On Oct. 23 in Sawtelle Japantown, a dedication was held at the intersection of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue in honor of the late Dr. Jack Fujimoto, a lifelong college educator, promoter of Japanese instruction, West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple president, and Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) Board of Trustees chairman.
Four signs are prominently posted at each corner with the following words:
“DR. JACK FUJIMOTO SQUARE
A trailblazer and educator for Japanese
American culture and community
Members of Jack Fujimoto’s family, as well as a crowd of 200 attendees witnessed the unveiling of the sign.
Dr. Fujimoto passed away on Nov. 26, 2021, at the age of 93.
The ceremony began with opening remarks from: Len Nguyen, who represented the City of Los Angeles; Eric Nakamura, owner of Giant Robot; and Nancy Vescovo, who represented the West Los Angeles and Sawtelle community.
Rev. Mitsunari Nakashima of West Los Angeles Holiness Church gave his invocation in Japanese, followed by an English invocation by Rev. Keith Inouye of West Los Angeles United Methodist Church.
Hyobyaku (aspiration) was delivered by Rev. Koho Takata of West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple and BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada. Following the invocation and hyobyaku, West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple Taiko members Beverly Yahata, Connie Yahata, Mari Muki, Masako Ishioka and Tamiye Yahata performed two numbers.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin concluded the dedication by mentioning that Eric Nakamura contacted him about recognizing Dr. Fujimoto, and Bonin introduced the motion to have the intersection designated as Dr. Jack Fujimoto Square.
We then proceeded to the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle (JIS) for a reception. Certificates of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles were presented to the family of the late Dr. Fujimoto, Eric Nakamura, Randy Sakamoto, Sawtelle Reunion Committee, Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, West Los Angeles Holiness Church, West Los Angeles United Methodist Church, and West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple.
BCA Past President Rick Stambul — a Sangha member of the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple — was unable to attend the dedication. Stambul wrote a tribute to Dr. Fujimoto, which was read by Connie Yahata.
Stambul said: “Dr. Jack Fujimoto was an outstanding educator and a dedicated Buddhist. In 2018, he received the President’s Award from the Institute of Buddhist Studies. This is a special honor. It recognizes persons who have made significant and lasting contributions to the IBS graduate educational program.
(From 1983 to 1995, Dr. Fujimoto chaired the Board of Trustees of the IBS.)
“While dedicating himself to the growth and welfare of the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple, Dr. Jack served as temple president and was active in numerous temple activities over the past 50 years,” Stambul continued. “In 2010, West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple honored Jack with the Buddhist of the Year Award for a lifetime of achievement.”
After discussing a series of lectures by Rev. Harada in 2019, Rev. Harada, Dr. Fujimoto and Rick Stambul wrote: “We have a tendency in the West to look at life and death dualistically, as though life begins at a certain point and death occurs at a certain point. But Buddhism says, ‘Well, wait a minute. Didn’t I begin to die the very moment that I was born?’ Life and death really are two sides of the same coin. I live every day and, in a sense, I die every day.”
Stambul concluded: “I will miss my friend. The Japanese community will miss his leadership. The West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple will miss his presence as does the Institute of Buddhist Studies. More than that, I will miss our discussions of Buddhist teachings that were at the heart of our friendship.”
At the reception, the Sawtelle Japantown Association presented a historical photo display, JIS provided an arts and crafts table for the children and the event organizers offered onigiri, manju and water as refreshments. We also had a free raffle where gift certificates from local Sawtelle businesses and copies of Dr. Fujimoto’s book, “Sawtelle: West Los Angeles’s Japantown,” were given out as prizes.
The impact Dr. Fujimoto had on the Sawtelle community was enormous. His legacy will live on for generations. When you visit Sawtelle Japantown, stop at the corner of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue, look up, and pause — to remember Dr. Jack Fujimoto.