Finding home, fighting change and growing old in Little Tokyo

Many older people worry about having to move out of their homes as they age. When it comes to living a long, independent life, not all neighborhoods are created equal. Communities built for driving, expensive housing and isolation can push people into institutions when they might prefer to age at home.

Here in LA, Little Tokyo’s tight-knit community is known as a model place for people to get old at home. For Patty and Steve Nagano, it’s a community worth preserving.

Patty and Steve’s story

Steve and Patty Nagano are a Japanese American couple who sold their house in Torrance, CA after retiring from their jobs as school teachers, and moved to Little Tokyo, right at the edge of downtown Los Angeles.
Patty arranges flowers in the Nagano’s kitchen on the top floor of the Teramachi Homes – a condominium complex for adults over the age of 55. Teramachi is located within close walking distance of Little Tokyo’s community centers, restaurants, shops, and other cultural activities.
Steve’s grandfather is seen in a photo from the 1930s, shot just a few blocks from where the Naganos now live. About their decision to move to Little Tokyo after retirement, Patty explains, “We have strong ties to being in Little Tokyo. We would come to Far East Cafe once every week or if not every other week, for sure, so it was part of my upbringing. So it wasn’t so foreign to be here… I think my father would’ve been happy that I’m here.
Though they were active in the Little Tokyo community as adults living in Torrance, moving there has changed their perspective, says Patty, “I used to think I was part of this community, but now that we’re here, it’s really important that we need to preserve it.” And so, now the Naganos are not only involved in all kinds of cultural events in the neighborhood, but also in trying to make it a better place to live.
Steve and Patty visit with their friend, Brian Kito, head of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association. Kito’s family also has a long history in Little Tokyo, having opened a popular confectionery shop, Fugetsu-do, in the early 1900s.
Steve poses for a picture in front of an installation of archival images around a Metro construction site that he organized in his role as a member of the Little Tokyo Historical Society.
Steve and Patty go door-to-door inviting Little Tokyo businesses to participate in a neighborhood cleanup event they organized this past November.
Patty shares information about a cleanup event that she and Steve organized this past Fall with the manager of a new Starbucks. “Being Japanese, Japanese-Americans, I think Little Tokyo has a special place in our hearts. We want it to be a community,” says Steve.
Patty dances with some of the other residents of the Teramachi Homes during the closing ceremony of Nisei Week a popular celebration of Japanese American culture each Summer.
Steve delegates tasks during the “Little Tokyo Sparkle” neighborhood cleanup event that he and Patty organized last November. “I think looking at it, the goal was to clean up Little Tokyo. In the process of it, I think they flipped: and the objective was to clean it up, and the goal was to build community.”
Patty directs volunteers as they come together to share a meal during the “Little Tokyo Sparkle” clean up event last November.
“We’ve planted seeds with our friends, we’ve been here almost six years,” says Patty. “Have any of them moved here? No. Because they’re home, they’re renovating their houses, they’re retired, so they’re enjoying the fruits of their labors in their homes now. But they’ll go ‘Wow, you guys did a great thing! You already made plans for your future, you’re here and you can walk across the street, you can go shopping…’ They think it’s fabulous, but nobody’s come.”