By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
One by one, different clusters of people picked up the gilded ceremonial shovels on Thursday morning to take photos atop a small mound of dirt in what is now a parking lot on Los Angeles Street in Little Tokyo.
For the Paul I. Terasaki Budokan, a project first conceived decades earlier, the reality of the moment meant there were simply too many individuals to acknowledge, too many groups to fit in one photo.
And so, one of the newest members of the House of Representatives, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, who once did Okinawa martial arts kata in the JACCC Plaza, hoisted a shovel, as did Hayahiko Takase, the elderly architect who toiled on the first plans for the gymnasium. Hisako Terasaki and her children and grandchildren gathered for a family portrait on the site of the gymnasium, which will be named for her husband, the late Dr. Paul Terasaki.
The largest contingent was the staff and volunteers of Little Tokyo Service Center, some clad in black-and-white referee shirts, enjoying a brief moment of celebration on a busy day.
No project has symbolized the grit and tenacity of Little Tokyo in recent years more than what will be known as the Terasaki Budokan.
Bill Watanabe, who led LTSC as its executive director during the formative stages for the gymnasium, observed of the years-long effort, “Some projects take time.
“If it’s a good project, it’s worth it, and it’s not just a good project, it’s a great project.”
LTSC held the groundbreaking ceremony for the Terasaki Budokan to celebrate the beginning of the construction phase for the center, which will be home to a two-court gymnasium that will be utilized for basketball, volleyball, martial arts and other activities.
Dean Matsubayashi, LTSC executive director, welcomed the gathering of more than 100, many fanning themselves on a hot, humid day under the large tent set up for the event. He noted that LTSC began work on the recreation center in 1994, the same year Kobe Bryant, now retired, was drafted by the Lakers.
He said that gambaru (perseverance) was the reason the Terasaki Budokan was finally being built.
“It is the same perseverance and commitment to community that enabled us to continue to work on the project all these years,” Matsubayashi said.
“Together with existing resources in Little Tokyo like legacy businesses, churches and temples and other community-based organizations, the project will reinforce the importance of a 140-year-old community and its unique culture and history.
“More than just a gymnasium, Budokan will promote Japanese cultural arts, particularly the martial arts like aikido, kendo, judo and karate. Budokan will also be a home court for all, where sports and martial arts will serve as a vehicle to help build community, to uplift individuals and families and provide future generations with a much-needed stake in our community.”
Jan Perry, general manager of the Economic and Workforce Development Department, was recognized for her role in gaining site control of the property on Los Angeles Street when she served as city councilmember representing Little Tokyo.
“I promised I’m not going to cry, but it’s really hard because there were so many obstacles to jump over. As a staff person, as a councilperson, even as a general manager, I was happy and empowered because I knew this was the right thing to do,” Perry said.
Dr. Keith Terasaki and Debra Nakatomi, president of the LTSC Board of Directors, colored in the left eye of a daruma. When the Terasaki Budokan is completed, the right eye will be filled.
Terasaki said his father would be proud that the gymnasium will be named in his honor. Earlier this year, Terasaki Family Foundation donated $3.5 million for construction.
“He knew that sports, exercise and team play are essential for a child’s development. Although it’s easier, we can’t raise our future generation only on video games,” Terasaki said. “He also believed in Little Tokyo and wanted to make this a vibrant community, both for the people who live here and the visitors who may come by.”
Consul General Akira Chiba, an aikido fifth dan black belt, performed a ceremonial aikido demonstration on blue mats placed upon a temporary stage. The crowd was also entertained by seniors performing ukulele as the Little Tokyo Ukulele Rainbow Club and a taiko performance by Johnny Mori and Maceo Hernandez.
Chiba, returning later in a suit and tie, praised LTSC and its supporters.
“The Terasaki Budokan will be a unique space because it not only gets its inspiration from Japanese tradition, but it will also be quintessentially Japanese American,” Chiba said. “No doubt Japanese American basketball leagues will find a special home here, as will youth of all backgrounds from throughout the city of L.A. and beyond, reflecting the diverse tapestry of Southern California.”
Kent Hora, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric U.S., Inc., announced that Mitsubishi is donating solar panels that will be installed on the roof. He said that the donation would save LTSC $400,000 over 25 years and be the equivalent of removing 43 cars from the road.
Funders, both large and small, were recognized, including Maiya Kuida, who made friendship bracelets to raise $500, and the Aratani Foundation, the George, Rurui, Lisa and Nathan Sugimoto Family Foundation and Aiko Kawaratani of Rafu Bussan. LTSC also recognized public funding sources from Propositions K, A and 85; grants from the Weingart Foundation, Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and the LA 84 Foundation; and new market tax credit from the New Markets Tax Credit Investments Opportunity Fund, MBS Urban Initiatives CDE and U.S. Bank.
After the ceremony, there was a reception in the Vida Building next door, which will be demolished as part of construction. The project is expected to be finished by the end of 2018 and many expressed the desire to be there when the Terasaki Budokan finally opens.
Aiden Kosaka, 15, who plays with Orange Coast Optimist (OCO) and is a member of the Octagon Club, said he is looking forward to playing at the Budokan.
“This project is important to me because not only is this gym going to be here for my generation, but it will be here for the generations after me so we can prolong the JA culture as long as we can,” Kosaka said. “As gentrification comes in, it is slowly taking out the mom-and-pop stores in Little Tokyo.”
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo