By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
With a large pair of scissors Jan Perry cut the ribbon, officially opening the Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo on Friday afternoon. Officials and a cluster of kids from the Mi Casa in Little Tokyo afterschool program, in bright green T-shirts, joined in the celebration of, at long last, the completion of the gymnasium on Los Angeles Street.
The ceremony held in the courtyard was the first of two public events to mark the completion of the long-fought, long-delayed gymnasium. Terasaki Budokan opened last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its official dedication.
Ryan Lee, Terasaki Budokan executive director, served as master of ceremonies, summing up what many were feeling about the day: “It’s about time.”
Erich Nakano, executive director of Little Tokyo Service Center, said the Terasaki Budokan would be a gathering place for both youth and seniors.
“To be able to be a place for youth from our affordable housing buildings, joined with youth from Skid Row and other low-income kids from the greater Downtown Los Angeles area to participate in our afterschool program here to get academic support enrichment and some really good physical activities,” Nakano said. “And where seniors can come to vaccine clinics, ping pong, or take a Zumba class after two years of being cooped up in their apartments.”
The dreams of the gymnasium have been repeated so often during its 20-plus year journey to fruition that they almost seem like retelling of a legend of a community’s perseverance. Children in basketball jerseys who were there in the early days of the campaign for the gymnasium are now grown. Many who helped make the Terasaki Budokan a reality have passed on.
Dean Matsubayashi, the late LTSC executive director who died of brain cancer in 2019, was on the minds of many of the attendees at the ceremony.
“On behalf of Dean, I’m giving all of you high fives for helping to bring his dream into fruition,” Nakano said.
The children’s playground is named for Perry, who worked to secure the ground lease on Los Angeles Street between Second and Third streets during her tenure on the L.A. City Council. Recently, Perry announced her campaign for the 37th Congressional District.
“Every time I come here, I feel like I just want to smile or cry or laugh because it’s so beautiful and it took so long. I was happy to be a friend. I was happy to be an advocate,” Perry said. “It is absolutely beautiful, exceeds my expectations and I think yours too because we had to wait so long. And we lost some people along the way. One of the points is I wanted to raise personally is, I’m sure Dean is smiling today and laughing because we’re all still together and we got through COVID and this place is open and functioning beautifully.”
Bill Watanabe, retired LTSC executive director, said the concept started in 1994 with a focus group of college-aged youth who said they would come to Little Tokyo if there was a gym:
“That was a big concern. It seemed like there was a whole generation of young people and young families who were not coming to Little Tokyo. If we lost a whole generation of people who didn’t come, had no connection, no heart for this community, they would have no thought for its future.”
During his time in the State Assembly, Councilmember Kevin de Leon authored AB 31, which established the guidelines and criteria for how $400 million in funding from Proposition 84 allocated to the State Department of Parks & Recreation should be spent. The Budokan received $5 million in Prop 84 funding.
“Not just Little Tokyo but for the entire city of Los Angeles to have young boys and girls from all over the city, county, region and country, all over the world, this gym is going to bring such vibrancy and energy,” de Leon said.
Assemblymember Miguel Santiago secured $300,000 in funding from the State Budget for operations of facility in 2021.
“Budokan means everything to our community. Once this thing is full swinging and open, this place is going to thrive it’s going to change the area,” Santiago said. “This area doesn’t have many parks, so (with) the ability to have a basketball court here, we’re going to be able to change this community.”
Consul General Akira Muto congratulated the staff of LTSC for the opening. He noted that the consulate collaborated with Terasaki Budokan and other Little Tokyo stakeholders for last year’s The Big Games in Little Tokyo, a community-wide celebration of the Olympics.
“My hope is that Terasaki Budokan will enhance the vitality of Little Tokyo and Downtown Los Angeles by offering a space that fosters a strong sense of community through shared interests in sports and culture through people of different backgrounds. Now is a time to unite and Terasaki Budokan will serve that purpose,” Muto said.
East L.A. Taiko, led by Maceo Hernandez, performed, including a lion dance by Walt Nishinaka.
At the beginning of the ceremony, artist Kuni Yoshida, who resides at Casa Heiwa, wrote 繁栄 (hanei, flourish) with bold strokes to embody the wishes for the Terasaki Budokan.
In his remarks, Keith Terasaki was even more specific. The Terasaki Family Foundation donated $3.5 million to support the gymnasium, which is named in honor of the late Dr. Paul Terasaki.
His son Keith noted his father’s interest in contributing back to the Japanese American community in Little Tokyo and he shared his father’s dream that it will revitalize Little Tokyo in the way that Staples Center (now called Crypto.com Arena) led to development near the Convention Center.
“I hope Terasaki Budokan will bring people back to experience Japanese culture,” Terasaki said. “Twenty-five years ago if you walked around the Convention Center, it didn’t feel safe. Today it is a very busy place. I hope the Terasaki Budkan will be the future Crypto.com of Little Tokyo,”
Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo