Discover Nikkei

8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest

24 May 2021 - 5 Jul 2021

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 >>

Stories from this series

Little Tokyo, A.C.

July 5, 2021 • Kendra Arimoto

Your daddy’s religion was Worry. Never one to call upon any God for any reason, he chose to bear the weight of everything—especially the fear of uncertainty—upon no one other than himself. But in those tender, terrifying seconds between your mama’s contractions, he felt an instinctual, perhaps primitive-like urge to pray. He reassured your mama he’d be right back before hurrying out onto the balcony. He clutched the railing and took deep breaths of dry, summer air. He gazed down …

Race Queen of Little Tokyo

June 28, 2021 • Chiharu Cohen

I.  May Tomita was embarrassed. Her dad is a Kibei gardener and would always pick her up in his beat up truck at Carson High School, with the lawnmower, edger and other dirty garden tools still in the truck bed. Compared to the Cadillacs and Buicks that parents drive to pick up their kids, her dad’s Ford Courier was a pile of heap that even junkyards would reject. She’d ignore the truck, walk past her father, as he drives alongside …

Mochi Wishes

June 21, 2021 • Sophiya Ichida Sweet

On the day of the Tanabata Festival, the summer sun cast rays of golden light onto the streets of Little Tokyo. The sizzling smell of yakisoba cooking in stalls around the corner taunted Yuki Clearwater. At fifteen years old, Yuki felt a bit too old for the festivities—or at least that is what she told herself. She knew how important the Tanabata Festival was to her family’s shop Usagi Mochi, which sat on East First Street for generations. The amount …

The Creatures of Little Tokyo

June 14, 2021 • Elise Chang

Thistle sat and watched people eat mochi ice cream from a tree. She was in the James Irvine Garden, and all the lanterns were glowing particularly bright this evening. Of all the places in Los Angeles, the garden here in Little Tokyo was her favorite place, especially during this time of year when the sound of drums hummed through the streets and children twirled in colorful clothing. When Thistle, the small fox squirrel, first arrived in Little Tokyo, she watched …

The Throw

June 7, 2021 • Emily Beck Cogburn

Reggie strolled through Little Tokyo, feeling content and happy in his favorite part of Los Angeles. Angular office buildings cut into the clear blue sky like sleek, indifferent businessmen. Below them, the streets buzzed. Reggie could feel the energy, the life under his feet. He cut through the Japanese Village Plaza, just because he wanted to walk under the little trees and red lanterns that seemed to gaze down like round, benevolent gods on the tourist shops, manga stores, hibachi …

A Walk Down Memory Lane

May 31, 2021 • Casey Murase

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 …

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Authors in This Series

Kendra Arimoto is a writer, performer, and mother on a mission to tell powerful stories thematically focused on Japanese American ancestral memory and intergenerational trauma, identity, and Otherness. Current projects include feature screenplays “Starshine and Clay” (American Zoetrope grand-prize winner; Film First Fund Finalist; PAGE Awards Fellowship Honorable Mention) and “Before I Disappear” (Tribeca Creators Market; Stowe Story Labs); and short film “Pachuke” (Screencraft Film Fund shortlist; Film Independent fiscal sponsorship). Before becoming a full-time writer and parent, she graduated from Stanford University and Smith College.

Updated July 2021

Elise Chang is a junior in high school who has rediscovered a passion for writing. On rainy days here in Baltimore, Maryland, I like to make myself lattes and brainstorm ideas for future stories and poems. When it’s sunny outside, you’ll find me out and about exploring my town, playing badminton, roller skating, and of course, eating good food. The pandemic has made life stressful and uncertain, but writing has helped me get through these tough times and look forward to a brighter future.

Updated June 2021

Emily Beck Cogburn is the author of the novels Louisiana Saves the Library and Ava’s Place. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals, most recently In Parentheses. She holds master’s degrees in library science and philosophy. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and playing in the band Southern Primitives.

Updated June 2021

Moving to the US as a teen, Chiharu Cohen has held various odd jobs before becoming a graphic artist. She currently lives in New York.

Updated June 2021

Jacob Laux was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and raised in Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree of professional writing from the University of Southern California. He currently resides in Little Tokyo.

Updated May 2021

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

ShoRei has always enjoyed writing since childhood, and still writes letters to their friends from time to time. When ShoRei studied abroad in the United States, they were given an assignment of writing a short story about coyotes in Mexico. While probably the only student enjoying the creative assignment in the class, ShoRei still remembers the smile on their teacher’s face after reading their story. While having fun, their goal is to keep on writing stories that can touch readers’ hearts.

Updated May 2021

Sophiya Ichida Sweet is a Japanese American author and illustrator from Los Angeles. Her children's books Japanese ABC's and Together Again have young fans around the world. Sophiya recently graduated from University of California, Berkeley with an English degree. Sophiya Sweet also composes and produces music, creating songs about Obon festivals and her favorite foods. In her free time, Sophiya enjoys visiting bakeries in Little Tokyo, walking through the Giant Robot Gallery on Sawtelle, and seeing new exhibits at JANM.

Updated June 2021