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Japanese Center Plans Assisted-Living Center

October 06, 1998|SUE FOX

Since 1951, when a handful of first- and second-generation Japanese immigrants began raising money to buy land for a community center, they have been thinking of their children.

Postwar California did not always afford a warm climate for Japanese Americans, many of whom were sent to internment camps during the war and later prevented from buying homes in white neighborhoods, including much of the San Fernando Valley. Concerned that their teenagers were being mocked at predominantly white schools, a group of Japanese American gardeners formed a club to give them a place to socialize and learn about their culture.

Today, the members of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center are thinking of their parents, too. The organization announced plans this week to build a $7-million assisted-living home for elderly people who need daily help with preparing food and personal care.

The 100-bed home, Nikkei Senior Gardens, will offer traditional Asian food, Japanese strolling gardens and other culturally specific activities, such as bonsai.

"In some instances, because seniors are living much longer, sometimes families move and the elderly are left here without any family," said Harold Muraoka, 67, a co-chair of the Senior Gardens project whose own grandmother died last year at the age of 105. "In the past it used to be that the families would take care of the parents. It was a cultural thing. The eldest were obligated to take care of their parents until their dying days."

But in recent years, he said, the old traditions began to break down. "The younger generation today doesn't have the same type of outlook that their parents and grandparents had, because they are assimilated in society."

In 1983 the community center built a retirement home, Nikkei Village, for ambulatory residents whose families lived nearby and visited often. As these residents aged and began requiring more care, Muraoka said, another facility was needed.

A Japanese American family offered to sell the community center a 3-acre property about a block away for $650,000, Muraoka said.

The first step of the project will be raising $750,000 to buy the land and start construction. Depending on how quickly funds are raised, the assisted-living home could be built in three to five years, he said.

For more information about volunteering for the Nikkei Senior Gardens project, call Muraoka at (818) 886-7633.

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