An 8.9 magnitude earthquake shook Japan for well over two minutes Friday afternoon (2:46 pm local time). The quake shook dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coast, hundreds of miles from the epicenter. The quake was succeeded by a 23 foot tsunami wave and over 50 aftershocks (jolts with 6 and 7 magnitude intensities).

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said an initial assessment found “enormous damage,” and that the Defense Ministry was sending troops to the hardest-hit region. Officials are having a hard time accessing prefectures because of road closures and cuts to communication.

The Fukushima Daiichi power plant located northeast of Tokyo saw radiation levels 1,000 times their normal levels after a cooling system failure. The continued loss of electricity has also delayed the planned release of vapor from inside the reactor to ease pressure. Pressure inside one of the reactors had risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal. Officials have ordered evacuations for the surrounding area.

NHK (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) has reported that more than 4 million buildings are without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.

Watch footage supplied by citizen journalists here.

Mitsuwa Marketplace

Mitsuwa Marketplace featured on a Los Angeles culinary blog:

Hawaii Tsunami Warning

Here are some helpful sites for today’s tsunami warning:

Live Feed: http://www.ustream.tv/cbsnews

Evacuation Maps:






Shelters: http://www.scd.hawaii.gov/documents/2009HuricaneShelters042309.pdf

More resources:




Welcome to Time

Yoko Ono: Between My Head and the Sky

As if in a hellish dream, women in rock, of a certain age, have somehow dug themselves into one of three niches: the lustful cougar, the flouncy Susan Boyle, or the pious mother-widow diva. In this haze of reality we find Yoko Ono: yes, widow of John Lennon, mother of Sean, and the butt of too many clichés that you might as well stop thinking of one lest you be considered out of touch. Ono’s latest, Between My Head and the Sky, is an album that demands much. To multitask in its presence does you no good, as her trademark moan-gasms and hypnotic ululations litter the listen. Favoring the stolen morsel of time, what you hear in Sky is a cacophonous and brilliant mess of multi-genred and undulating joy. Ono is a quick as ever: cynical, quirky, meditative, and vulnerable. Her album oscillates from night to day and moves its listener to different places and different perceptions. Gathering elements of her musical past- from her flash-fried Asiatic pop punk in “Waiting for the D Train” to dark Mint Royale-esq throbs in “Calling” to sexy electrovibe dance and promising sound with “The Sun is Down”- doesn’t equate for much in the end. There is nothing new, fierce, reflexive, or forward moving in this album that we haven’t heard from Ono or her son in previous records (though, the complexity and ornamentation of Lennon’s composition is, by far, his best yet.) What makes this album the cocaine of its kind, a luxury drug for the meandering temperament, is the prescribed method for its listen: take this the way music is supposed to be enjoyed and you’ll feel better. Her defiance of convention or link to an ennobled spouse is no longer the pathway to reaching her esoteric few. Between My Head and the Sky shakes a fist to anyone for want of a listen: take it as you will; I am alive.

Photo by Charlotte Muhl & Sean Lennon (C) YOKO ONO 2009

-Jessica Hilo

Technical DifficultiesFear is a hefty blog motivator. Our Little Tokyo project was running full speed towards a successful conclusion and powerful in-class presentation, but Meghan, delightful design diva (oh alliteration!), informs me today that the project is too big to post. There’s a speed bump on the autobahn. The situation is not a fun one to greet a day before submission (welcome to journalism), but its made more petrifying when the in-class presentation will be in front of guests Doug McLennan (founder and editor of ArtsJournal.com) and Jackie Kain (Senior VP of New Media at KCET.) Who needs moderate blood pressure, anyway?

– Jessica Hilo

The Gift of Gab

It’s no secret that the women in my family know how to talk (mouthy Asian-Pacific Islanders mixed with Portuguese? That’s a recipe for disaster.) If there is a blarney stone-like convention in my culture we wouldn’t know about, too busy yapping to get a word in edgewise. But I suppose that’s why I’m in my chosen career path. After all, why subject someone to listening to me drivel on and on about nothing when they can opt for the droning themselves? Land of the free, baby; you get what you pay for (which in this day of internet connectivity comes at you pretty cheap.)

The Hawaiians use the colloquial phrase “talk story” to convey this sharing of information. One particularly interesting story I discovered while in Little Tokyo (nice segue) was that of Bronzeville. During World War II, while hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans were being wrangled into internment camps under Executive Order 9066, Little Tokyo became home to many African Americans (hence the racistly-inspired change in name.) This era saw the rise of jazz in Los Angeles (it is rumored that Charlie Parker stayed in a hotel in the heart of, then, Bronzeville.)

After the war, as Japanese American migrated back to their homes jazz and elements of the African American culture remained. You can see evidence of this today in nightclub 2nd Street Jazz (now a hotspot for hip hop, given, says the owner Ko Masumoto, the music’s natural evolution from jazz) and plays, Nihonmachi (Grateful Crane) and Po Boy Tango (East West Players.)

And by the by, the World War II Memorial in Little Tokyo, Go for Broke, gets its name from the Hawaiian colloquialism “to gamble.”

Again, Little Tokyo, you astound me with your wealth of integrating cultures!

 -Jessica Hilo

The Giving Tree

irvine9For the past few weeks, I have been fascinated by a tree in the courtyard in front of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. It’s not a particularly beautiful tree; in truth, it’s a little homely and altogether unremarkable. But the ever changing stream of faces, young and old; working class or upper crust; Black, White, or Asian, makes the tree a poetic manifestation of this project: an accurate portrait of Little Tokyo and how it blends many stories into one wholly unique, multicultural tableau.

irvine10I had the pleasure of visiting my little tree, an affectation, naturally, since the tree is neither little nor mine, this past weekend on a walking tour of Little Tokyo put on by the Japanese American National Museum. The guide, Bob Moriguchi, a funny character in his own right (the kind of man you imagine telling dirty jokes to your grandfather in their younger years), explained that the tree shades a time capsule buried sometime in the 1970s. The marker for the capsule was vandalized soon after the capsule’s inception, but its steel container remains.

Little Tokyo Walking Tour (24)“I knew there was something special about this tree,” I said to Tony, “what a wonderful idea: cultures coming together under the tree and now from different eras.”

“Now you have something to put under it” Tony responded; not at all aware of the poignancy in his word choice.

I certainly do.

-Jessica Hilo

Here’s a video of Bob while on the tour. He’s my new favorite guide from JANM

Wearing Thin

This is the last week of work until our project is unveiled; and there’s a noticeable tension in the air and amongst the ranks. This project’s high demand is set amidst the obligations of our other coursework and personal lives, and its magnitude has created a giant, watery mess of stress for everyone involved. Patience is wearing thin. Twitterfeed and Facebook statuses reflect more time spent in Little Tokyo than in our homes. Don’t get me wrong, the community is a haven compared to the grime of other Los Angeles districts; but the multitude of stories to balance, the weight of its history, the beauty in its art, and our lives intertwining with the people part and parcel to its story have certainly put pressure on the group to accurately represent the community we have, now, become so much a part of (ending in a preposition? I must be tired).

In an effort to decompress, I drove through the heart of downtown Los Angeles today listening to Motown classics- songs of the anguished love variety- and it had dawned on me that my fatigue was the result of maintaining a romantic relationship in reporting on Little Tokyo. A meticulous need to get things right, incessant attention to detail, frustrations at expectations not met: these are all things I endow on a relationship (lucky, boyfriend); and, so, naturally I find them in this unbeknownst love affair.

And though I drag my feet through yet another blog, I find peace of mind in the fact that Little Tokyo has etched itself so indelibly upon my person that I, now, find a new home in its maddening security. In a city of constant flux, its nice to have a place to rest my weary head.  

– Jessica Hilo

Dang It

My hopes for a connection with Little Tokyo were renewed by an email from Tim Dang:

“Hi Jessica,

Thanks for your interest. Coincidentally, I gave a short speech to the Irvine Foundation this past Friday on the cultural vitality of little Tokyo. If it doesn’t take too much time, I would be glad to participate.

Thanks! Tim Dang”

Success! Not only was this a lead, but a connection to the Executive Director of an arts organization- East West Players. And in my experience, those opportunities don’t come around often.

In meeting with Mr. Dang, I was delighted to discover the cultural vitality of his organization and how its relationship with the community resonates far and wide- inasmuch as its sense of historical identity and focus on the future. In the fear of sounding like an advertisement (aye, aye to citizen journalism), the programming at East West combines these two forces (the past and the future) by centering not only on the Japanese American experience, but the experiences of anyone put in the place of minority. Its venue, the David Henry Hwang Theatre, is wallpapered with posters of past performances- a mosaic of color, colored faces, and colored pasts. Consequently, the theatre, a renovated church, was, in its previous life, a place for the residents of Little Tokyo to register for internment during World War II.

Dang, who mentioned anecdotally that he was both an alumnus of USC and a former Island Boy (great strides made thanks to genetic experimentation- thanks, mom and dad!), is gearing up for another show. East West will hold a west coast premiere and preview performances of Po Boy Tango, November 5-8, 2009. The play tells the story of Richie Po, whose mother, a chef, recently passed. He recreates her famed cuisine in memoriam working alongside a soul food chef. “Together they…discover a deeper understanding of food, culture and the recipe for friendship,” says the East West website; but I find it pertinent, too, to point out the masterful combination of this play’s cultural flavors as it relates to Dang’s vision for East West and Little Tokyo by and large. He wants to create an arts community reminiscent of ones tastes in food: “let’s do Japanese tonight- we’ll go to Little Tokyo for food and stay for an East West performance” (I paraphrase.)

There’s beauty in the sentiment of this artistic integration, given the troubled past of the Issei experience and Little Tokyo’s stiff upper lip in forward movement. But this is no lofty ideal, East West has certainly set the standard for integration programming in Little Tokyo- followed by JANM’s debut of Giant Robot’s Biennale exhibit just days ago and the JACCC who will hold a World Festival of Sacred Music at the end of November.

If current trends are indication of the impact an arts organization has on a community rich with experience; I think we’ll get there , Tim.

– Jessica Hilo

Haunts and Howls

While taking a break from a class discussion on Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad, reporter, Erica Phillips, and photographer galore, Tony Baltierra, regaled me with a story of their recent travels through Little Tokyo. Apparently, after interviewing Fugetsudo’s owner, Brian Kito, the pair witnessed a man with a pumpkin hat biking in circles on First Street, kicking at the ground, mumbling an indiscernible language, and occasionally extending his right arm with a rigid, geometric, quasi anti-Semitic gesture.

 Always one to look too far into the vaguely reminiscent, I thought the world of this quaint parallel. A modern day weirdo and Resnais’ 1960’s masterpiece: the cycles in dementia; the stark, statuary figures; the dance in nightmarish fantasy. And, since we’re so close to Halloween, the film’s link to Kubrick’s The Shining (which I refuse to watch because I have no stomach for scary) and its implications on this Little Tokyan odd man.

There’s no questioning Little Tokyo’s incredible history and the, no doubt, plethora of unusual stories that lay in the tale of its city (or, to stick with a more coherent theme- Halloween- the skeletons that hide in its closet.) But I wondered (quite self-deprecatingly, given my weak stomach), in a community dedicated to art, and one that is fascinated with horror and the paranormal, from what I have gathered in American knock offs like The Ring and The Grudge (again, movies I cannot watch), what is there to discover in the way of Little Tokyo ghost stories?

 I’m not the only one. A quick google search reveals a film by director Jeremy Skylar in post-production, titled MobiUS: A Little Tokyo Ghost Story. Though the film is about an American writer commissioned to find a Little Tokyo ghost story, its title suggests a link to German mathematician, Augustus Möbius and his paradoxical strip (a two dimensional surface with only one side.) Twists of a strip, twists in a film, twists back to Resnais and Last Year in Marienbad. Things are a little too surreal for my liking. Better quit while I’m ahead.  

 – Jessica Hilo