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Why We Love LA’s Japanese American National Museum

Art, history, and the richness of Japanese-American heritage all find a home at the Japanese American National Museum, a cultural center located in the downtown Los Angeles neighborhood of Little Tokyo. The first museum in the country honoring the legacy of Americans with Japanese ancestry, JANM celebrates the men and women who have made significant contributions to the world via exhibitions, event programming, and documentary screenings that attract both L.A. locals and visitors.

The idea for an institution focused on Japanese interests emerged in 1982 when a group of Little Tokyo businessmen united with WWII veterans, incorporating the concept into a nonprofit by 1985. After years of curating photographs, artifacts, documents, and art, JANM opened in 1992 in a former Buddhist temple that was built by Japanese immigrants in 1925. By 1999, the museum was relocated to its current location, an 85,000 square-foot Pavilion complete with a family garden, education centers, and a 198-seat theater.

Visit the museum any time of the year and you’ll find exhibits that explore Japanese and Japanese-American art and identity in various forms, from vintage photography to inventive furniture crafted by famous Japanese designers. When actor and human rights activist George Takei wanted to donate memorabilia from his life and career to a museum, he gave his items to JANM, and the museum served as the main location for an award-winning short film called “American” by director Richie Adams, in which a 94-year-old veteran is haunted by his experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp while volunteering at JANM.

The influence Japanese Americans have had on Los Angeles can be found in art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants throughout the city, but JANM makes sure that the legacy and future cultural contributions of Japanese-Americans always has a home in DTLA.

The Japanese American National Museum is located at 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012 and is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday–Sunday 11AM–5PM and Thursday: 12PM–8PM

Discover More of DTLA

We’re continually inspired by the creative energy of Downtown Los Angeles. For local recommendations—and to hear from the diverse individuals who make DTLA what it is today—head to our Meet You Downtown blog.