Sawtelle Is Alive and Well

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Reunion committee members (from left): John Tsukahira, Hank Iwamoto, June (Iwamoto) Tomita, Judy (Iwamoto) Okita, Fujio Nakagawa, Norman Sakamoto, June (Yahata) Fujioka, Lillian (Noborio) Matayoshi, Aya (Shirasawa) Masada, Jack Fujimoto.

Reunion committee members (from left): John Tsukahira, Hank Iwamoto, June (Iwamoto) Tomita, Judy (Iwamoto) Okita, Fujio Nakagawa, Norman Sakamoto, June (Yahata) Fujioka, Lillian (Noborio) Matayoshi, Aya (Shirasawa) Masada, Jack Fujimoto.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Sawtelle Reunion III was held Oct. 19 at West L.A. Buddhist Church with more than 150 people in attendance.

Reunion committee member Jack Fujimoto said the event, previously held in 2010 and 2012, was an opportunity for current and former Sawtelle residents to “reflect and make new friends.”

Ted Tanaka is working on Sawtelle’s centennial commemoration.

Ted Tanaka is working on Sawtelle’s centennial commemoration.

Speeches were kept to a minimum as attendees chatted over food and drink. T-shirts commemorating the occasion were handed out.

On display were several photos from decades past, many of them collected by Randy Sakamoto, who has published books about the history of Sawtelle’s Japanese American community.

Fujimoto noted that Sakamoto could not attend this year’s Sawtelle reunion because it coincided with his wife’s high school reunion in Modesto.

Also on display were copies of Wee Bruin, which showed student life in the immediate postwar years. “Anybody who went to Nora Sterry Elementary School, your story is probably in there,” Fujimoto said.

Ted Tanaka spoke about celebrating Sawtelle’s centennial. “Sawtelle Japantown, in the next year or two, around 2015-16, will be a hundred years old,” he said. “So I have gotten their okay [from the Sawtelle Japantown Association]  to create a committee called Sawtelle Japantown 100 Years to commemorate what our Issei and Nisei ancestors started … Next year or late this year, I plan to put together a committee to organize Sawtelle Japantown 100 Years publicity.”

Fujimoto, who with Sakamoto has posted historical photos on the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle website (http://sawtellejis.org), said, “What we want to do is rejuvenate Sawtelle in the minds of the general public, [show]  that Sawtelle is important.”

Among other projects, organizers plan to ask the City of Los Angeles to put up a sign identifying the neighborhood as “Sawtelle Japantown.” They point out that unlike other Japantowns that have almost disappeared due to the internment and postwar redevelopment, such as the ones in Sacramento and San Diego, Sawtelle is still a distinctly Japanese American district.

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

The cover of the December 1948 edition of Wee Bruin, a publication of Nora Sterry School.

The cover of the December 1948 edition of Wee Bruin, a publication of Nora Sterry School, from the collection of Yoshie (Ishii) Tachiki.

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