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Nikkei Chronicles #10—Nikkei Generations: Connecting Families & Communities

Warren Kato: Judge, Former Attorney, But Most of All a Father and Role Model

I have read articles in the past trying to explain the difference between a father and a dad. To some, a “father” is defined as “a man in relation to his children,” whereas a “dad” is someone who you can hang out with, is there to play sports with you, and can always be there for you when you need help. For me, my dad is both my role model and an inspiration. He has taught me countless life lessons that I live by to this day. He has inspired me to become an attorney and fight for justice in our society. He has shown me that family and love is one of the most powerful and important things in this world. My dad is more than success and his career in law; he is the best father anyone could ever ask for.

Warren Kato

Although my dad is successful today, he did not grow up in a wealthy household or the safest neighborhood. There was often crime in his neighborhood; however, he was fortunate enough to take advantage of a voluntary busing program and attend a better school in a better neighborhood. From there, he went to UCLA to pursue a career in the medical field. However, he decided that the medical route wasn’t the right path for him, so he dropped out, and after working several different jobs, began working in finance and sales.

A few years later, he felt a new calling in life: law. He decided that he wanted to pursue a career in law and work to help achieve justice as well as make this world a safer place for everyone. However, at this point in his life, it was a little late to start a career in law, and him not finishing undergraduate school didn’t help him on his applications for law school. Although the chances of him getting into law school and becoming a successful attorney seemed slim, he never gave up on himself.

Through hard work and the life lessons that he has passed down to me, he has recently become a judge after winning numerous awards as an attorney, including the California Lawyer magazine CLAY Award, Attorney of the Year, and United States Prosecutor of the Year. Although I consider my father to be an amazing attorney and judge, he has influenced me to be who I am through being the best dad I could ever ask for. My dad has taught me so many life lessons that stand as core values for me to this day and has helped shape me into who I am. Out of all of the lessons that he has taught me over the years, the three that stick out to me the most are: (1) to never give up and give in to fear, (2) that the strength of one’s heart can overcome many limitations, and (3) that nothing is more important than family and those you love.

One of the most important things that my dad has taught me over the years is to never give up or give in to fear because fear is one of the most powerful things that can control you. My dad had once told me about one of the motivating reasons of why he chose to go into sales. He told me about how he used to dread public speaking. He explained that he didn’t want to let this fear of public speaking control him and prevent him from going where he wanted to go, so he consciously put himself in a situation where he could practice his people and presentation skills. He believes that one of the best ways to better yourself and overcome your fears is to consciously put yourself in challenging situations to condition yourself to grow.

In terms of my own life, there would be basketball games in which I didn’t perform up to my standards and I let my team down. My dad taught me that my inability to perform at my best was due to the fear in my head, which I didn’t understand at the time. When you let fear get inside of you, it can take control of you, limiting your power and ability to function at your best.

During some games when my team and I would play against stronger, faster, or more skilled opponents, I would let fear take over me. I was scared of letting down my team and embarrassed of getting the ball stolen from me. With this fear controlling me, I would rarely shoot or drive to the basket, resulting in me passing off the ball to my teammates so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I gave up. I had already been defeated in my head and spirit, therefore defeated in reality.

My dad decided to teach me some mental techniques that I could use before or during the game that would help me block fear out of my head and put me in the right fighting mentality. Although these mental techniques were beneficial for preparing mentally for sports, I still use these techniques today. When I am put in stressful situations and feel like giving up, I remember my father’s words and techniques in order to keep going.

The second lesson that I am focusing on is the strength of one’s heart and spirit. My dad has taught me that it’s not always size, skill, or physical strength that matters. The ability to never give up and persevere through all odds is one of the most powerful things in this world. Despite being told that people without undergraduate degrees would not be hired by the District Attorney’s office, my dad proved them all wrong by first convincing a small law school to admit him. From there, he worked full time during law school and became the law review Editor-In-Chief and class Salutatorian. He was first rejected by the District Attorney’s office, but convinced them to allow him to go through the interviewing processes due to his numerous accomplishments in law school. From there, he convinced the District Attorney to hire him, and he went on to a successful legal career.

Within my own life, my father has taught me to believe in the strength of my own heart through coaching me in basketball and Kyokushin karate. Growing up, I was always one of the shortest and smallest kids on my team and at my dojo. In terms of karate, my dad and I would always train at home to prepare for my kumites (sparring fights). He always pushed me to do my best which helped me gain both the mental and physical strength needed in a kumite.

