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Japan House L.A. Celebrates Grand Opening

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Japan House Los Angeles President Yuko Kaifu and actor George Takei attend the Japan House Los Angeles grand opening event held at the Ray Dolby Ballroom on Aug, 24. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Japan House Los Angeles)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

At the official grand opening celebration on Aug. 24 for Japan House Los Angeles, a glittering night of Japanese chic meets Hollywood glamour was encapsulated in an emotional moment by its biggest star: Yoshiki.

“Thank you, America, for giving me the chance to pursue the American dream — even if I am from another country,” said Yoshiki to the gathering of 800 attendees.

The Japanese rock star, who has performed at sold-out concerts at the Budokan in Tokyo and in special performance for Emperor Akihito, then went into an emotional piano rendition of that most American of songs, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Bringing Japan and the United States together is the mission of Japan House Los Angeles, one of only three in the world in an initiative sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The L.A. iteration is the last to open, following similar ventures in London and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during the Japan House Los Angeles grand opening. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Japan House Los Angeles)

Japan House Los Angeles is located on two levels of the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex and features an exhibition gallery, library, event space, reading room and retail space with unique Japanese products. Restaurant Inn-Ann will open in mid-September, highlighting innovative lunch and dinner menus.

Yuko Kaifu, Japan House president, welcomed the gathering, and said Japan House will offer engaging experiences to taste, see, smell, touch and hear.

“We’re looking forward to working with all of you and your organizations in the coming months and years to come. Today is the beginning of the journey. I urge you to lend your support and partnership because Japan House Los Angeles is yours. We can only succeed with your active engagement,” Kaifu said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrated the grand opening with a little Japanese saying, “私は Eric Garcetti 市長 です.” In his remarks, the mayor called Los Angeles, a “great Japanese city.”

“Where Japanese culture, Japanese people, Japanese tourists, Japanese companies, Japanese Americans, who have been part of the history of our city, already know what a wonderful city this is. Now we are able to consummate that relationship together with the opening of Japan House, a place where technology, arts and culture and come together,” Garcetti said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono traveled to L.A. especially for the occasion, and he noted his own ties to the local Japanese American community. Other dignitaries in attendance included Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Shinsuke Sugiyama, Rep. Mark Takano, Councilmember Mitchell O’Farrell and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi.

Kono recalled his first trip outside of Japan at age 13 and being hosted by Ken and Sadako Ishizaki, owners of Yamato Restaurant in Century City.

Yoshiki performs during the Japan House Los Angeles grand opening event. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Japan House Los Angeles)

“With Japan House Los Angeles we would like to bring everything Japanese, its history, culture and hopefully its people as well. Sadako and Ken Ishizaki and George Aratani and many other Japanese American people helped my father (Yōhei Kōno) when he came here about 60 years ago as a graduate student to Stanford.

“We owe them so much to create new relationships between United States and Japan. The Japanese American community is a really good friend to us. We really appreciate the U.S.-Japan Council, Japanese American Leadership Delegation, Tomodachi Initiative and all other institutions, organizations that help us build strong bridge between Japan and United States.”

Japan House Los Angeles officially opened on Saturday. Visitors strolled through the retail space and asked questions of Pepper, a semi-humanoid robot manufactured by SoftBank Robotics.

Jan Perry, general manager of the Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department, said she was awestruck by Japan House and praised its president.

“I thought it was extraordinary. What really took me is the types of items that are for sale and how unique they are,” Perry said. “They really showcase the forward-thinking design of Japan and I think it’s going to be a big success.”

Visitors peruse items showcased in the Japan House retail space on Aug. 25. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

“It’s very exciting. I’m a native Angeleno, third-generation Californian and we’re building this bridge to Japan right smack dab in the heart of Hollywood,” said actor George Takei, who served as emcee for the evening.

Many Japanese American leaders attended the official grand opening and Japan House has become a major sponsor of JA events, including serving as official sponsors of the Nisei Week opening ceremony.

“I’m really excited to see it. It’s a great way to showcase Japanese culture and it’s something that we at Nisei Week want to do, to see what’s really happening in Japan right now and to help promote cross-cultural sharing,” said Corey Hayashi, president of the Nisei Week Foundation.

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