Above and below: Renderings of the interior and exterior of the completed Budokan of Los Angeles. (Lincoln Brown Illustrations)
“The dream of building a multipurpose sports and activities center in Little Tokyo is closer than ever to becoming a reality,” Dean Matsubayashi, executive director of Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), told a gathering of supporters and prospective donors last month.
“We are happy to report to the community that we have now reached the 80% mark of the total $23.5 million project goal. And with your help, we are preparing to raise the remaining $5.1 million needed to break ground late next year.”
Although the idea of a gymnasium in Little Tokyo was being bantered about as early as the 1970s, the project failed to generate momentum until a broad grassroots coalition led by LTSC began to make a concerted effort to connect young people from across Southern California to a sports facility in Little Tokyo. But the coalition’s efforts in the 1990s and early 2000s stalled.
In the early years, a suitable location within Little Tokyo was difficult to find. In 2008, the U.S. economic collapse brought new building construction to a halt across the country for several years. Even fundraising efforts slowed down and the loss of momentum impacted the community’s confidence in the project.
In the past few years, however, a determined group led by LTSC and community supporters continued to work on the capital campaign.
Matsubayashi explained, “All of the key pieces are in place. First, we now have the land.”
“We also received city’s approvals to proceed with the project,” he added.
“Next, we developed what we believe is a comprehensive and prudent 40-page business plan which analyzes the competitive environment and market demand, and projects a ten-year budget for sustainable operations,” Matsubayashi concluded.
Alan Kosaka, a businessman and sports enthusiast who has been the volunteer chair of the capital campaign since 2009, reported, “We have public and foundation support, and major donors have been incredibly generous.”
But he added a hopeful caveat: “We still have to close the gap by raising $5.1 million. We are confident that the Japanese American community will come together.”
“This is a community-driven project that will become a magnet for Japanese Americans — young and old — from throughout Southern California,” Kosaka said. “As all of Downtown L.A. is in the midst of a building boom, Budokan will ensure that Little Tokyo will be here for future generation of Nikkei. So we are counting on the generous support of our community.”
The name “Budokan” — a Japanese word that literally means “hall of martial arts” — is inspired by the world-famous Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, which was built as a venue for martial arts but quickly expanded its use to include other sports, musical concerts, and festivals. Budokan of Los Angeles is intended to be an inclusive facility, not only for local neighborhood use, but for basketball leagues, volleyball tournaments, and martial arts tournaments with participants from San Fernando Valley to Orange County, from the Westside to the San Gabriel Valley, and from throughout the South Bay.
Like its namesake, Budokan of Los Angeles will provide a venue for tournaments and practices of martial arts, many of which are centuries-old disciplines originating in Japan.
Budokan of Los Angeles will be located on Los Angeles Street between Second and Third streets, just south of the Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Location and Physical Features
Budokan of Los Angeles will be located on Los Angeles Street, between Second and Third Streets, just south of the Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The building will have two levels of underground parking, as well as many options for offsite parking nearby. It will also be within walking distance of the Little Tokyo station of Metro trains.
The featured space of the facility will be a gymnasium with two regulation basketball courts, superimposed with striping for volleyball courts. The courts will be on one contiguous floor space of over 16,000 square feet, large enough for regional martial arts tournaments and many other indoor sports activities.
On the rooftop, there will be garden park with green space and a performance area, large enough to accommodate a 300- to 500-person banquet or an 800-person concert. In addition, there will be an interior mezzanine deck overlooking the action on the gym floor, and an outdoor terrace with a playground for small children and spaces for community gardens. The building will also have two community rooms, one on the ground level and another on the rooftop, as well as a commercial kitchen.
Local basketball leagues stage tournaments throughout the year, and Budokan of L.A. could be an ideal venue for those events. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
Why a Gym — A Sports and Activities Facility?
According to a program booklet of the Tigers Basketball Tournament held over the Memorial Day weekend, over 500 adult and youth teams from throughout Southern California competed in age groups from 2nd grade to adults. Close to 4,800 players — men and women, boys and girls — played in the three-day tournament with their families looking on eagerly.
This phenomenon is repeated more than a dozen weekends a year in tournaments sponsored by West LA Youth Club, Wanjettes, South Bay FOR Junior Sports Association, Jets/Jetts Montebello Youth Basketball Club, Pasadena Bruins, VFW Youth Group and several other tournaments.
Although it is played throughout America — from inner-city playgrounds to rural barnyards to suburban driveways — basketball has taken hold in the Japanese American community in a unique way. It gained popularity among Depression-era Nisei and carried on into the camps, but in the post-war resettlement period, Issei and Nisei men who were rebuilding their lives, families and communities started sports leagues for their Sansei sons and grandsons so that they would have wholesome activities and opportunities to socialize.
“Kodomo no tame ni” (for the sake of the children), they reasoned, and they formed organized sports leagues. And they sacrificed their weekends to coach, fundraise and get team sponsors.
“My uncle Akira Komai (the late publisher of Rafu Shimpo, the bilingual daily vernacular for Southern California’s dispersed Nikkei population), when he came back from the war, the first priority was to re-establish The Rafu as the voice of the community, but the second thing he did was to start the JA sports leagues,” Chris Komai, a sports historian, told the gathering. “When gym space became available, the teams were open to everyone who wanted to play… not just for elite players, but for everyone. Otherwise, someone like me would have never been able to play.”
“Pretty much everyone in my family plays basketball,” gushed 9-year-old Nathan Kawasaki of South Pasadena. “