"The enclaves are going to be revitalized places in the 21st Century," says Toda. "For instance, San Francisco's Japantown already has built a Myako Hotel as an anchor, along with theater and upscale restaurant complexes. Businesses in the enclave are striving to attract customers by carrying products and services so uniquely Japanese that they can't be found anywhere else but there in the enclave."
It was a sweet but short-lived victory: Vagrants attracted to the area by the shelter found Little Tokyo much to their liking, and so remained even after the closure. Deprived of their flop house, they camped instead in doorways of stores by night and panhandled by day. They hassled shoppers and tourists for spare change and plied them with heart-wrenching tales of woe--usually made up--to evoke sympathy and alms. Eventually, as the targets wised up and began to resist, the panhandlers became more aggressive in demanding money--and more threatening.
"Visitors to Little Tokyo would park their cars and be greeted by at least one or two panhandlers, sometimes opening the door for them, valet-style," says Brian Kito, 39, a third-generation Japanese American who grew up in Little Tokyo. Kito not long ago took charge of his family's 93-year-old Little Tokyo business, Fugetsu-do confections shop on First Street. "It was getting out of hand. People would literally run from their cars to get to wherever they needed to go, then run back when they were done shopping just to avoid being hassled."
Tourism slackened as a result. By the time the smoke had cleared from the aftermath of the '92 riots, visitors to Little Tokyo had become as rare as sushi in Alabama.
"Tourism totally stopped, and we were having problems with car break-ins," says Kito. "If you left anything in your car, by the time you got back to where you parked you'd find a broken window."
The word spread: Little Tokyo was no place to visit.
"Recession, the riots, the earthquake. Things were pretty bleak for us in the area," Kito laments.
One day, Kito was invited to join a community group called the Greater Little Tokyo Anti-Crime Association (GLTCA). Soon after joining, Kito found himself spearheading a move to organize local merchants into patrols to take back the streets and make Little Tokyo a place where tourists could feel safe again.
The first patrols hit the street in January 1993, working just a one-block stretch along First Street. The volunteers carried pepper spray and kept in constant contact via hand-held radios, but the tools they depended on most were their wits and their visibility. It took six months of trying just to regain control of that small section of the neighborhood, Kito remembers.
Young Japanese Americans like Brian Kito, proprietor of the Fugetso-do confection shop, are helping to revitalize Little Tokyo by operating night patrols to ensure a sense of safety among pedestrians.
Encouraged by the patrols' success, owners of businesses along other Little Tokyo streets decided to climb aboard the bandwagon. Soon there were about 40 volunteers taking turns walking the beat, wearing their distinctive green polo shirts emblazoned with a GLTACA logo. The Los Angeles Police Department took notice and lent its support, as did the local news media.
"It turned out we did something more significant than provide security for the area," says Kito. "The biggest accomplishment was that we got the local businesses networking with one another once again. That was something that had been lost over the years as the enclave went through its various changes. This was a chance for neighbors to get to know one another. It was really exciting and encouraging. Everyone was talking about this." Page 9