Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Mitsuwa employee's response

The L.A. Times did a nice story on the last day of Mitsuwa. My post about the market's closing got a lot of comments (some verging on race-baiting!) and I'd thought I'd republish this one so more people could see it. It's from a longtime employee named Ken.

"I worked at Mitsuwa. My name is Ken and I worked at the Fish department and as a cashier. I was laid off last Thursday and want to say thanks to everyone that shopped there and had a wonderful experience.
I read a couple of articles by the LA times, RAFU Shimpo, and Downtown LA news and agree with a lot of things people had to say. Although these are all perspectives, we should never takes these views as the absolute truth. I guess my voice would be an opinion but I wanted to give you my thoughts since I've worked there and live in Little Tokyo. Yaohan was a great place to mingle. yeah it had the bowling alley, and the game center during the mid 80s but the times have changed. A lot of Japanese people moved out towards the valley and the beach cities and besides, the area around 1st to 5th street really became a dump during the early to late 90s.
Most of the Japanese Americans went to school outside of LA and a lot families and business moved out of little Tokyo: some even went back to Japan during the 80s/90s boom in Japan. During this period, Mitsuwa started branching out to other locations like Costa Mesa, San Diego, Santa Monica, Torrance, etc. in or around predominantly affluent areas.
Now the language of racism seems to be a topic since most people or those blogging suspect that Koreans and Japanese people/cultures tend to clash. Well, I think it's a matter of perspective.
I met a lot of nice Koreans and met a number of inconsiderate Japanese and American customers. Although I've noticed that the Japanese customers tend to say konichiwa and the typical greetings or propriety of arigato or domo (thank you kindly, welcome) after the end of the purchase or a conversation. With other cultures: I remember seeing a smile and some times no response.
Maybe the Japanese customers felt comfortable knowing that I'm Japanese and spoke it fluently although I would say the same phrase to everyone regardless of their ethnic appearance because I know there are white or American people that speak Japanese so I don't want to pigeonhole customers by their appearance. There is a universal understanding of feeling welcomed or valued as a customer.
This is the Japanese etiquette of politeness and expected service and propriety or the endless pursuit to define my culture with a modest disposition and a distinction of class.
At any rate, There were a number of non-Japanese people that worked at Mitsuwa which was very common since most of the Japanese speaking clients were limited to tourists or seniors citizens(less than a 1/3. I know there were two Chinese employees working there named Mr. and Mrs. Cheng. They hardly spoke any English and a few words in Japanese and managed to be very polite, hard working, and courteous to everyone although they worked in a Japanese supermarket in the United States.
So...then it made sense to me. Little Tokyo doesn't really need to have a large Japanese Supermarket with Japanese speaking clients but embrace the Japanese personality. But the food will be missed. I mentioned to various customers that we will have an International market and some people were interested while some were disappointed with groaning and negative face gestures. Some Korean and American customer knew that Koreans bought the mall and they don't want to see Korean sushi or Koreans taking over little tokyo and they should go back to Koreatown and keep the food and restaurants in little tokyo Japanese.
But in my experience and daily observation, there aren't that many ethnically Japanese people left to keep a traditional large scale Japanese supermarket in operation.
Even some of the sushi chefs in Little Tokyo that I talked with agree that the customers don't order the traditional stuff on the menu and want a lot of the unhealthy deep fried stuff or even ask for tempura in their sushi rolls. The demand doesn't correlate with the supply. The popular vegetarian and good Japanese home (soul) foods that remain a mystery to the eyes of the non-Japanese.
I'm just glad that I live near the Marukai so I can find the good stuff and make it at home while everyone is eating crap and becoming another statistic of the U.S. Surgeon General.
Well, I see Little Tokyo slowly changing, like the movie "ghost world"...soon McDonalds will line up against the pastagina and starbucks near the Office Depot on 2nd st. The Nijiya Market will stock up on heaps of Pocky, hello kitty snacks, and Calpico drinks while the other stuff begins to disappear.
Well, "the times are a changing"...
bob dylan"

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