kimonos & tacos in lakeview

It’s almost May and we are still waiting for Spring to arrive in Chicago. Though some will disagree winter really wasn’t all that bad this year. Ask anyone from out East, they really got slammed. I feel a little better now since the weather forecast says the 70s or 80s in a few days. Geez, I’d be happy with the 60s but as a lifelong Chicagoan, I’ll take what I can get.

japanese cultural center in lakeview

Today’s adventure despite the 44 degrees, was a visit to a kimono exhibit at the Japanese Cultural Center in Lakeview (1016 W. Belmont). I read somewhere that this neighborhood once was a historic, Japanese community that was thriving back in the 1960s. As a tour guide, I was intrigued. I knew the prominent Asian communities to be Chinatown & Argyle Street but did not know about the history of Lakeview. Here’s what I found out.

“Japanese-Americans didn’t end up in Chicago of their own accord: The U.S. government forcibly resettled 20,000 of them to the city from World War II incarceration camps. And, as part of that effort, the government pressured them to shed their Japanese identities and assimilate into white society. The result? Unlike cities on the West Coast, Chicago’s “Japantown” was not official and was short-lived.The government’s efforts have had a lingering effect on Japanese-Americans, though. As one Chicago Japanese-American tells it: “You had to basically be unseen.” Cited from wbez’s Curious City. Read the article here.

“You had to basically be unseen.”

I lived in Lakeview for many years and remember going to the J. Toguri Mercantile Co. Oriental Gift Shop (today the Annoyance Theatre) west of Belmont & Clark. Remember the Dunkin’ Donuts that was there forever? It’s now condos and a Target. The gift shop showcased interesting items ranging from beautiful fabric, kimonos, bamboo to a variety of  Japanese tchotchkes. I also remember going into the Aiko’s Art Supplies store. Having a graphic design background this was my kind of place.

Little did I know the significance of these shops let alone the history of the neighborhood. The last remnants of this Japanese heritage besides the Japanese Cultural Center is a bar called the Nisei Lounge close by in Wrigleyville.  It is pronounced “knee-say” and means second generation Japanese. It’s been there since 1951. I wish I knew about it when I visited the kimono exhibit. Even though it has new owners since 2010, I bet it’s like walking back into time. Next time I’m in the area I’ll definitely stop in.

nakashima kimono collection

Back to the kimono exhibit. On view was the Nakashima Kimono Collection. Most of the kimonos on display were from the the Taisho and Showa Periods (1912-1932) when Professor Nakashima lived in Japan with her family in Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kamakura. Some go back to the Meijii period (1868-1912) but those on display represent the modernism and dynamic change in Japanese society brought about by opening its borders to Western textile techniques.

Seiko Nakashima was the daughter of a successful Japanese industrialist prior to her marriage to an American Sergeant she met post-war in Japan in the northern island of Hokkaido. After moving to the U.S. and gaining the American citizenship of which she was so proud, she set about teaching thousands of students over 50 years of ikebana (flower arranging), chado (tea ceremony), shodo (calligraphy), Japanese classical dance and Japanese as a Second Language, all this in addition to her career as a microbiologist.

In 2006, Professor Nakashima was invited to the Imperial Court in Tokyo to receive the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays from Emperor Akihito for her tireless efforts to educate and spread traditional Japanese culture. She died in 2014 and her heir, Ameer Ali, donated to the Japanese Culture Center her extensive collection of kimonos, obis, tea ceremony implements, ikebana containers and other cultural items.

If you are interested in learning more about the Japanese culture like speaking Japanese, learning calligraphy or flower arranging, you should check out what they offer here.

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Exploring makes me hungry so I try to find a good neighborhood place for lunch. Today it was Big & Little’s on Belmont. They have variety of tasty tacos (seafood, meat & vegetarian) on the menu besides burgers, po’ boys, sandwiches & breakfast items.

I had the Shrimp Classic po’ boy last time I was here and it was delightful. This time I had the tacos. Although small, they were quite flavorful. In honor of today’s adventure I got a Japanese beef short rib taco (seared shredded beef short rib, queso fresco, pickled jalapenos, onions with samurai sauce, a soy base sweet sauce) & a Mexican beef short rib taco (seared shredded beef short rib, onions, cilantro, queso fresco, tomatillo sauce). Still hungry, I ordered another, a Mango Chutney (seared shredded pork, pickled red onion, cilantro, mango chutney). All were quite deliciosa.

Big & Little’s are pretty casual & byob. If you do want a drink you are in luck, there is a liquor store about a block or so east of here. They have a few locations throughout the city so if you see one you should definitely check it out.

I hope you enjoyed reading about kimonos & tacos in Lakeview. Here’s another of Chicago’s 77 diverse neighborhoods to explore – Lincoln Square.

See you on the next adventure!

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