Los Angeles: Little Tokyo
LITTLE TOKYO! I've only been to Japan once on a layover from Thailand. We had about twelve hours so we took a subway into Narita and saw just a glimpse of Japan. And I'd say Little Tokyo is a little less than the equivalent of that. It's a very small glimpse into some Japanese shops, cuisine, clothes, and history.
You can walk to Little Tokyo from Pershing Square in downtown. I've made the walk several times, and usually randomly. It's also conveniently by it's own Metro stop. Or, if you're more into the driving like I usually am, I've always been able to find parking pretty easily (paid of course — so bring some $$).
Coming from Pershing Square, you'll walk by the Japanese American National Museum, which is definitely the best way to begin your experience in Little Tokyo. The museum highlights some background as to why a Little Tokyo might exist in Los Angeles — telling the history of Japanese immigrants to the US and the hardships that endured. For $9 admission and to play around with the reflective and interactive Rubik's Cube outside, it's completely worth the visit.
I personally just love walking around here, and exploring the shops to see what fun things I could find. It's a bit more quiet than other places in Los Angeles, especially during a weekday, but every time I've visited Little Tokyo, there's always been some activity in the Japanese Village Plaza area — like some impromptu karaoke right there. And at night, it has an even different sense of activity and spirit.
The desserts/cuisine here is also super delicious including Mikayawa to choose from a variety of mochi, and Café Dulce, known for their coffee (I've personally loved their roti and other baked goods) is also worth checking out. In addition, if you're feeling like having a bit of France in Japan, you can get some handmade French macarons at 'Lette Macarons, located within the Japanese Village Plaza as well.
If you walk beyond just the center plaza area, there are some really beautiful temples, and a botanical garden — the James Irvine Japanese Garden — that's a little hidden, but worth the find. The day we went, the garden was closed, but we could still see a glimpse of it's serenity from a viewpoint above — make sure to check the times though (you have to go through the Japanese American Cultural Community Center).
Check out their various festivals throughout the year on their website.