A survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Hideo Sakata believed that art created commnities and formed bridges between cultures.


Hideo Sakata, artist and founder of LELA (Lantern of the East Los Angeles), passed away July 30 after a long battle with cancer. He was 87.  

Sakata-san (as he was known to his friends and colleagues) was born and raised in Nagasaki. He was a hibakusha, meaning that he survived the 1945 atomic bomb blast and the ravages of war that devastated the city and country. He did his best to move on with his life and help rebuild the area.

He attended Nagasaki University and taught art to secondary school students. In 1967, Sakata left Japan to live and work in Mexico, but after a short while he moved to Los Angeles, where he had the good fortune to meet Toshio Kawai, an artist teaching in Little Tokyo and also running a production art company. Kawai recommended Sakata for a job, so he was able to get a green card.

Sakata continued his art career as he made his home in Los Angeles. He went on to show his work as well as organize many exhibitions and art festivals both here and abroad.

One of Sakata’s life-long dreams was to use art as a tool to communicate love, peace and harmony. His work of promoting his ideas materialized in LELA, which he founded together with three other artists: Lee Kye Song from Korea, P. Kemraje from India, and Yoko Kamijo from Japan.

For almost 50 years Sakata and a dedicated group of artists and community supporters created events promoting  intercultural understanding and exchange through art. Many of the art festivals included art camps, where members of the local community came to interact and make art with artists from all over the world.

The driving force behind all this was Sakata himself, and it was his personal interaction with each individual and a heart-to-heart, face-to-face communication that he would always initiate.

“He loved to sit at Starbucks and chat,” said artist Susan Karhroody, who sketched this portrait of Hideo Sakata. The two worked closely together at LELA International, an organization that seeks to create cross-cultural bridges through artistic expression. “He kept saying it was not a time to die,” an emotional Karhroody said of Sakata. “He had so many projects he was still working on. He dedicated his whole life to his art.”

Sakata-san said, “How can we bring change to this world? I believe we can achieve this through art. Art can heal people’s hearts. It can bridge the cultural gap that exists and bring people together under one banner – mutual understanding. Through art, each and every one of us can express our soul.”

Sakata’s vision was that through art and education we can build bridges connecting each individual and bring peace to our planet. He dedicated his life to making this vision come true.

Up until a few days before his death, he continued to paint. He was strong, a gifted artist and amazing person, he will be missed. Sakata was an inspiration to many and we were blessed to have had such a driving force in the Art community here in Los Angeles for so many years.

He is survived by his wife, Tamiko Yoshihara; and children, Kimito Sakata, Hideto Sakata, Hidetoshi Sakata and Tsubura Talactac.

There will be a celebration of life to be announced next month.

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