Discover Nikkei Logo

https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2023/6/7/why-not-little-tokyo/

Why not? Little Tokyo!

So, as I have said many times, not everyone can become like Rui Hachimura or Yuta Watanabe. Although they are Japanese, they are rare examples of a talent that is one in tens of thousands, or even one in hundreds of thousands, that blossomed beautifully in a happy environment. In the shadows of them, who knows how many talented athletes have been buried? The former monk, known to the people of Little Tokyo as Osho, has been saying the same thing over and over again for the past few hours.

Even though, as a former monk who teaches others the way of life, it is not his intention to always say that something is impossible, or that it is impossible, the priest was completely fed up with Hayato, who was still in his mid-teens, as he suddenly came up with a suggestion that was far-fetched and, on top of that, he was extremely persistent.

Leaving Rose Street and walking further, on the outskirts of town, we came across a small piece of land, too small for a commercial facility, surrounded by a fence wrapped in barbed wire. There was a rusty, sun-stained old sign hanging there, with the words "For Sale" written in sooty red letters. A young man named Hayato, who was skinny for his age and always wearing the same old jeans and slightly dirty white T-shirt, suddenly said he wanted to build a street basketball court on this spot. Perhaps not liking the monk's reluctant tone, Hayato looked sulky as he dribbled an old, dirty basketball.

"Priest, it's easy to immediately say it's impossible, it's impossible. But the players who are currently active in the NBA are overcoming those seemingly impossible challenges and standing on the court, aren't they? You know what the Los Angeles Lakers' Russell Westbrook likes to say? It's "Why not?" There's nothing you can't do, right? Right, monk?"

"Unfortunately, I'm not a basketball fan, so I don't know who West is. But you know, Hayato. I'm a big fan of Major League Baseball. I've been crazy about Shohei Ohtani for a long time."

When the priest gave a cold reply, Hayato became even more sulky and turned his back on him. The priest cast a worried look at Hayato's back as he behaved like a child. Hayato always practices dribbling alone in parks or back alleys. He never had any family or friends around, and sometimes he would continue practicing even after it got dark late at night, which made the priest worried. One afternoon, the priest invited Hayato to his condominium and offered him a cold Coca-Cola, and from then on Hayato started to come into the priest's house from time to time.

Though he had never asked Hayato in detail, it was easy to imagine that his family environment was not very good. From his worn-out clothes and the strong body odor that occasionally wafted up his nose, it was easy to imagine that he lived in a chaotic home. Above all, just by looking into his dull, slightly upturned eyes, even though he was still a young man, the priest, who had been confronted for many years with the suffering of many Japanese Americans living in Los Angeles, could easily tell the extent of Hayato's environment.

"Don't be so sulky, Hayato. I just don't understand. Even if it's a small piece of land, this is Los Angeles. If you combine the cost of the land and the cost of constructing the court, it will cost an incredible amount. It might cost around 100 million yen. Do you have that kind of money? I don't. And anyway, why would you have to do something like that?"

"You see, these days, if you use your head, there are plenty of ways to make money. Do you know what crowdfunding is, monk? It's a way of asking for donations online. I read in an online article that there's actually been an example of someone making a coat using that. But generally, I'm not just talking about myself. I'm worried about Little Tokyo as a whole. Don't you think that the people in this town around my age are all losing their energy? In a town in a big city like Los Angeles, it's not cool at all for young Japanese people to be losing their energy!"

The priest seemed a little intimidated by Hayato's unusually sharp tone and the way he spoke, almost as if he was in a state of crisis.

"Well, we may not be able to become like Hachimura or Watanabe, but... we don't even have the possibility to become like that. This town isn't connected to anywhere right now."

Although the idea of ​​building a basketball court was quite outlandish, the priest could relate to the lack of hope among the younger generation of Japanese-Americans living in Little Tokyo, as Hayato had mentioned. Due to the nature of Los Angeles as a glamorous big city, many people seem to live with hopeful expressions. However, the changes in America in recent years have been drastic, and the mysterious giant monster known as capitalism has begun to run rampant with even greater power, making the difference between those with money and those without it cruelly obvious. Hayato's yellowed white T-shirt was one example of this.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a further blow. For the Japanese people of Little Tokyo, many of whom make their living in the food and beverage and tourism industries, this stubborn epidemic has caused great, even fatal damage. For two or three years, the priest, a religious man, had endured these curse-like pleas, which seemed to encapsulate the hardships of this world, in the temple grounds, but even for an experienced monk, these were unbearable days. Finally, on the day he turned 80, despite the pleas from his colleagues to stay, he quit his job at the temple, which has no retirement age.

From these experiences, I was able to understand very well what Hayato was saying about the lack of hope among the young people living in this town, and while I felt a hint of sadness, I also felt a sense of crisis welling up from deep within my heart, similar to the one Hayato was feeling.

The monk tried to imagine what it would be like when a brand new court was completed in this nondescript vacant lot. He heard the sound of dribbling from afar, and the sound gradually grew louder. One by one, young men, whose clothes, like Hayato, could not be described as very clean, began to gather on the court. They chased the basketball, shouting with lively voices. All the young men gathered on the imaginary street court had carefree, innocent smiles on their faces, and their sweat glistened in the sunlight of a California summer. To the monk, it seemed a particularly bright and hopeful scene among the worn-out cityscape of today.

"Really"

The monk muttered to himself.

"You don't have to be a hero like Rui Hachimura or Yuta Watanabe. Just having a place where you can be passionate about something might be enough."

