Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, Little Tokyo Service Center Executive Director Erich Nakano, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon with children from LTSC’s Mi CASA after-school program at the announcement of $300,000 in state funding for Terasaki Budokan. (Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

An allocation of $300,000 was included in this year’s state budget to fund community programs and services at the Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo.

The announcement was made Tuesday at the Budokan by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), who was joined by Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon and Little Tokyo Service Center Executive Director Erich Nakano, along with several children.

Nakano gave some background on the Budokan, a 51,000-square-foot multipurpose sports and community center that includes a gymnasium with two basketball courts, an outdoor park and green space that will include a performance space, and an outdoor terrace that will feature a community garden and children’s playground.

“LTSC is a 40-plus-year-old social service and community development organization,” he said. “We provide services to seniors and families. We build affordable housing, so we have several affordable housing projects nearby here, and we work to preserve Little Tokyo, both as a historic and cultural center for the broader Japanese American community, but also as home to a multi-ethnic population of families, seniors, and of course, long-time small businesses …

“We want to be able to bring young people and their families to play in sports and martial arts tournaments here, and through that process to be able to connect them … with Little Tokyo and their cultural heritage. We want them to come play games, head out into Little Tokyo, eat lunch, patronize small businesses, check out the cultural institutions here, such as the Japanese American National Museum and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Budokan will be an important venue for community and cultural events as well, both for Little Tokyo as well as the neighboring community.

“Last week we had this amazing event we hosted, put on by Urban Voices, which is a Skid Row-based choir. So that’s an example of like how we hope this will be a home court, a venue for all in this community. It is also home to programs for seniors and for youth. These young people here are with our school program, Mi CASA (Community, Academics, Sports, Arts), which serves youth and our affordable housing building in one of the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Nakano said that both Santiago and de Leon “have been there for LTSC and for Little Tokyo … over the years. We’re so grateful to have representatives in Sacramento and in L.A. City Hall that we can call a friend and a partner, and who’ve been able to make such a difference in the lives of the people that we serve.”

Santiago recalled, “About four years ago, we did the groundbreaking when this was just a dream.” With the implementation of Proposition 31, about $1 million was allocated for the project in 2019, followed by $5 million in 2020, he said. “Today we’re celebrating because we’re allocating $300,000 for the actual programs that are happening.”

He added, “When we take a look at the work … Little Tokyo Service Center did during the pandemic, it was about helping our communities when they needed it the most … In the middle of COVID, we did Little Tokyo Eats, where seniors were delivered food, where small businesses, close to about 19, were helped, and where there was direct assistance and moneys given to people who are suffering. Lots of work happened here, but at the end of the day, Little Tokyo Service Center in this area was the little engine that could … We owe a great debt of gratitude …

“We worked extremely hard to keep those programs going, and these programs are going to do all the wrap-around support services that we talked about, helping people with rental assistance and helping people to get connected to programs … that we have now with our young people here, because this is the future. This is what we’re working for every single day to ensure that they have a better tomorrow.”

De Leon and Santiago sign an oversized check to symbolize the transfer of funds from the state to Terasaki Budokan.

Now that Budokan is finally a reality, Santiago said, it has “met our expectations and went far beyond.”

De Leon, whose district includes Little Tokyo, thanked Santiago “for being such a strong representative for each and every one of us here in Los Angeles. All the hard work that you do every single day for us at the State Capitol is quite incredible.”

“Today is a true celebration of perseverance and dedication by the community, and specifically LTSC, as we celebrate the infusion of state funding, $300,000 for programs at Terasaki Budokan,” de Leon continued. “We should take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come with this facility. It’s a product of a quarter of a century’s worth of fundraising by countless people dedicated to preserving Little Tokyo’s rich history …

“It’s because of leaders like the late Dean Matsubayashi, the former executive director, may he rest in peace, who envisioned this facility as a bridge to help bring different communities together. His vision has continued in the incredible leadership Erich Nakano has brought to LTSC. Erich, you’ve done a phenomenal job.

“It’s an honor for me to have been part of this history to get the Budokan built. When I became an assemblymember … the first measure, the first law that I created in my lifetime was AB 31 … We created 140 parts up and down the state of California in our most desperately needed communities. And part of that community was here, Little Tokyo, with $5 million …

“I feel deep gratitude and respect for the local leaders who drove this to completion. There’s no question that Budokan will be the cultural heritage anchor of Little Tokyo … We’re going to have judo regional tournaments, karate regional tournaments. We’re going to have basketball and volleyball tournaments. We’re going to provide community services to everyone, regardless of who you are, where you come from …

“Little Tokyo’s neighbor is Skid Row, the largest concentration of unhoused individuals in the United States of America. But what does the Budokan do here under Erich’s leadership? They don’t close those doors. They don’t put up walls or barriers. In fact, they open those doors up to the Skid Row community …

“This is going to be a cultural anchor, not just for Little Tokyo, but for all of Los Angeles  and this incredible region … What perfect timing with the Olympics in Japan and specifically the majority of the Olympics happening in Tokyo. We’re in Little Tokyo here today. We’re having our version of our Olympics with this great facility. And if you look at the smiles on the faces of all these children, it’s a reflection of who we are in this great city.”

The councilman also praised Little Tokyo’s community vision for First Street North, “which I call the guiding document as it relates to development and growth of Little Tokyo, and LTSC has been at the forefront. This past March in partnership with Go For Broke National Education Center and LTSC, the city approved an expansion … on the southeast corner of Temple and Aiso, which means that we will double down on the number of affordable units for our community, for unhoused community members, for single mothers, for those who need a roof over their head. This is the vision of LTSC, this is the vision of Budokan, bringing the tapestry of our community and being that connective tissue bringing us together.”

Santiago and de Leon signed an oversized check to symbolize the transfer of funds and posed for a group photo with the kids. Santiago was also presented with gifts by Nancy Alcaraz, director of resident services at LTSC.

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