LTSC: Aratani ‘Changed the Landscape of L.A.’; JACL: Community Owes Him a ‘Debt of Gratitude’

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George Aratani (Photo by Ken Matsui Images Photography, courtesy of Keiro Senior HealthCare)

The Little Tokyo Service Center in Los Angeles issued the following statement Monday on businessman and philanthropist George Aratani, who passed away on Feb. 19 at age 95.

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The Little Tokyo Service Center’s staff and Board of Directors express their condolences to the family of George Aratani. The passing of George Aratani has saddened all who knew him.

Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community would not be what it is today without George and Sakaye Aratani. Their support literally changed the landscape of Los Angeles.

“It is hard to find a community-based building or organization in Little Tokyo that the Aratanis did not help build, restore or support,” said Dean Matsubayashi, Little Tokyo Service Center’s executive director. “LTSC is proud to be one of the many community groups they supported.

“George and Sakaye Aratani’s support of the Little Tokyo Service Center is unparalleled. They served on LTSC’s Board of Governors since its formation and their support for LTSC totals over $1.4 million.”

The Aratanis were early members of LTSC’s pledge program that still exists today. Their support helped LTSC build and rehabilitate many community facilities in Little Tokyo, including the Historic Far East Café Building, Casa Heiwa and, most recently, the Budokan of Los Angeles.

LTSC Board President Alan Nishio stated, “Our Board of Directors has always been gratified by the leadership and generous support that George and Sakaye Aratani have provided to Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community. Their legacy goes well beyond the many facilities and programs that are in their names.”

The foundation has also supported numerous LTSC special events over the years, including the L.A. Tofu Festival, anniversary dinners, and sake- and food-tasting events.  LTSC believes that the Aratanis’ generosity was solely based on a deep desire to assist the Little Tokyo and Japanese-American communities.

“George and Sakaye never wanted a big ‘to-do’ around their gifts,” said Bill Watanabe, LTSC’s former executive director. “Their support of the project was completely selfless.”

In 2011 LTSC was able to kick off its $22 million capital campaign to build the Budokan of Los Angeles with a $1 million pledge from the Aratani Foundation.

“Having the Aratani Foundation’s support at the very beginning made the project credible,” said Alan Kosaka, Budokan of Los Angeles chair, “because Mr. Aratani was not only very generous but he was also a highly astute and successful businessman.”

“George Aratani has left behind a magnificent legacy of business success combined with humbleness and generosity – which will be remembered in our community for generations to come,” Watanabe stated.

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The Japanese American Citizens League, headquartered in San Francisco, issued the following statement Monday.

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JACL mourns the passing of George Aratani, a Nisei entrepreneur, Military Intelligence Service veteran and community philanthropist who founded the successful Kenwood electronics and Mikasa china companies.

Despite his successes in business, Mr. Aratani is best known for his numerous contributions to the Japanese American community, many of which were given through the Aratani Foundation he established in 1994. Mr. Aratani and his foundation have generously contributed millions of dollars to Japanese American organizations and causes, especially those focusing on education, and community and cultural preservation.

Mr. Aratani has been a long-time supporter of JACL events and programs, both nationally and locally in the Pacific Southwest District. He has supported several regional and national fundraising events, internship programs, and golf tournaments. Most recently, the Aratani Foundation supported the 2011 JACL National Convention in Los Angeles.

Mr. Aratani and his family were incarcerated at Gila River camp in Arizona, and after his experience during the war he has funded numerous organizations and initiatives dedicated to study and preserve the Japanese American experience during World War II.

In 2004, he helped establish the first endowed chair at UCLA to study the Japanese American incarceration, postwar period, and redress.

“The Japanese American community has lost a trailblazing entrepreneur and philanthropist, and will be sorely missed,” said Priscilla Ouchida, executive director of JACL. “The entire community and JACL owe Mr. Aratani and his foundation a debt of gratitude for helping to enable many of the resources and programs that exist today, and for creating pathways for Japanese Americans to succeed and thrive.”

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