For over ten years, the Little Tokyo Service Center has been trying hard to build a recreation center in Little Tokyo in hopes of attracting Japanese Americans to come visit the historic core of the community, even if it's just to play basketball. Of course raising the funds is a major obstacle, but another perhaps more important issue is space. Where to locate the rec center became a dividing issue among the many interest groups in the community. And now with all the redevelopment taking place in the area, space is become increasingly rare.
The focus of the recreation center is to provide a place to play sports and should be large enough to host tournaments. (On a side note, every year there is a big Japanese American basketball tournament in Las Vegas that coincides with Nisei Week -- many families choose to take there kids there instead of Little Tokyo for connecting with their roots.) The center plans also includes space for serving the community with a senior lunch program and cultural classes.
I think the idea for the rec center is a good one, but the idea isn't strong enough to gain the support necessary to make it realized.
In Tokyo, Japan, there is a place made specially for hosting martial arts events. It's called the Budokan. I think the purpose of the rec center could be incorporated into the idea of a Los Angeles Budokan that is located in Little Tokyo. A large facility would host major martial arts tournaments and demonstrations and allow people to play basketball and volleyball on other days. It would be large enough for six basketball courts.
As the Los Angeles Budokan, it would be the premiere place for martial arts in North America. People would come from across the country for special tournaments or demonstrations. There will be space for training classes, a martial arts museum and a zen garden. The Budokan would be a landmark for the city of Los Angeles boosting tourism dollars and creating jobs. Also, the building should have a bold architectural design that blends east with west and give the community a higher visual profile.
Little Tokyo would be the ideal location for such a landmark for the most obvious reason of the roots of martial arts going back to Asia. Another location factor is the proximity to the Los Angeles Police Department. Officers can take classes at the first-rate Budokan training center. But the greatest location factor is the construction of the metro line in Little Tokyo. I think that the Budokan should be built in the lot right next to the light rail station at Alameda and First St. Right now, the plan is to construct the Mangrove project which adds more housing and retail space but nothing much of cultural and community significance. The Budokan would have to be built next to mass transportation for efficient urban design.
This project would be supported by the city government because it would increase the city profile and add tourism dollars. It would also be another bridge between Japan and the United States, which means that potential funding sources could come from Japan. And the community would get its rec center -- in addition to a cultural landmark.
This weekend, professional Japanese sumo is coming to Los Angeles for an exhibition tournament. They will be competing at the L.A. Memorial Arena. Imagine if they could be coming to the Los Angeles Budokan in Little Tokyo instead...