If your family hasn’t been to Little Tokyo for a while (or ever—gasp!) we’re about to give you the best reason to go. The whole neighborhood is full of sights, sounds and great bites, and the perfect place to begin is the Japanese American National Museum.  This hidden gem has wonderful cultural exhibits, fantastic family festivals and sights and sounds that entrance tots.

zollieatjanmphoto: LeTania Kirkland

Learn Something New
Whether your kids know very little about Japanese American culture or they have a budding interest in the country that invented sushi, this is a perfect place to begin their journey. JANM hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as Free Family Fun days to bring to life the interesting, fun and sometimes grounding aspects of Japanese American history and culture.

little tokyophoto: LeTania Kirkland

Before you even make it into the museum, your explorers are bound to be drawn in by the OOMO (One Of Many One) Cube. Imagine a giant Rubik’s cube composed of a variety of human faces. The point is diversity rather than uniformity and it’s the perfect and downright fun way to begin your walk through the museum.

COMMON GROUND 20140611 004photo: Japanese American National Museum

The Must Sees
Though the museum hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions, you can check out Common Ground: The Heart of Community any time. This exhibition contains hundreds of documents and objects related to the Japanese American experience from the early immigration years to World War II internment camps to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. The kids can take in early images of Japanese families on their journey to the U.S. as well as photos and vintage signs from the businesses some families would go on to establish. This exhibition is full of the glory and struggle that are part and parcel of the immigrant experience. But take note that the exhibit isn’t all lighthearted. There are images of the World War II internment camps (created to imprison Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941) as well as items recovered from the actual sites. Though the littles may not understand entirely, it is a great learning opportunity for the entire family.

bigrobotphoto: LeTania Kirkland

Pop Culture and Beyond
Move from heavy history to happy pop! The JANM experience is multi-faceted and its temporary exhibitions are a great way to experience that. From tattoos to Hello Kitty and food to baseball, the museum works to cover it all. Now until January 24 you can catch an exhibit that’s a huge hit with kids: the Big Robot Biennale 4. The exhibition covers the Big Robot brand that started as nothing more than a handmade zine and became so much more. Big Robot has since become a brand in and of itself that covers pop art, skateboarding, comics, graphic art and vinyl toys. Your aficionados can take in the art and even try their hand at their own inside of the gallery.

June Family Day Shoji 2 6-13-2015 (16)photo: Japanese American National Museum

Family Days
If you’re worried your littles ones won’t stay engaged on a regular day at the museum, visit JANM during one of their free monthly family festivals. (Yes, free!) Every second Saturday the museum opens up with family activities (bounce houses sometimes included), art activities and performances. Don’t miss it; these are our favorite days and ways to introduce kids to the museum.  After one visit to a family day, they’ll declare this their favorite museum in town.

boyinlittletokyophoto: LeTania Kirkland

The Entire Experience
While you’re in Little Tokyo, take it all in. Just off the museum lobby is the Chado Tea Room where you and the kids can have a traditional tea time with a beautiful selection of teas, fingers sandwiches, pastries and the whole bit. If that sounds too delicate for your hungry crew, there are great restaurants near JANM on 1st Street. Daikokuya Ramen (if you’re willing to wait a bit to be seated) serves up tasty hot and cold soups. Just a few doors down is Suehiro Cafe, which serves up great Japanese dishes at a great price. Cross the street to the Little Tokyo Plaza and visit the shops full of Japanese trinkets, or pop into Yamazaki Bakery for a traditional Japanese pastry or Cafe Dulce for a less traditional donut (from green tea to bacon donuts, it’s all here). There is a full day of exploring available in Little Tokyo. Seize the opportunity.

Tokumasa Shoji Family Day (98)photo: Japanese American National Museum

Admission (And Free Days) and Parking
Admission for adults is $9. Kids 6-18 are just $5. Littles 5 and under are free. If you still have the energy on a Thursday evening, general admission to JANM is free every third Thursday from 5-8 p.m. There is metered street parking and lots of lots all around Little Tokyo. If you’re planning on spending several hours, it pays to park in a lot; those downtown meters add up. Also, the museum is just across the street from the Little Tokyo/Arts District stop along the Gold Line. Plus, if you show your TAP card at the museum you’ll receive $2 off admission. Be green and save money on the Gold Line!

hellokittyphoto: LeTania Kirkland

Japanese American National Museum
100 North Central Ave.
Little Tokyo
213-625-0414
Online: janm.org

What’s your favorite little known museum that’s great for kids?  Let us know your secret spots in the comments below!

—LeTania Kirkland