If you are a fan of Japanese culture or interested in collecting Asian pottery or furniture, this is a place you would hate to miss in Los Angeles.
It is located near Little Tokyo, hidden on the second floor of a very small building on Seaton Street. I scheduled a visit and treasure hunt with my friends, and Peter was very responsive and welcoming. I was shocked by the first glance of it - this is a heaven for interior designers and film production designers. When I stepped in there, my attention was immediately attracted to all those delicate Geisha dolls in glass boxes next to the entrance. It feels like I traveled from Los Angeles to Tokyo in one second.
Even though we picked the cheapest option of the tour, the 15$ Admission only option, Peter was still kind enough to show us around and introduce us to all of his amazing collections. The loft is around 5000-square-foot, divided into different sections and decorated with red lanterns and Koinobori (Carp Streamers) on the ceiling. There are traditional tea rooms, a Kabuki performing stage, a ceramic display section, costume sections, and many other small sections with all kinds of traditional Japanese decoration.
Peter is a fashion designer who came from Hong Kong. His family had been selling costumes to the Chinese Opera business in Hong Kong and was very famous among the local theatre productions. He specifically left a section for the costumes of Chinese Operas up for rental. There are traditional headwears of concubines and emperors from the Qing or Ming Dynasty and many other delicate costumes you could choose from and take photos wearing those with an additional cost.
Coming to the United States in 1980, Peter has been designing all kinds of apparel that blend the style of Kimonos and traditional Chinese costumes with modern touches. A lot of them are hand-painted, and Peter was very proud of it. He showed me a piece of unfinished Kimono piece with a hand-drawn dragon on the back. You could also see a lot of Kimonos hanging in every corner you go in the loft. All these hand-sewn kimonos are absolutely beautiful.
If you go a little further inside, you will see the kabuki dancing stage. All cushion seats and Bento boxes are perfectly lined up on the Tatami mat. Peter is also a professional Kabuki dancer who often performs as the queen on stage. He is taught by Madame Fujima Kansuma, who is the master of Kabuki dancing and around 102 years old now. Even though he was not an expert at speaking Japanese, Peter was enthusiastic at dancing and a great student. Madame Fujima has also taught Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang Kabuki dancing in the film "Memories of Geisha." Peter said he is the only male dancer who graduated from her master's class - he is very proud of his work and has been performing at all kinds of events. You could easily find his performance video on YouTube.
(Left: Peter Lai; Right: Madame Fujima Kansuma)
There is also a section of Gabuki photobooks that you cannot possibly find anywhere else. Those books documented the important history of Kabuki dancing, which is also an important part of Peter's life.
(The lantern from "Memories of Geisha")
You could also spot those two lanterns from the film hanging in the loft as well, but unfortunately, they are booked out by other customers. How cool is it to have real props in our house from the film?
If you recently move into a new place and are looking for inspiration for dining rooms or tea rooms, you should definitely take a look at Peter's interior design and get some inspiration. Each tea room has its individual space divided by traditional Japanese bamboo dividers. All the small tables, trinkets, trays, teapots, teacups, small bamboo tables, and even those small tools for drinking tea in there are for sale - all you need is to ask Peter. The feeling is weird - you want to bring them home but are also too afraid to break this beautiful scene's perfect balance. If I had enough money, I would totally buy the entire loft.
It was such a relaxing trip on the stressful election days, and I really appreciate Peter's time to chat with us about his stories. You can easily tell that the purpose of this place is not gaining any profits. This place is a representation of himself and almost an art installation that speaks his voice. Peter has been putting together this collection for the past 30 years, and those were originally not for sale. This building he lives in is sold to others and will be renovated soon, and he will have to leave after seven years on Seaton Street in the next two months. We are very fortunate to bring some Japanese fabrics, masks, and clothes he designed home, but it is so sad to see this place go after seven years, and it must be heartbreaking to send all the stuff away.
If you are interested in checking out his amazing collection and showing some support, feel free to check out the information below. The Japanese Cultural Village is currently only available by appointments, and Peter answers both emails and texts very fast. The space is also open to photoshoot and film shoot rentals, but you will need to get in touch with Peter within the next two months.
There are plenty of free parking spaces around the building. If you are interested in taking photos in the Chinese costumes, let Peter know ahead of time so he could be prepared. Book your appointment today as treasures are going away fast!
Address: 454 Seaton Street, Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90013