers and record producers in bespoke suits and handsomely worn brogues, reclining on Eames chairs and vintage road bicycles. But I try not to think about why I have to stare so hard at these expensive foreign magazines in the first place. The city streets around me, alas, suffer from a near total-absence of living, breathing, three-dimensional dandies from whom to learn proper style. Nice try, Mike Davis, but nothing in “City of Quartz” indicts Los Angeles so thoroughly as our population of fifty-year-old men in hoodies.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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