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The story of Budokan, Japanese Americans’ long-awaited home court in Little Tokyo

 (Jessica Zhou / HS Insider)
(Jessica Zhou / HS Insider)

HS Insider college intern Jessica Zhou reported on the groundbreaking this summer at Little Tokyo Service Center's Budokan.

On a muggy Thursday in August, Little Tokyo Service Center broke ground for Budokan, its project to provide a recreational, cultural and community center for residents of Little Tokyo and Japanese Americans throughout Southern California.

More than just a basketball court

Not only was the air heavy with humidity, but also with the anticipation of a dream of a community. Clad in their respective teams’ basketball uniforms, the young athletes stood in front of a banner of colorful handprints, signed two decades ago in support of a community gym in Little Tokyo by elementary school- to high school- aged Japanese American youth not unlike themselves.

In the early 2000s, a rally of 500 people marched on First street, and in a separate occasion, another 300 people stood outside of city hall, many children in their basketball uniforms, to raise awareness of the need of a home court in Little Tokyo, which has remained the historic center of the Japanese American community in Southern California.

The first Japanese American youth basketball leagues were established by Akira Komai, who also reestablished daily Japanese paper Rafu Shimpo, both during a time in which anti-Japanese sentiment after WWII excluded Japanese American youth from traditional basketball leagues.

Today in Southern California, there are hundreds of teams and over 10,000 young athletes who find community playing in Japanese American basketball leagues, from which the likes of Jamie Hagiya, USC’s starting point guard and pro athlete in Greece and Spain, and Natalie Nakase, a walk-on guard and eventual three-time captain at UCLA and first assistant coach in the NBA with the L.A. Clippers, got their start.

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