The monk felt as if he had caught a glimpse of a ray of salvation and a glimpse of the future of this town in the scene of the street basketball court he had imagined. His chest, which had felt clogged with something, suddenly became filled with air, and his body became lighter. Then, as if in sync with that, a strong gust of wind blew, stirring up the dry soil of the vacant lot. He caught the smell of dust deep in his nostrils, and memories from decades ago came to his mind, one after another, as vivid images.

"I'd like you to listen to it as if it were an old man's old tale."

Hayato sensed a change in the tone of the monk's voice and stopped dribbling the ball, waiting for the monk to say the next thing.

"During the last war, Japanese people in Little Tokyo, which was in an antagonistic relationship with the United States, were sent en masse to the Manzanar Internment Camp, including me, of course. I was still just a small child, but life there seemed humiliating and cruel to me as a child. But what was even more painful was the miserable life I lived after returning to this completely decadent town in 1944, just before the end of the war, when I had lost all sense of pride."

When the priest finished speaking, the basketball court I had imagined in my mind vanished, and the scenery around the vacant lot changed in an instant. At first, only flat memories like old photographs emerged, one by one, but as their numbers increased, the images gradually took on a three-dimensional appearance, and not only the vacant lot but also the wide area far behind it appeared as a rundown, old streetscape like a ghost town, and I could hear the sound of wild jazz.

Occasionally, dirty-dressed, drunken men who looked like working men strolled by, humming to themselves. It was exactly the scene of Little Tokyo in 1944, when the Japanese-Americans began to return from the internment camps, that the old priest had just begun to talk about. The streetscape that suddenly came to the old priest's mind was so detailed that it was like computer graphics, and it felt like he could touch the outer walls of the old buildings with his hands if he took a step forward. It was a kind of mystical experience that went far beyond recalling old memories, and the priest shivered as he gazed with bated breath at the scenery of Little Tokyo as it was in the past, which he had not seen for more than half a century.

"Oh my goodness..."

The priest chanted in a low voice, gazing tirelessly at the streetscape before his eyes. This phenomenon seemed like a miracle. Perhaps the smell of the soil in the vacant lot blown by the wind was not at all different from the smell of the dust he had smelled back in 1944, and so some part of his brain had become strongly connected to the scenery from more than half a century ago, the priest thought in the back of his strangely awake mind.

"Without the Japanese people here, this place became a haven for bad people. The vibrant and clean Japanese area was filled with rowdy nightclubs, and the Miyako Hotel, which was renamed the Civic Hotel, became a hotbed of gambling and prostitution."

"Hey...what's wrong, monk?"

The monk was having a vision of a large structure in the empty lot that others could not see, and as he spoke his words his brow was furrowed, looking stern and different from usual. Hayato stared at him with frightened eyes, as if he were looking at someone possessed by some unknown spirit.

"The despair that followed after the war, the never-ending discrimination, and the long-running turmoil over the destruction of the neighborhood... When you think about it, Little Tokyo is a town that has been strangely exposed to so many hardships."

The monk continued talking to himself for a while, not even to Hayato who was beside him, with his eyes fixed straight ahead, and then the outlines of the Little Tokyo streets of 1944, reproduced with astonishing resolution, gradually began to blur, and the figures gradually faded away. Then the monk finally turned to Hayato, and with his usual gentle smile, said:

"But you know, Hayato. No matter how many hardships this town has faced, it has never given up. It's a very strong town that never gives up! No matter what difficulties it faces, someone always stands up. Yes, that's exactly what I mean! I'm so stupid. I've been living in Little Tokyo for so long, and I'd forgotten..."

Hayato was moved by the monk's words and smile and couldn't help but smile.

"What this town needs now is a young generation like Hayato to bring back brightness. Why don't we get a basketball court? Let's try it. I'll help you with whatever I can."

When the priest spoke those powerful words, Hayato's face, who had been worried about the priest who had been acting strangely for a while, suddenly brightened up.

"That's the way it has to be, monk! I get what you're saying. First I need to make a crowdfunding website. Hey, do you know anyone who can use a computer? Then I have a secret plan. I'll post on TikTok that I have plans to build a court here. That way, lots of people will know about my plans. Hey, the monk will be in it, right? I think if the monk dresses up as a monk and dances to a Doja Cat song, it'll create a massive buzz!"

"...Who is Doja Cat?"

In front of a vacant lot in a corner of Little Tokyo, two people of different ages were having a cheerful conversation that seemed to never end.

*This story won an honorable mention in the Japanese category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society 's 10th Short Story Contest.

© 2023 Kosuke Kaburagi

basketball California fiction Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest (series) Little Tokyo Los Angeles sports United States
About this series

Each year, the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest heightens awareness of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo by challenging both new and experienced writers to write a story that captures the spirit and essence of Little Tokyo and the people in it. Writers from three categories, Adult, Youth, and Japanese language, weave fictional stories set in the past, present, or future. This year is the 10th anniversary of the Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest. On May 20, 2023 in a celebration moderated by Tamlyn Tomita, noted actors, Greg Watanabe, Mika Dyo, and Mayumi Seco performed dramatic readings of each winning entry.

 

Winners


*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

1st Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
2nd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
3rd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
4th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
5th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
6th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
7th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
9th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
11th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>

Learn More
About the Author

Born in Tokyo, graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. While at university, he was a member of the Waseda University Musical Research Club, where he worked as a scriptwriter, director, and actor. After graduating, he joined a video production company. Currently, he works as a director, producing mainly informational and documentary programs.

(Updated May 2023)

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More

Discover Nikkei Updates

NIKKEI CHRONICLES #13
Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
VIRTUAL PROGRAM
Nikkei Uncovered IV: a poetry reading
Join us virtually and enjoy poetry by Matthew Mejia, Christine Kitano, and Mia Ayumi Malholtra.
PROJECT UPDATES
NEW SITE DESIGN
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!