Me and my dad in San Francisco after one of my karate tournaments.

I can vividly recall that in one important match, my opponent was a lot bigger and stronger than me physically, with her standing almost a head taller than me. At the beginning, the odds were stacked against me. Every kick and punch she landed hit hard and my attacks didn’t even seem to phase her. However, I used my dad’s mental techniques and told myself that I wouldn’t give up. I remembered that my dad taught me that what truly matters is the strength of one’s heart, so I didn’t give in.

After tying two rounds, we went into the tiebreaker round both mentally and physically exhausted. I threw as many punches and kicks as I could while maintaining a close distance to my opponent to ensure that she wouldn’t be able to kick me in the head and win. At the end of the tiebreaker round, neither of us managed to score a point on each other so it was completely up to the judges’ discretion as to who the winner was. I remember standing there believing that I had lost for sure because of how much stronger she was physically. One judge voted for me and the other voted for my opponent. There was one judge left and I was nervous to see what his decision was. About five seconds later I heard my dad and senseis cheering for me at the top of their lungs. I won the tiebreaker from a referee’s tie breaking vote.

At that moment, I really did believe in what my dad had taught me: mental strength can outpower one’s physical limits at times. I keep this in mind whenever faced with a difficult obstacle or when I feel like giving up. If you truly have the will power, strength, and heart to do something, you can achieve just about anything you put your mind to.

One last life changing lesson that my dad has taught me over the years is that family and those you love always come first. When I was younger, my dad would work long days and nights and would not come home until after my bedtime, meaning that I would hardly get to spend time with him. Despite his exhaustion and lack of sleep, he still made time to practice with me and support me at every single game and kumite. I can’t remember a time where my dad hasn’t been there in the stands supporting me and cheering me on. When I got hurt, he was always there by my side to give me an ice pack or bandage me up.

When I got older, he didn’t work such crazy hours so that he could spend more time with his family but still had an unhealthy amount of stress put on him every single day. No matter how tired he was, no matter how mentally exhausted he was, we still had dinner together every night and talked and laughed about our days.

Me and my dad at Disneyland!

There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t support me or cheer me up when I am sad. For as long as I can remember, my dad has always been there for me despite his stress and exhaustion every day, which I didn’t learn to truly appreciate until I was older. I can always count on him if I need life advice or am having trouble deciding what the right thing to do is. I firmly believe that nothing comes before family, and that love is one of the most healing things that anyone could ever experience.

My dad supporting me at my National Honors Society ceremony.
My dad is also part of the reason why my sister and I are so close. Whenever we would get into an argument, my dad would encourage us to hug and make up because he would explain that after he and my mom were gone, we would be all each other had left. That has always stuck with me, and my sister has become my best friend that I can confide in for everything. We both support each other in everything we do, can laugh about anything together, and love each other unconditionally, which is a bond that many of my friends have told me is very rare.

My dad has been such an influential part of my life. Not only did his passion for justice inspire me to take on a career in law, but his kindness, support, unconditional love, and wisdom has helped me become the person I am today. I am forever grateful to have a dad like him and hope that I can follow in his footsteps and make him proud.


*This is one of the projects completed by The Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) Program intern each summer, which the Japanese American Bar Association and the Japanese American National Museum have co-hosted.


© 2021 Laura Kato

5 Stars

Nima-kai Favorites

Each article submitted to this series was eligible for selection as favorites of our readers and the Editorial Committees. Thank you to everyone who voted!

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About this series

The theme of the 10th edition of Nikkei Chronicles—Nikkei Generations: Connecting Families & Communities—takes a look at intergenerational relationships in Nikkei communities around the world, with a particular focus on the emerging younger generations of Nikkei and how they connect (or don’t) with their roots and with older generations. 

Discover Nikkei solicited stories related to Nikkei Generations from May to September 2021. Voting closed on November 8, 2021. We received 31 stories (21 English; 2 Japanese; 3 Spanish; and 7 Portuguese) from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, and the US, with a few submitted in multiple languages.

An editorial committee chose a favorite story in each language. In addition, a Nima-kai favorite was determined by online community voting. Here are the selections! (*Translations of the selected stories are currently in progress.)

Editorial Committee’s Favorites

Nima-kai Favorite:

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* This series is presented in partnership with: 




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*Logo design by Jay Horinouchi