A memorial service for George Aratani, a successful businessman, community leader and generous philanthropist, will be held on Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m. at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.
Additional parking will be available at Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 815 E. First St.
Aratani passed away on Feb. 19 in Los Angeles at the age of 95.
Aratani, along with his wife, Sakaye, and their family, have been long-time supporters of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. They established the George and Sakaye Aratani Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress and Community. The chair, held by Professor Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, is the first of its kind in American higher education, focusing on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans and their campaign to gain redress.
Hirabayashi said, “My appointment as the inaugural recipient of the Aratani Chair has been a dream come true. Not only have I joined a stellar set of colleagues in Asian American studies at UCLA, but I have been able to contribute to the long tradition of Japanese American studies and collaboration with community groups that have been undertaken by so many distinguished UCLA faculty, staff, and students over the years.”
In addition, as a means of supporting the linkages between campus and community, the Aratanis established the George and Sakaye Aratani Community Advancement Research Endowment or Aratani CARE grants. Each year, community organizations and individuals are awarded funding for projects that will benefit and advance the Japanese American community, as well as strengthen ties between the Japanese American community and UCLA students, staff, and faculty.
After studying in Japan at Keio University, Aratani returned to Guadalupe to run the family farm as well as other businesses his father had started. In 1942, Aratani was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps.
That episode in American history had a devastating impact on the Japanese American community and, according to Aratani, forever changed the lives of all Japanese Americans, especially those of his parents’ immigrant generation, most of whom never recovered financially or psychologically from the injustice.
Post-war, Aratani combined his business skills with his knowledge of Japanese language and culture to found Mikasa, a highly successful dinnerware company. He later founded Kenwood, a leading electronics company. Aratani attributed his success to his father, a hard-working man who created numerous businesses.
“Despite George’s outstanding successes as an entrepreneur, he never forgot his life experiences as an American of Japanese ancestry,” said Dr. Tritia Toyota, adjunct professor of anthropology and Asian American atudies and the Asian American Studies Center’s research scholar. “Both he and Sakaye have given back to our community in countless ways; their generosity, sense of responsibility and spirit will continue to guide our own endeavors at the Asian American Studies Center.”
The center’s faculty, staff, and students have benefited tremendously from the generosity and vision of the Aratanis, who have established endowments for undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and undergraduate community internships.
“I want to give students the opportunity to pursue a proper education and scholars the opportunity to study the tragedies Japanese Americans lived through during World War II,” George Aratani once said.
In 2004, UCLA bestowed upon Aratani its highest award, the UCLA Medal, to recognize his dedication and support of the university. According to Professor Emeritus Don T. Nakanishi, former director of the center, “Mr. Aratani believed it is the duty of those like him, who have been fortunate to succeed in society, to give back as much as possible through their donations or voluntary activities in order to ensure the continued growth and vitality of the Japanese American community.”
In addition to his wife, survivors include daughters, Donna Kwee and Linda Aratani, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.