CHULA VISTA — Saburo Muraoka Elementary School is now open for teaching and learning.
The Chula Vista Elementary School District held a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for its 46th school — and the newest school in San Diego County — on July 14 with the participation of taiko drummers and members of Muraoka’s family.
“In the bigger picture, the naming of the school is more about the significant role that Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans have had in shaping Chula Vista, San Diego and its county,” said Saburo Muraoka’s grandson Ken.
“Having the elementary school named after my grandfather has created a wonderful opportunity to remind, and in some cases, educate people that immigrants as a whole have made significant contributions to America.”
Muraoka credited Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo for having the vision to create “a very forward-thinking school with a lot of collaboration areas and maker spaces for 21st-century thinking.”
Escobedo has been encouraging the principal, Erin Dare, to incorporate Japanese culture into the personality of the school.
More than 300 people attended the ceremony, about two-thirds of them from the Japanese American community.
After considering 41 suggestions, the Board of Education voted last year to name the school after Saburo Muraoka, who died in 1983 at the age of 83.
Muraoka came to Chula Vista in 1915, built a thriving agriculture business, then lost it following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After the war, he returned to Chula Vista and rebuilt his life, business and community.
“The story of Saburo Muraoka is a quintessentially American story — the story of an immigrant who came to this country legally as a teenager, worked hard, overcame the obstacles of one of the ugliest periods of discrimination in 20th-century America, started life anew and contributed greatly to his community,” former Chula Vista Mayor Shirley Horton, who was herself born in Japan, said in a letter to the school board.
Muraoka’s accomplishments were included in a series on local figures titled “They Made Chula Vista History.” The five booklets were developed by the Altrusa Club of Chula Vista, in cooperation with the school district and Chula Vista Library as part of the district’s third-grade curriculum on local history.
Muraoka helped establish the San Diego-Yokohama Sister City program and later was one of the founders of a second sister-city program between Chula Vista and Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture. He was among the founders of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. The Friendship Bell on San Diego’s Shelter Island is also among the continuing symbols of his work.
For his contributions to U.S.-Japan relations, he was awarded the Fourth Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese government and the Cultural Medal from the City of Yokohama in 1970. He was also a recipient of the Green and White Award of Merit from the Japan Agriculture Association.
In 1977, the same year that he and his wife Haruko celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, Muraoka was named a Nisei Week Pioneer and was recognized during festivities in Little Tokyo.
Muraoka Elementary is believed to be the first school in San Diego County to be named after a Japanese American.
Following a welcome event for parents on July 17, the school opened its doors to students on July 19.
On the first day of school, the principal and faculty discussed possible Japanese-themed mascots, including koi, shogun, kuma (bear), tatsu (dragon), kitsune (fox), Akita dog and shika (deer).
The school, which cost about $51 million, has more than 500 students, but enrollment could grow to as many as 900. It covers about 90,000 square feet and has 36 classrooms, a digital media/library space, and a multipurpose room.
“Saburo Muraoka is remembered as a successful, hardworking, leader of peace; Muraoka Elementary aims to practice and embrace these qualities serving as an inspiration to our community,” the district says. “Muraoka will also promote a culture where all learners will be unified and will be encouraged to be creative, collaborative, innovative, embrace inclusion, and develop a deep desire to learn.”