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LITTLE TOKYO : Japan Bestows Honor on Local Architect

January 16, 1994|IRIS YOKOI

Like many Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II, Toshikazu Terasawa became more involved in civic and community activities after the war in an effort to prevent further acts of racial discrimination.

"I thought one way was to promote closer relationships between Japan and the United States," the 70-year-old Los Angeles native said.

Terasawa's efforts to promote understanding and improve relations between the United States and Japan were recognized by the Japanese government recently when it awarded him the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun. Accompanied by a certificate with the Japanese emperor's seal and the prime minister's signature, the medal is one of the highest honors presented to individuals who contribute to the Japanese American community or to the strengthening of U.S.-Japan relations.

The Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles presents eight of the official government awards to community residents each year. Former Mayor Tom Bradley, other civic leaders and various experts in medicine, agriculture and the arts have received the award in past years.

Terasawa, one of four Southern Californians who received awards last fall, is believed to be the first architect bestowed with the Order of the Rising Sun, which was instituted in 1875, according to Japanese Consulate officials.

The consulate takes nominations from local organizations, such as the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and the Japan Business Assn., then forwards the names, with detailed resumes, to Tokyo. Japanese government officials painstakingly check each nominee's background information, according to Nancy Hamai-Smith, a consulate staff member.

Terasawa, a second-generation Japanese American, is founding partner of O'Leary Terasawa Partners, a 45-year-old commercial and industrial design firm west of Downtown. Born in Wilmington and raised in Boyle Heights, the Roosevelt High School graduate was interned at camps at Manzanar and Tule Lake during World War II. After the war, he earned his architectural degree from USC and later served on its faculty.

First appointed by Mayor Sam Yorty in the 1960s, Terasawa served 17 years on the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission. He also recently completed a nearly two-year stint on the Los Angeles Harbor Commission.

But Terasawa always found time to work with the Japanese American community. He helped shape the development of Little Tokyo and initiate the sister city relationship between Los Angeles and Nagoya, Japan. He is chairman and past president of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and governor of the Japanese American National Museum, among a long list of affiliations, and has been the recipient of numerous civic awards.

The Marina del Rey resident said the medal from the Japanese government is "probably one of the highest honors I've ever received." And the award is especially precious because it recognizes his dedication to global unity.

Terasawa said that although U.S.-Japan relations have improved since World War II, "there still has to be a better understanding of each other's culture." People in both countries continue to have misconceptions about each other and don't recognize their similarities, he said.

"Having been brought up by Japanese parents under the American educational system and in the midst of American culture, I'm in a good position to build a bridge between the two (cultures)," Terasawa said.

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