J-TOWN BEAT: A Son of Westwood and Boyle Heights

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new gwenBy GWEN MURANAKA

Here at The Rafu, I always hoped that one day we would receive word that Dr. Paul Terasaki, who passed away on Jan. 25, had been awarded the Nobel Prize. I am not sure if Dr. Terasaki, typically Nisei in his humility, ever sought out such recognition, but it seemed that his advancements in tissue typing have had the sort of lasting impact on the field of medicine that would justify a trip to Stockholm.

Terasaki’s research into organ transplant tissue typing has saved lives and improved the quality of life for many.

At the opening of the Terasaki Life Sciences Building at UCLA back in 2010, some folks who had received organ transplants were among those in attendance and Terasaki clearly took pleasure in pointing them out. I got a chance to talk one of them, Ronald Doizaki, who had received a kidney transplant decades earlier, and Doizaki said simply, “Without him, I wouldn’t be here.”

Paul Terasaki

Paul Terasaki

At the JACCC gala last year, Taro Kono, an LDP member of Japan’s House of Representatives, shared that besides research, Terasaki was a powerful advocate for organ transplantation. I recall that when I lived in Japan in the late ’90s, the issue of organ transplants was very controversial. There were many stories back then of patients coming to the United States to receive life-saving transplants because the procedure was not allowed in Japan.

“Dr. Paul Terasaki came to Japan later to push us to change the laws so there could be organ transplants in Japan,” Kono revealed at the JACCC gala.

Kono’s connection to the issue was also personal. He gave a portion of his liver to his father Yohei Kono, a former speaker of Japan’s House, who was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C.

Both father and son were there at the JACCC dinner, a true testament to Terasaki and his remarkable legacy.

That a Nisei son of Boyle Heights could rise to such heights should inspire young Japanese Americans to work hard and dream big, but also never forget your roots. For all his wealth and influence, Terasaki never forgot where he came from. I imagine that is why he was so steadfast in his support of his alma mater, UCLA, and the Nikkei organizations that perpetuate the history and culture of the JA community.

When Rafu was struggling and the community sought to “save” the newspaper back in 2010, Terasaki contacted me and asked to set up a meeting with publisher Mickey Komai.

I can’t imagine what it must be like when your last name is Terasaki or Aratani or any other wealthy patron and every organization is asking for money. Terasaki sat with us in the newspaper’s conference room, and patiently listened to the strategy for how The Rafu was going to stay afloat.

The Rafu*is not organized as a non-profit, so there isn’t a way for the publication to accept donations. It’s a concept that I have wished that we would explore, but it is also perhaps admirable that the owners are resolute in their determination to keep the paper going as a for-profit publication.

After the meeting, Terasaki kind of shrugged. He could offer no financial help — except one. He pledged to buy four subscriptions for his children. When I think about it, that’s really all we could ask for. Share the work that we do here at the newspaper, and let the readers decide if it’s worthy of support.

Six years later and we are still here. Struggling, **always** struggling, but still fighting to prove our worth by reporting on and for this great Japanese American community.

Thank you, Dr. Terasaki.

Gwen Muranaka, English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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