J-Town Voice urges business assistance program, creation of Little Tokyo Legacy Fund
By Gwen Muranaka, Rafu Shimpo
“Whose Little Tokyo? Our Little Tokyo!” chanted a group of approximately 75 demonstrators urging the preservation of the historic Japanese American neighborhood during a rally on April 19th. Sponsored by J-Town Voice, the rally sought to bring attention to community concerns about the future of Little Tokyo following the purchase of Japanese Village Plaza and the former New Otani Hotel and Garden on outside investors.
Thomas Yee of J-Town Voice urged the creation of a business assistance and welcome program to bring small mom and pop businesses to Little Tokyo: a covenant agreement between 3D Investments, owners of the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Garden, and the community, and the creation of a Little Tokyo fund.
’re talking about an including community. We welcome everybody to our home, we welcome everybody to Little Tokyo. It’s a gathering place for an inclusive community.” Said Yee. “But what’s happened. 3D Investments bought the New Otani and Weller Court; ACE (American Commercial Equities) bought Japanese Village Plaza, so we have all these investors coming to Little Tokyo but they’re no making much of an effort to be part of the community.”
Participants, including Nikkei Student Union members from UCLA and USC, wore hand-painted t-shirts and carried picket signs. Earlier, many walked around J-town to see local landmarks such as the Far East Café, as well as sites that are currently being developed or have been purchased.
“I’m frustrated because when I was really young I was taught that happiness couldn’t be bought by money and money isn’t everything,” said Mickie Okamoto, president of UCLA-NSU. “But I’m about to graduate from college and it seems that money is everything. How is that because these people have money, they can take away our community?”
Alan Nishio, chair of the Japantown Preservation Committee, noted that next year is the 15th anniversary of the founding of Little Tokyo. He told the gathering that there were once 80 Japantowns in California, but now there are only three.
“I think the next 10 years are going to be critical for our community in determining what Little Tokyo will look like and whether it will continue to be a vital center for Japanese Americans throughout Southern California,” said Nishio.
“Little Tokyo is a place we call home. But it’s home not for just JAs but it’s home for others who have chosen to live here, work here, do business here or visit. It’s a community that has historically welcomed various people from different backgrounds. But it is a home and all we ask as we welcome people to this home that people honor the traditions of this home.”
Alluding to a familiar Japanese custom, Nishio said, “In our house, take your shoes off.”