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A Look Back at a Community Institution

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

L.A.’s legendary Holiday Bowl is long gone, but there will be a chance to revisit it, for a little while, this weekend.

Mitchell Matsumura’s “Holiday Bowl” is one of four shorts by Sansei filmmakers that will be presented by Sansei Legacy and Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on Saturday, Nov. 3, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at GVJCI, 1964 W. 162nd St. in Gardena.

Matsumura — a writer for the Asian American newspaper Gidra and creator of the Facebook community pages Asian Retro and Sansei Legacy — made his documentary, which was screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, through Visual Communications’ Digital History program.

Though not a bowler, he has fond memories of the Crenshaw District bowling alley and coffee shop that opened in 1958 and closed in 2000. Holiday Bowl was one of a number of Nikkei-run businesses in the neighborhood, which also included the Kokusai Theater.

Mitchell Matsumura

“I was brought up in the Crenshaw area,” Matsumura said. “My father had a printing shop on Jefferson Boulevard. Every day before going to help at the shop, I stopped by Holiday Bowl after school. Friends would meet there to play on the arcade machines or shoot pool. It was a gathering place for Japanese Americans from the day it opened.”

He remembers the bowling alley as a community institution. “The opening of the Holiday Bowl was a big event … Bowling was huge among the Nisei into the 1980s. Every night hundreds of Nisei league bowlers would hone their skills at L.A.’s finest bowling alley with 36 lanes.

“The place was designed like a Las Vegas casino. The bright, flickering neon sign lit Crenshaw Boulevard like a beacon. Life-long friendships were made at this magical place. Through the years, almost every Nisei and Sansei I met say Holiday Bowl was the heyday.”

The coffee shop was equally important as a community hangout, Matsumura recalled. “During the ’70s and ’80s, Japanese American dances were popular at places like Roger Young Auditorium or Parkview. After the dances, we’d go to Holiday Bowl coffee shop for a wide selection of Japanese, Chinese, American, and soul food. Favorites such as chashu, eggs and rice, beef udon, won ton saimin were very popular. Bowlers and late-night diners came from Crenshaw, Monterey Park, Orange County, Pasadena, San Fernando, and West L.A.”

Among the interviewees were children of the owners, championship bowlers, employees, and people who just loved being there. Matsumura already knew Ken Okuda, son of Harry “Hanko” Okuda, co-founder of Holiday Bowl.

“One of the most amazing interviews was with Los Angeles Women’s Bowling Association Hall of Fame inductee Dusty Mizunoue, who also worked at the Holiday Bowl counter for over 30 years,” Matsumura said.

In addition, he came across Studio for Southern California History, a nonprofit organization that had already done a lot of research on the subject.

For Matsumura, “Holiday Bowl” is more than an exercise in nostalgia. “An important message I learned while making the film was how a huge Japanese American community, Crenshaw, can virtually disappear if it’s not sustained or supported. Holiday Bowl closed because of a depressed economy and as Japanese Americans migrated to places such as Gardena and Orange County beginning in the ’70s. By the year 2000, Holiday Bowl closed and the vibrant Japanese American community disappeared.

“Little Tokyo is going through a similar experience today. Many time-honored Japanese American stores are closing up and real-estate developers are coming in with no sensitivity for the long history or heritage that was established over 130 years ago.”

The film showcase will also feature “The Arts District Without Artists” by Steve Nagano, “Jeff Imada: Breaking Barriers by Design” by Cory Shiozaki, and “Say Yes to Your Heart” by George Takaki. Tim Toyama will serve as emcee.

Free admission, but donations are appreciated. For more information, contact Nicole Sato at (310) 324-6611 or

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