Discover Nikkei

Old Men Will Dream Dreams

Photo courtesy of Terasaki Budokan

Olympic karateka Sakura Kokumai gives a kata demonstration at the grand opening of Terasaki Budokan. (Rafu Shimpo photo)

The Terasaki Budokan had its grand opening celebration on March 19, 2022, which was attended by a couple of thousand happy folks and it was a grand time! I hope you don’t mind if I beat my chest a little bit longer about this momentous event and ruminate about the significance of this accomplishment. 

The Bible has a passage that says “your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.” When I was a relatively young man back in 1994 and on the staff of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), we caught the vision that we needed to build a gymnasium to help secure the future existence of our historic Little Tokyo neighborhood. This vision entailed a sports and activity center that would attract ethnic youth and families as well as other visitors to Little Tokyo and in turn help support the local businesses as well as facilities such as the or Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) and Japanese American National Museum. 

Being young entails being optimistic and hopeful and perhaps even audacious with the idea that a project, no matter how daunting, can be accomplished if the community has the will and determination. And there was very little doubt that this was a project that was supported by everyone in the Nikkei community – which included the hundreds of basketball and volleyball teams and dozens of martial arts dojos.

However, visions of building a gym in Little Tokyo had existed since the early 1920s, when the ethnic neighborhood was growing and Nisei youngsters were literally running through the streets. A gym was actually proposed back in the 1970s as part of the JACCC campus but was never built. In 1994, it was time to try to make the vision a reality.

LTSC Executive Director Bill Watanabe retired in 2012 with Dean Matsubayashi appointed as Bill's successor. (Photo courtesy of Terasaki Budokan)

The first major obstacle was finding a Little Tokyo location that was large enough for a multi-court gym. From 1994 to 2000, we were stymied many times at obtaining a property for the project. However, there was a growing awareness of the total lack of parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities in the area, which made the vision grow even stronger. 

In 2000, Councilwoman Jan Perry pledged to help find a city-owned property and finally, in the year 2008, a location was procured on Los Angeles Street near the Little Tokyo Library. The vision was one major step closer to reality!

The second major obstacle was raising the funds necessary for construction of a large facility with high ceilings and no central columns. Raising the funds became an elusive goal as the construction costs kept rising each month, but the LTSC board and staff, along with many, many donors and funders, kept the vision alive.

Construction Launches for Little Tokyo Gymnasium by Rafu Shimpo.

Construction was at long last completed in 2021 and even though COVID delayed the grand opening until March of 2022, the vision had become real after 28 years of effort.

Photo courtesy of Terasaki Budokan

Now I, as an “old man,” can dream dreams — of what the Budokan will mean to the community in the coming years. I dream about this facility in Little Tokyo and imagine myriads of young and older folks engaging in activities where they can develop healthy bodies and learn important life skills such as practicing and hard work, building teamwork, improving focus and self-discipline.

I can dream of individuals and families connecting with the Little Tokyo community and investing in and ensuring its future.

I dream dreams of a new future that is the promise of the Terasaki Budokan.

May young people continue to have visions, and may old people continue to dream dreams.


© 2022 Bill Watanabe / Rafu Shimpo

California communities community centers Little Tokyo Los Angeles sports Terasaki Budokan United States
About the Author

Bill Watanabe is the founding Executive Director of the Little Tokyo Service Center. Since 1980 he has guided its growth, in conjunction with the Board of Directors, from a one-person staff to a multi-faceted social services and community development program with 150 paid staff, many of whom are bilingual in any of eight Asian Pacific languages and Spanish.

Bill received his Masters in Social Welfare from UCLA in 1972. He has been married for 36 years, and has one daughter, and lives near downtown Los Angeles, only a short drive to his ethnic neighborhood of Little Tokyo.

Updated Janurary 2015

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