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Bringing Sports into Little Tokyo with Terasaki Budokan Director Ryan Lee

The long awaited Little Tokyo Recreation Center, aka the Terasaki Budokan, is finally going to open. Read our interview with Director Ryan Lee to learn more.

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Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Ryan Lee, and I am the Director of Terasaki Budokan, a project of Little Tokyo Service Center.

Tell us more about the organization.

Terasaki Budokan, Little Tokyo Service Center’s new facility in Little Tokyo, is a multi-purpose gathering space fostering community through sports, arts, culture, and more. It will connect Japanese American youth and families with their cultural heritage and the small businesses and cultural institutions in Little Tokyo. It will also provide social and recreational opportunities for Little Tokyo senior residents and after school programming for local downtown youth.

How do sports and the Budokan play a role in the organization’s mission and in the Japanese American/Nikkei and Little Tokyo/Los Angeles community?

Sports is one of the many ways the JA community stays connected, and now, this community has a facility they can call their "home court." We're looking forward to hosting basketball, volleyball, martial arts, and more for Little Tokyo and downtown youth, seniors, and families. While Terasaki Budokan has a beautiful two-court gymnasium, we also have a community room, terrace with a playground, and a stage/plaza that are perfect for events and performances. As we establish our identity as a new facility in downtown LA, I would like people to think of Terasaki Budokan as a dynamic space that's truly transformative and adaptable for any activity.

Are there any cool secrets about the Budokan?

There are. But if I were to share the cool secret, it wouldn't be a secret anymore! You'll have to visit the facility (once it's open to the public) and see for yourself!

What is your relationship to sports?

I've been in and around sports all of my life. I started playing youth soccer, baseball, and basketball when I was 5 or 6 years old, and fell in love with the healthy competition, camaraderie, and friendships that come along with athletics. After my "playing" career ended, I got involved with coaching youth basketball for the Pasadena Bruins and West Covina Sabers (Japanese American league teams), and eventually landed a head coaching job at my alma mater high school, South Pasadena, where I coached for eight years before leaving to take the job here at Terasaki Budokan. I think an important message I want to send to our youth is that sports is just as much about what you learn on the court as you do off the court. At Budokan, we want sports to instill teamwork, build community, and celebrate diversity.

What is your guilty pleasure sport that many people don’t know you secretly enjoy/like?

I love table tennis, and am looking forward to our intergenerational table tennis program here at Terasaki Budokan.

In your basketball career, who was your greatest matchup on the opposing J-League Tigers basketball team and why did you always look forward to playing against them?

I never looked forward to playing the Tigers, because Philip Hirose (who also baited me into submitting this piece) would always foul me.

And there you have it. Ryan Lee, #1 from the Pasadena Bruins, carrying the torch to bringing sports, multi-generation activities, and memories to Little Tokyo.

Article featured in this issue:
April 2021
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