Fugetsu-do: A Taste of Generations
As downtown explorers we aim to discover much of our city’s assorted culture by eating a variety of diverse food. It’s one of the priceless rewards of living in our jungle of concrete, endless forms of mouthwatering recipes at our fingertips. These recipes tell a specific story of the past and serve to preserve the delicate lineage of unique societal practices. Amidst the buzzing neon on 1st street in Little Tokyo, Fugetsu-Do fashions an eatable heirloom that delineates the spirit of a family history, transcending generations and serving as a model of how precious a recipe can be.
Enter this “sweet shop” to unearth the birthplace of rice cakes in our City of Angels, or more commonly referred to as the almighty mochi. Here wandering eyes line up to witness an array of glossy colored mochi arriving on trays from the factory located behind the shop. Brian, the third generation owner and operator of Fugetsu-Do explains the timeline behind the mouthwatering arrangement. “There are three types we offer, traditional, modern versions with a twist and snacks.” The traditional, ranging from Daifuku to Ohagi, are arranged like a vintage edible art piece, so beautifully simple in presentation and taste. The modern twists are bit more adventurous and an example of a key survival tactic of Brian’s since he took the helm in 1980, determined for the shop to reach a 100 year celebration. Blueberry and white bean paste with strawberry and chocolate combine to make Fugetsu-Do’s version of a modern mouthwatering Manju. Then comes the snack version, small bite size dango (mochi’s smaller cousin) for commuters on the move available in the very popular rainbow, resembling like a snack Ziggy Stardust wouldn’t leave earth without.
Brian reflects on the importance of adapting, “Here tradition meets modern, we have something for every customer.” Adapting has been a key ingredient in the recipe of Fugetsu-Do. The shop has had its share of survival since doors opened in 1903, when Little Tokyo was the social, religious and economic center of the largest number of Japanese Americans in the U.S. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Brian’s family liquidated inventory and was sent to an internment camp in Wyoming. It’s here that Brian’s father met and married his mother, and with much determination returned to Little Tokyo to resurrect Fugetsu-Do. Brian proudly holds a framed photo of his grandfather Seiichi Kito, “We were here at the beginning, and have worked hard to adapt as time has passed.”
As the city begins to expand upwards, it’s vital to remind ourselves the important task to support and preserve places like Fugetsu-Do. Mochi can now be easily found in large market stores, along with a “Whole” bundle of other things. These specific bite size treasures in Little Tokyo thrive because they connect to a culture and religion that holds a marketplace for them. As long as the community survives, so does the shop. Brian’s son Korey is learning these valuable lessons in hopes to fill his father’s shoes one day. Make it a tradition once a week to stop into Fugetsu-Do to enjoy a simple recipe that has stood the test of time, and make a piece of history from Little Tokyo a part of your own.
Written by Travis Platt | Photography by Caleb Thal