Raising the Roof … and the Rest of Budokan

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The annual Straight Outta Little Tokyo fundraising event rocks Downtown June 29.

A scene from Straight Outta Little Tokyo in 2017. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

If it takes a village to raise a child or a barn, the same adage should apply to a community gymnasium.

The fourth annual Straight Outta Little Tokyo, an old-school charity music festival to benefit Terasaki Budokan, will be held on Saturday, June 29, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Nishi Hongwanji, 815 E. First St. in Little Tokyo.

The night will feature Trinere, Rodney O, Key Kool & Clipper Darrell; an old-school car show; food and retail booths; live bands and DJs; a B-boy battle contest; and an AGC reunion.

Set to open in spring 2020, the Budokan is the realization of decades of planning for a sports facility in Little Tokyo. Today, we bring some memories and thoughts from SOLT committee members about community sports.

For tickets and more information, visit www.ltsc.org.

The Vital Role of Nikkei Sports

(Toyo Miyatake Studio)

Dating back to the days of the Japanese American internment, Nikkei sports originated as a way for young people to keep their minds off the imprisonment that they and their parents faced during World War II.

After their release, Nikkei sports continued and has become a cultural institution that provided generations of youth with an opportunity to not only play sports but to learn valuable lessons about teamwork, building lifetime friendships and most of all, being involved in the community.

The basis for Nikkei leagues was to provide our youth with an opportunity to play and learn fundamentals, especially in times when these opportunities weren’t as open to us in mainstream youth sports organizations. The Nikkei leagues emphasize development, discipline, fortitude and teamwork; skills that not only helped many to play high school and even collegiate level sports but more importantly, develop as individuals within their communities.

My experience with Nikkei sports started back in the late 1970s playing CYC baseball and basketball. I still remember every weekend trekking to games at Dorsey, Hamilton and Fairfax high schools. Also I remember the so-called basketball rivalries during San Jose, Tigers, FOR and VFW tournaments.

But in looking back on nearly 40 years of playing and being involved with Nikkei leagues, it isn’t any of the wins or losses that I remember, it is the lifetime friendships that I was able to make that I remember most. And because of the organizations I had a chance to play for, I was able to be more involved in the community and to have a better understanding about our heritage.

I can’t say that Nikkei sports changed my life, but being a part of it dramatically influenced it.

From learning the fundamentals of the game to building the confidence to compete, they were the basis of a lifetime love of the game — something that I believe helped keep me off the streets and out of serious trouble as I always had something constructive to do.

And that’s what it’s all about, providing our youth with constructive social outlets that help them to develop not only fundamentals for sports but those fundamentals that will help them in life so that they as a community have an opportunity for success.

Terasaki Budokan is one of those outlets; a sanctuary where activities such as Nikkei sports can convene so that future generations can continue to develop lifetime friendships and be a part of the heritage of our community.

– CURTIS NAKAMURA

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Playing both basketball and baseball in CYC while growing up has shaped me into the person I am today. I played for the Mustangs from the age of 8. It taught me a lot about sportsmanship, teamwork and created long-lasting friendships that I still have today. Playing JA ball made me proud of my Japanese American heritage.

I admit it got lost for a few years until Silvia Yoshimizu and Kelsey Iino gave me a good reason to return to my roots and give back to our community.

Now, we have the opportunity to bring back other JAs to Little Tokyo. And what better way than Straight Outta Little Tokyo, one of the best events of the summer?

— BRIAN OKUHARA

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(MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Ever since I can remember. I’ve always have my childhood memories that are tied with Little Tokyo. From going to school at Higashi Honganji to Maryknoll, participating in Chibi K runs, volunteering at Nisei Week, and visiting my obaachan at the Tokyo Villa Apartments, I always had a reason to be in Little Tokyo.

However, over the years I noticed a decline in people coming to my beloved town. This caused businesses to close early, festivals to have low attendance, and a general deterioration of Little Tokyo. Some activities even ceased to exist since no one really came to Little Tokyo anymore.

It broke my heart. I wanted to see Little Tokyo back to its full glory as it once was. With the help of the community at hand, and lots of blood sweat and tears, Little Tokyo slowly became better.

Little Tokyo currently is a great place to be. There is a night life, a healthy flow of regular visitors, and a vibrance of the old Little Tokyo. The Budokan is coming at the right time, with the rebirth of Little Tokyo.

I would love to see more Japanese American families come back and the Budokan can help with that. Not only does Budokan give a home to JA sports but it can also be a hangout for the next generation, bringing families together, thus giving the local community and businesses a boost, which in turn will bring new life blood to organizations (i.e. LTSC, Nisei Week, Kizuna, etc).

It’s a start in the right direction to help maintain and strengthen not only Little Tokyo but also the JA community. My life is and forever will be tied to Little Tokyo. I want my future children to experience what I was able to when I was younger.

Hopefully they will have a vast and strong JA presence to go along with that experience so that they can continue the traditions and stories of the past generations.

— BRIAN TAKAHASHI

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Growing up in West Los Angeles, I was involved in sports since I was young, playing youth baseball and basketball in the CBO sports league since I was 7 years old, then learning judo/jiujitsu at Sawtelle Judo Dojo when I was 8-9 years old, and then later participating in Nikkei Games as I got older.

My father was a member of CBO Youth Club and also my WLA Youth club basketball/baseball coach when I was young. We played teams from Gardena/South Bay, San Fernando, Maryknoll (Eastside, Monterey Park, Montebello), Venice, OC and more when we traveled to play in tournaments.

When you play youth sports like CBO basketball/baseball, you learn things like sports fundamentals, team play, hustle, practicing hard, and good sportsmanship, which carried on to high school sports (varsity football/track) and then to all sports I participated in later in life like softball (15+ years).

Another big way that youth sports affected my life is through the people I met and played with or against, with whom I kept in touch for many years. I met many people from youth sports throughout the years and became friends with not just my teammates but people on opposing teams.

Even today I still talk to and/or keep in touch with many friends I met through youth sports and we can sit back and talk about the good old days. Although there isn’t any more Nikkei youth club baseball, basketball is bigger than ever and today’s youth can have a foundation in sports and meet new friends that can last for many years to come.

I didn’t realize it then when I was young, but as I got older, somewhat wiser, I can look back and say I was lucky to have youth sports in my life.

— JASON T. KATO

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