In the Japanese Village Plaza resides a man beyond words. In front of the Honeymee and the Mikawaya, lies the stage for the one-man band of Little Tokyo. He plays live in front of an audience of 15 people, singing his heart out to The Beatles’ “Let it Be”. His right-hand grazes over his keyboard, while his left one shakes a pair of maracas to the beat of his drum. Synthesizers enter the mix, creating a pure vintage feel to the whole experience. The maracas vibrate rapidly as he strikes a chord. He lets the last note ring. The sizzle of the chord camouflages with the cheers of the crowd. Groups of people head towards the man. I follow, dropping a crisp dollar bill into a can. His smile blinds the crowd. “Thank you!” he giggles into his mic, “the name is Nakane, Arthur Nakane.”
If you have ever been to the Japanese Village Plaza, it’s likely you have stumbled across the 83-year-old man playing his heart out in the quad. Although he wasn’t very fond of being the ‘one-man-band of Little Tokyo’ at first, he has grown to love the title. Nakane plays 4 days a week, performing songs that range from rock, pop, folk, country, Latin, Hawaiian and Japanese music, and more. With the ability to speak and sing in English, Spanish, and Japanese, nothing can stop him.
Being a former contestant of America’s Got Talent, he has since made a name for himself. Even Japangeles, an iconic Little Tokyo fashion brand, made and sold Arthur Nakane band shirts. Yet, even though most of us know Nakane as that one old dude you see playing music in Little Tokyo, he is so much more.
He’s lived in Los Angeles for forty years and planned to become a high school teacher. However, due to the low salary, he pursued his music. He does not regret his decision when it comes to his career as a teacher. He ended up becoming his own person with a unique profession, and he believes that having his own identity is more important than being in the norm.
“I used to be able to play 6 instruments at once,” Arthur states. “An electric guitar, harmonica, a kazoo that sounded like a saxophone, keyboards, bass pedalboard, and even a stick that was connected to my guitar.”
Today he doesn’t play nearly as many instruments due to an injury that happened 5 years ago. Because of this injury, he’s been paralyzed since, relying on a wheelchair to transport from place to place. Nonetheless, he continues to play in the plaza in spite of this injury. Although his fingers can’t move and set up is more laborious than it ever has been before, he still performs with everything he has. The tips help him pay for the expensive Downtown LA rent, which is also a reason he continues to perform.
His acts range from performing songs from legends such as Elvis and the Beatles, taking audience requests, giving inspirational monologues, and setting up his band.
“Life is hard,” he giggles, “and that’s why I play music. To see the faces of people light up and just smile makes it all worth it. In the end, I want to make people happy and forget their struggles. I am very old, I’ve been through a lot! I see so many sad people in LA. We have many homeless people, sad people, and just to see my music make their face lights up, oh it’s worth it. All my struggle, in the end, makes so many people smile, so I will continue playing.”
You can see Arthur Nakane in the Japanese Village Plaza performing his heart out. So next time you go and hear a keyboard and a man’s soulful voice, it’s most likely the one-man-band of Little Tokyo.