By RYAN LEE, Director, Terasaki Budokan

The Japanese American basketball leagues – at Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo – are part of our community’s culture, history, and legacy. Before the pandemic, there were approximately 14,000 athletes playing in Japanese American basketball leagues throughout Southern California. Sadly, many of those players have not yet returned to the courts.

With the Budokan’s recent grand opening, we are grateful for the COVID vaccines that are helping to revive the sports and activities that paused during the pandemic. In addition to basketball, we offer table tennis, volleyball, karate, and judo programs for youth. By getting our kids aged 5 and up vaccinated, we can get them back to all the activities that enrich their lives.

We know children play best when the stands are filled. Now is the time to get the whole family cheering safely with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. Getting vaccinated and boosted now helps keep kids off the sidelines and protected from becoming severely ill, hospitalized, or dying from COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Best of all, they help support youth development for in-school learning, socializing and sports by reducing the risk of the worst outcomes of COVID-19. Not to mention how much athletes of all ages rely on lung health. We need to keep our kids protected from long COVID by getting them vaccinated and boosted when eligible.

Basketball players at Terasaki Budokan’s official opening-day event. (Rafu Shimpo photo)

Japanese American basketball leagues grew out of a dark time in American history when 120,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned in camps during World War II. Many of the incarcerated children and adults played basketball while in World War II concentration camps, then organized leagues once they returned home after the camps were closed. At a time when Japanese Americans were not welcomed into recreational sports, the leagues provided friendship and fun, becoming a cultural tradition.

But COVID-19 presented our community with challenges that many worried would lead to a devastating loss of losing these vital and historic basketball leagues and other youth sports programs. Thankfully, we now have the promise of vaccines to help keep our community safe.

During this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I can’t help but reflect on the experiences of the Issei and Nisei, enduring incarceration, and race-based hate. For many years, it has been my honor to celebrate them by helping basketball thrive as a tradition in our community. I hope parents of young Japanese Americans will take advantage of the vaccines available for children aged 5 and up, so that their kids can take part in our leagues and other athletic programs to keep our tradition of community spirit through sports alive.

And to our players who have already received their COVID-19 vaccine, THANK YOU! Getting vaccinated and boosted when it’s your time is a sign of your commitment to your team and your community. I hope all prospective players of all ages 5 and up who are eligible for the vaccines will join us. See you on the courts!

Visit to learn more about the safe and effective vaccines available for all Californians 5+. Find a vaccine near you by visiting or calling 1-833-422-4255. 

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