Discover Nikkei

A Walk Down Memory Lane

I’ve always thought that I was in touch with my community, and with the people that belong to it. I mean, I went down there every Saturday after bachan (my grandma) picked me up from Japanese school. I even went to Japanese school to indulge myself in Japanese culture! Well, that, and my mom and bachan insisted that I go. However, it wasn’t until bachan passed away that I truly began to understand the importance of community, and appreciate the true culture of Little Tokyo.

Bachan and I were always very close. Every Saturday after Japanese school, she would take me to Little Tokyo, and we would walk down 1st street to get a box of delicious manju from Fugetsudo and say hello to bachan’s friends at the Koban. Every time we walked, Bachan would always make me stand on the engraved timeline that goes along First Street, and tell the same stories.

She would hold the locket necklace that she always wore and say, “Here is where I used to go to church with my family and friends. Oh and here is where my family used to eat after a funeral. Kimiko let’s go here, this is where I used to always get new shoes when mine got old. And right down here is where I watched my first Nisei week parade.”

Finally, we would arrive at Fugetsudo, and bachan would again hold her necklace and say “This place, Fugetsudo, this is the most special of all the places that I have been.”

I would ask, “What happened here bachan?”

“We will save that story for another time. Let’s get some manju.” she would say.

One Saturday, I asked bachan why she always told me the same stories, and why we always had to go to Fugetsudo for manju.

Bachan said, “Kimiko, these places are important to me—especially Fugetsudo. Although some of the stores I told you about are no longer here, this timeline reminds me of the growth of my community, and how important it is to preserve Japanese American culture. I want to pass my fondest memories of this community down to you so that one day you can pass them down to your children.”

“I don’t get it though bachan. I was not here with you when the memories happened, so why is it important for me to know? I wasn’t even alive then!” I said.

Bachan smiled and responded, “You’ll understand when you’re older Kimiko, I know you will”

Later that same month, Bachan passed away, and I stopped going to Japanese school for a while. I just missed Bachan too much, and to know that she would not pick me up and walk me down First Street like we always used to do would just make me miss her even more.

Then one Saturday, my mother insisted that I go back to Japanese school, and walk down First Street after. She said that going back to First Street might give me some closure with bachan’s passing.

“I don’t know if I’m ready to go back,” I said.

Mom walked away into her room and came back holding bachan’s locket necklace that she wore every time she picked me up from school.

“Before bachan passed, she said that she wanted you to have this. She said she wanted you to wear it the next time you go down to First Street Little Tokyo”

I took the necklace and agreed to go back to Japanese school and walk down First Street again.

I started at the Go For Broke Museum, where bachan used to go to church. I stood on the engraved timeline where she would always make me stand, and held her locket just as she did. Then suddenly, the museum started to change. Confused, I looked up at the historical building and saw that it was no longer Go For Broke; It was Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, the church that bachan belonged to. I peered through the window and saw a little girl that vaguely resembled myself, walking out of the hondo (the main hall of the temple) with her family and friends.

“It’s bachan!” I said.

When these events initially occurred, I thought that I was going insane—that my grief was taking over me, which was causing me to hallucinate. Then I looked down at bachan’s locket and saw that it was glowing yellow. At first, I didn’t know what to think of this and wished that I could talk to bachan to ask her what was happening. I opened the locket to find the source of its glow and found a gem next to a picture of bachan and me. On the back, the stone read, “You’re old enough to understand”.

It took me a minute to figure out why bachan would leave this message for me, but I soon recalled the questions that I had asked her, not long before her passing.

I peered through the window again and saw bachan bowing to the rimban, thanking him for the service and the wonderful dharma message. “Doitashimashite (you’re welcome), thank you for listening” the rimban said with a wide grin. Bachan used to always make me thank the rimban when I went to church too. She said that it shows that we have respect and appreciation for our senseis (teachers) and their teachings. After bachan bowed to the rimban again, everyone disappeared and a few seconds later, bachan was walking out of the hondo again.

Figuring that the memory she showed me must have ended, I continued to walk down First Street to the places that bachan always told me about. Next was Far East Lounge, where bachan and her family used to go after a funeral. I approached the restaurant, stepped on the timeline, held banchan’s locket, and peered inside the window. Just like the Go For Broke Museum, the inside of Far East Lounge started to change and was suddenly filled with individuals wearing all black.

“Must be a funeral”, I thought to myself.

I continued looking through the window to see if I could spot bachan.

Then I overheard a little girl saying “Okasan (mom), can we please get manju after lunch? That was auntie’s favorite place!” and instinctively knew that it was bachan.

She appeared to be around 7 years old, smiling and lighting up the room even in the darkest of times. That was always bachan’s gift, and she said that I have it too. I smiled, and was about to walk away when bachan asked, “Okasan, why do I have to learn how to use hashi (chopsticks)? All of my American friends use a fork!”

Bachan’s mom replied, “Using hashi is a Japanese custom and an important part of Japanese culture. I learned to use them when I was around your age, and now it’s your turn.”

As the memory ended, I was reminded that bachan had made me learn to use hashi when I was about 7 as well. She said that learning to use hashi at a young age is a family tradition and that traditions transmit the values and stories that have been passed down from generations. I didn’t understand Bachan at the time, but started to after watching her memory.

After Far East Lounge, I went to “My Ramen Bar”, formally known as Asahi Shoe Store, where bachan used to get her brand new white shoes. Again, I stood on the timeline and held bachan’s locket as I peered through the window to see if I could see bachan. I spotted her in the back, trying on a brand new pair of shoes. She looked to be around 13 and was approached by a worker who asked her how she liked the shoes.

“They fit nicely, thank you,” bachan said.

“Okay great! Remember to break them in before you go running around with your friends, and always take them off before entering your house.” the worker said with a smile

“Take them off before I enter my house? Why would I do that?”

“It is a Japanese custom to always take your shoes off before entering your home, so your floor does not get dirty”

Bachan and mom always made me take my shoes off before entering the house too, but I never knew it was a Japanese custom before watching bachan’s memory.

After the shoe store, I made my way down to where bachan saw her first Nisei week parade, which she described as a festival that celebrates Japanese American culture and history. I approached the timeline once again, held bachan’s locket, and watched First Street Little Tokyo transform from a generic winter day to a crowded and celebratory summer environment. Odori music was playing, people were performing on their taiko, and I could hear fresh shave ice being made further down the street. I looked around for bachan and spotted her coming out of the Asahi Shoe store with her friends. She stood right next to me, admiring the odori dancers.

“Why don’t you join in,” I said with a smile.

Bachan looked back at me as if I were an old friend. She smiled and winked, then ran into the street with her friends to join the odori dancers. Bachan looked very happy even though she was not dancing correctly. Not long after, bachan and her friends were approached by an odori instructor, who taught them how to properly dance the moves. Within minutes, bachan looked like a professional and still had the widest smile on her face.

I thought her memory would end there and was about to visit Fugetsudo when I heard bachan say, “Hey! Come and join!”

I looked around in confusion to see who she was talking to, and realized that she was looking at me! She ran over, took my hand, and brought me into the circle. I had never odori danced before either, so bachan was showing me all the moves as if she were the odori instructor. After the song ended, I thanked bachan for letting me dance with her and her friends and complimented her odori dancing.

“Don’t thank me. It’s always my pleasure to pass down and share traditions with my community, that is what connects us!” bachan said.

I smiled and was about to cry. I wanted to tell bachan who I was. I wanted to give her the biggest hug and ask her to walk down First Street with me one last time.

“Come on Hana, you’re missing the dance!” Bachan’s friends called out to her.

She looked at me and put her hand on her necklace, just like she used to do when she was alive. Then, she ran back into the crowd with her friends to do more odori dancing.

Soon after, bachan’s memory faded, and it was a cool winter day again. I found myself back on present-day First Street, in front of Fugetsudo—bachan’s last memory. I stood on the timeline and held her locket up to my chest, filled with anxiousness and excitement to finally understand why bachan loved this mochi shop so much.

Bachan’s memory began, and I peered in the window to look for bachan.

“There she is!” I said with glee.

Bachan was in front of the display case, smiling and looking at the daifuku which is her favorite manju.

“Two daifuku please,” said a boy, who looked to be around bachan’s age.

“Lucky you, you got the last two!” the worker said.

Suddenly, I saw Bachan’s smile fade, and she walked out of Fugetsudo with no manju.

“Wait!” said the boy.

Bachan turned around, wondering what the boy who took her manju could possibly want now.

“Here you go. I didn’t know you liked daifuku too.” the boy said as he handed bachan one of his manju.

“Are you sure?” bachan said as her face lit up with joy.

“Of course! What kind of person would I be if I did not share with my community?” the boy said with a smile.

Bachan bowed and said “Arigato (thank you).”

“You’re welcome. I’m Tadashi by the way.”

The boy’s name sounded very familiar, and I tried to recall where I have heard of him before. Then, I remembered that Tadashi was the name of my jichan (grandpa), bachan’s husband! He died before I was born, and bachan never told me much about him because it would always make her sad. I watched bachan and jichan talk outside of Fugetsudo, and smile over their shared liking of daifuku. Then, bachan’s memory faded, and the glow inside of her locket had dimmed.

I don’t remember much more of that day except for the answers to the questions that I had asked bachan before she passed.

“Why was Fugetsudo the most special place to her, and why was it important for her to always tell me the same stories when we walked down First Street?”

Fugetsudo was her favorite place because not only did it have delicious manju, but it was also the place where she met the love of her life—her future husband and my jichan. It was important for bachan to tell me the same stories of Little Tokyo because she wanted to share her fondest memories of this community with me. She wanted to show me where she learned to thank her senseis to show appreciation, where she learned to use hashi, where she learned that it is a Japanese custom to take off your shoes before entering the house, and she wanted to show me where she learned how to do odori dance.

Most importantly, bachan wanted to show me the value of my community, and the significance of passing down traditions and memories from generation to generation. The lessons and customs that I have learned from bachan connect me to Little Tokyo, and Japanese Americans around the world.

Someday, I hope to share my fondest memories of this community with my grandchildren. I hope to give one of them bachan’s locket to show them the value of Little Tokyo and encourage them to appreciate the amazing culture the community has to offer. I hope that they will take the lessons that bachan has taught me, and continue to pass them on to their children and grandchildren so that the values of the Little Tokyo community will live on forever.


Actor Jully Lee reads "A Walk Down Memory Lane" by Casey Murase.
From the 8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest: A Virtual Celebration on May 23, 2021. Sponsored by the Little Tokyo Historical Society in partnership with JANM’s Discover Nikkei project.


*This is the winning story in the English Youth category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s 8th Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest.


© 2021 Casey Murase

California fiction Fugetsu-do Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest (series) Little Tokyo Los Angeles United States
About this series

Each year, the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest heightens awareness of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo by challenging both new and experienced writers to write a story that showcases familiarity with the neighborhood and the people in it. Writers from three categories, Adult, Youth, and Japanese language, weave fictional stories set in the past, present, or future. On May 23, 2021 in a virtual celebration moderated by Michael Palma, noted theatre artists, Greg Watanabe, Jully Lee, and Eiji Inoue performed dramatic readings of each winning entry.


*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

1st Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
2nd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
3rd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
4th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
5th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
6th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
7th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
9th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
10th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>

Learn More
About the Author

Casey Murase will be graduating from Eagle Rock High School and will attend San Diego State University next school year as a speech pathology major. Casey has always had a deep connection to Little Tokyo and has participated in many programs and events that uplift the community and educate others about Japanese American history and culture. Some of her favorite Japanese American programs and events include Kizuna leadership, service learning, and summer camp, Japanese American Optimist basketball, Nisei Week, and Nishi Girl Scouts. Some of Casey’s hobbies include: playing basketball, spending time with friends and family, and traveling.

Updated May 2021

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