George Aratani Taught Us About Giving

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By WARREN T. FURUTANI

In the last several weeks, Los Angeles has lost two very special individuals. One, Dr. Jerry Buss, is very familiar to the country as a whole especially as he relates to professional sports. The other is businessman and philanthropist George Aratani.

Warren Furutani (Rafu Shimpo photo)

Of course, the responses to Dr. Buss’ passing are well documented. At the time of this writing, Mr. Aratani’s memorial services have not yet happened, but I wanted to add a few words of thanks to George, his wife Sakaye and his family for their generosity and support of the Japanese American community.

The definition of the word “philanthropist” is “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, esp. by the generous donation of money to good causes.” That describes what George and his family have been doing with the success they accrued through their businesses, Mikasa China and Kenwood Electronics.

In the Los Angeles Times article about Mr. Aratani’s passing, he is quoted as saying, “I like to see Japanese Americans get to Washington, even if I don’t believe in their philosophies.” I never got to Washington but have been the recipient of Mr. Aratani’s largess relative to my political campaigns. Sometimes I wondered if he knew what I was about politically when he gave to my efforts.

Now, I understand that by giving to the countless other causes or me, he gave as a matter of promoting the welfare of others. And not that this giving was unconditional, it was in the hope he was donating to a good cause.

In relationship to “giving” in the Japanese American community, no matter the cause or candidate, it has been the Nisei generation that has been the most generous. In my direct experience, whether it was my political mentor, Mas Fukai, or the many Nisei who have given to my campaigns, their generosity has been critically important and will be missed (as they unfortunately pass on).

The obvious question is: Will the Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei generations step up to take on this mantle of responsibility, or do they even see it as a responsibility?

Of course the jury is still out relative to the above question, but I see strong indications that they are stepping up. Not sure if any philanthropists are yet in the mix, save Dr. Paul Terasaki, or maybe the Sansei, et al. will give to causes outside the community.

Nonetheless, when I go to our summer carnivals and Obon festivals, I see my generation and our children staffing the booths, cooking the teri chicken and calling out the raffle numbers. All are healthy signs for our changing JA community.

But the community doesn’t run on good will or raffle ticket money alone. We need to be philanthropists or “givers” like George Aratani and his family. For most of us it will not be at the level of what the Aratanis have done, but it can be done in the same spirit and with the same love of our community and where it is going in the future.

RIP, Mr. Aratani, and thank you.

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Warren Furutani served in the California State Assembly from 2008 to 2012. He previously served on the boards of the Los Angeles Community College District and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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