The Los Angeles neighborhood of Sawtelle can strike visitors from Japan as a little kitsch at first sight.

Tacky signs advertise pan-Asian restaurants, and while some Los Angeleans still refer to the neighborhood by its "Little Osaka" moniker, it looks less like Japan's second city than it does a mecca for hard-core fans of tapioca tea.

Scratch beneath the surface, however, and Sawtelle offers a fascinating insight into the Nikkei experience.