In Little Tokyo you can find a small shop that’s been making mochi by hand for more than 100 years.
Seiichi Kito, the first Japanese confectioner in the United States, opened the Fugetsu-do Sweet Shop shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles from Japan in 1903. He settled into a community of fellow countrymen in the area now known as Little Tokyo, which had a population of some 3,000 Japanese immigrants at the time.
The shop was first located on Weller Street (now Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka Street), not too far from the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial stands today.
Just around the corner …
In Little Tokyo you’ll find a tribute to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger Seven.
A Brief History of the Fugetsu-do Sweet Shop
According to the bronze letters inlaid in the sidewalk in front of Fugetsu-do (many of the shops in Little Tokyo have these), the space was occupied by the S. Hosizaki Grocery in 1914 before Kito moved his shop here in 1930.
Seiichi, who’s also been named as one of the inventors of the fortune cookie, operated his small sweet shop on 1st Street until 1941— that time of infamy when he and his family were removed from Los Angeles under Executive Order 9066 along with most other Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans living in Los Angeles (see our story on the Japanese Fishing Village on Terminal Island). The Kitos were taken far away to the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming (where they made mochi and manju for their fellow detainees). They were held until the end of World War II.
Upon returning to Little Tokyo, Roy Kito, one of Seiichi’s sons, worked hard to re-open Fugetsu-do on 1st Street. The owner of the property insisted on four years of accrued rent before he would return the family’s equipment.
With the help of another family, the Kitos obtained the demanded funds and the shop eventually reopened in 1946. It’s been operating on East 1st Street ever since — except when it briefly (1956 – 1957) relocated to 2nd Street while the original building was demolished and rebuilt.
The shop is part of the Little Tokyo Historic District, a collection of 13 buildings along First and Judge John Aiso streets that was named a National Historic Landmark in 1995. These buildings have also been named as a California Cultural District.
Fugetsu-do: A Sweet Legacy
Fugestsu-do is still in the Kito family — it’s currently operated by Brian Kito, Seiichi’s grandson. And the shop still specializes in hand-made mochi (a Japanese confection made with rice flour) and manju (a steamed Japanese dessert made from cake flour and a bean paste filling), showcasing all its colorful confections in vintage wood-and-glass display cases.
The small shop is jammed with countless varieties of mochi and manju ranging from traditional Japanese-style presentations (our favorite is the colorful suama) to more fanciful creations, often with wildly experimental flavor combinations (we’re particularly fond of the peanut butter mochi).
Fugestsu-do also sells a selection of Japanese snacks and sweets that aren’t readily available outside of Little Tokyo.
if you like mochi, then you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to Fugetsu-do. Even if you don’t like mochi, Fugetsu-do just might turn you into a mochi convert. The only real criticism of Fugetsu-do is that after trying their creations, all other mochi may pale in comparison.
Fugestsu-do: The Movie
This small shop has been a pillar of the Japanese-American community for 119 years, and there’s a deep love for it throughout Los Angeles. There’s even an excellent 12-minute documentary about the shop, directed by Kaia Rose. Check out the trailer:
If you’re interested in seeing the whole documentary, follow the Fugetsu-do Film on Facebook to keep up to date on any forthcoming screenings.
Fugestu-do Sweet Shop
- 315 E 1st Street (at Judge John Aiso Street), Little Tokyo
- GPS Coordinates: 34.050109, -118.240465 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///organ.secret.army
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