Rafu Staff Report
Dr. Jack Fujimoto Square will be dedicated on Sunday, Oct. 23, at 11 a.m. on the southwest corner of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue in Sawtelle Japantown.
Residents, friends and neighbors will join to celebrate Sawtelle Japantown’s past, present and future.
A reception will immediately follow in the parking lot of Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, 2110 Corinth Ave. There will be a free raffle with prizes. Street parking is available.
Fujimoto, a respected community leader, passed away in 2021 at the age of 93.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin of the 11th District presented the following motion in May.
Dr. Masakazu Jack Fujimoto was born in National City, Calif. in 1928. At the age of 13, he and his family were forcibly relocated to the Poston War Relocation Center, an internment camp in Arizona. The Fujimoto family was released in 1945. After graduating from high school, Dr. Fujimoto served in the U.S. Army in Japan during the Korean War.
After returning from the Korean War, Dr. Fujimoto moved to Los Angeles to attend college. While working at a gas station in the Sawtelle area, he met his wife Grace Fusaye Toya, who he married at the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple in 1956. Dr, Fujimoto would go on to earn his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, all from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Fujimoto then taught Japanese language at Venice Gakuen, a private school at the Vcnice Japanese Community Center.
In 1969, Dr. Fujimoto was chosen to serve as dean at the Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where he established Japanese language courses and other courses on humanities in East Asia. In 1979, Dr. Fujimoto began working as president of West Los Angeles College, where he again introduced and taught Japanese language courses, repeating this in 1989 when he became president at the Los Angeles Mission College in the San Fernando Valley, a role he would hold until 1996.
Dr. Fujimoto had also been actively involved with the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle since 1986 and helped orchestrate its merger with the Sawtelle Gakuin, a Japanese language school. He would then serve as the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle’s founding chairman and president until 2005, continuing to serve as a senior advisor to the institute afterwards. Dr. Fujimoto also chaired the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, a seminary affiliated with Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., from 1983 to 1995.
In recognition of Dr. Fujimoto’s accomplishments throughout the city and his lifelong promotion of Japanese culture, history, and language, it is appropriate that the city name the intersection of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue, near the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, as Dr. Jack Fujimoto Square.
I therefore move that the intersection of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue be named as Dr. Jack Fujimoto Square and that the Department of Transportation be directed to erect permanent ceremonial sign(s) to this effect at this location.
Statements in support of the motion included the following.
Len Nguyen, former field deputy for Council District 11: “I write today in enthusiastic support of CF 22-0515 to establish Dr. Jack Fujimoto Square at Sawtelle Blvd./Mississippi Ave. in Sawtelle Japantown. Dr. Fujimoto was a beloved community leader, and he was a driving force behind the Sawtelle Japantown community designation. Jack always supported the community at Keiro Kai celebrations, Sawtelle Gakuin graduations, and at the West L.A. Obon Festival. This memorial square is a wonderful way to honor Jack’s legacy.”
Professor Valerie Matsumoto, George and Sakaye Aratani Endowed Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community, Department of History/ Department of Asian American Studies, UCLA: “Thank you for your motion to name the intersection of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue Dr. Jack Fujimoto Square in honor of a dedicated, influential educator and community leader! I am writing in support of this timely motion.
“In addition to his many accomplishments as a professor of Japanese language and a college administrator, Dr. Fujimoto had a deep knowledge of and love for the Sawtelle community. He worked with the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle for more than three decades and played a vital role as its chair and advisor. He also documented community history in his engaging book ‘Sawtelle: West Los Angeles’s Japantown’ (2007).
“Honoring Dr. Fujimoto by naming this busy intersection after him would serve as a reminder of the Japanese American community in Sawtelle, as well as Dr. Fujimoto’s important contributions to the organizations that have kept alive its culture and spirit.”