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Tofuzilla: 10th Annual L.A. Tofu Festival in Little Tokyo

The 10th annual L.A. Tofu Festival in Little Tokyo is in its secondday today, with Ozomatli scheduled to perform on stage at 7:00pm. I previewed this event a week ago; now I’m back to give a report on what we saw on opening day (Saturday).

The two-day event is part of the annual week-long Nisei Week cultural celebration. Each year, the tofu-fest picks a different “mascot” that relates to Japanese culture in some way (e.g., “Tofu Ninja”). This year’s was Tofuzilla(“When Giant Tofu Takes Over Little Tokyo”). Despite the title, this is not a science-fiction event, but it’s worth covering because not only is it fun in its own right; it also provides an excuse to check out the Little Tokyo area in downtown Los Angeles, where fans of anime, manga, and Japanese giant monsters can finds lots of collectibles that are hard to come by in most local stores.

San Pedro Street, in between 2nd and 3rd Streets is blocked off by a slab of giant tofu in front of the ticket booths. Beyond, many local shops have set up tent/booths where they sell souvenir t-shirts, decorations, and hand-crafted items.

In the main area (a partking lot filled with booths manned by local restaurants) someone in a “Tofuzilla” costume (made out of tofu packages) stomped around, posing for pictures and frightening little children with his fearsome roar of “Tofu! Tofuzilla! Arghhh!”

Besides a bewildering variety of spicy tofu dishes (tofu tostados, tofu curry, tofu smoothies in fruit and coffee flavors, tofu ice cream, tofu “cheese cake,” tofu chilli dogs, tofu sausage, and tofu panini sandwiches, just to name some that we sampled), there is also live entertainment. During our vist, Lokalani’s Rhythm of the Islands was putting on a great show of Polynesian dancing. We got some good video, which you can check out above. Also, check out their website; they’re worth seeing (if you enjoy beautiful half-naked women shaking those frilly reed skirts).

Afterwards, we wandered north of the Tofu Festival to see some of the rest of the Nisei Week festivities. In a large court off Astronaut Way (a sidewalk with a monument to the crew of the ill-fated Challenger Space Shuttle), some anime-styled costumed characters were posing for pictures with children, and a young singer was performing (she did a song for the soundtrack to the MACROSS anime series, known in the U.S. as ROBOTECH).

This court also houses Kinokuniya Books, an excellent book store if you’re interested in Japanese culture. Its large selection includes books and magazines on history, Japanese cinema (both high class like Akira Kurosawa and popular, like the RING movies), karate, and Buddhism. You will find many manga, some collectible figures, and lots of DVDs: mostly domestically released discs of Japanese films like MATANGO, NIGHTMARE, DARK WATER, etc., and there is a comletely separate section devoted to anime DVDS.

We also took the opportunity to explore the nearby Little Tokyo Shoping Mall, an outdoor mall filled with neat shops and eateries. There are several places that sell souvenirs and gifts that may be of interest to fantasy fans (if you like Pokemon, Power Rangers, or anything of that ilk), but there are at least three must see video/manga/DVD stores: Anime Jungle (pictured above), Kamikazee Anime, and J-Wave.

AnimeJungle is the best of these, with a big collection of imported action figures, trading cards, videos, laserdiscs, andDVDs. (You can find the imported DVD of the original 1954 GODZILLA — which is not available domestically). There is a lot to see here, and you can do some serious damage to your pocketbook.

If you don’t want to purchase but to rent, J-Wave is the place to go. It is essentially a video rental store, where you can find lots of imported VHS tapes. There are a few DVDs, too, but due to region coding, these will probably not play on your home player (unless it’s region free).

Kamikazee Anime is a bit smaller than these other two stores, but it is also worth checking out. There are some DVDs and videos, but the store mostly seems to sell imported audio CDs andbooks. There is also an adult section (if you’re into that kind of thing), and they sell those Japanese school girl uniforms (you know, the ones that look like sailor outfits), so you can live out all the fantasties inspired by watching those cute girl characters running around in those anime movies.