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Trailblazers 

Sakaye Aratani (December 11, 1919 – March 18, 2024)

A Philanthropist, Humanitarian, and Boddhisatva 

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 Hoshina and Sakaye at the Aratani Theatre in Los Angeles

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I am deeply grateful to have known Sakaye. She was an intelligent, compassionate, and humble Japanese American. She had style and class yet never flaunted them. The Aratani’s were well-known in the Japanese American community, for they gave millions away to help the community, from housing to supporting Nikki LGBTQ+ groups, Japanese Buddhists, and Christian organizations.  

However, we are forever grateful for their support in helping restart the American Buddhist Study Center in 1999. George and Sakaye encouraged me to continue the ABSC my father founded many years earlier. 

After George passed, I would visit Sakaye whenever I was in the Los Angeles area. We would go out for lunch, or I would pick up sandwiches to have lunch in the comfort of her home. As the years passed, so did her appetite. However, there was one thing she enjoyed eating: a Danish. It could be because of all the years they spent building the Mikasa Chinaware business in New York. 

Sakaye is survived by their two daughters, Linda and Donna, and many grand and great-grandchildren. When Sakaye could no longer manage the Aratani Foundation, their daughter Linda took over and ran it for many more years. Thank you, Linda, for continuing to support the ABSC. On behalf of our Board of Directors and Team ABSC, we extend our deepest condolences to you, Donna, and your families.

In Loving Gassho,

Hoshina Seki

Sakaye at home

You will find the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo, and next to it is the Japanese American National Museum.  Here is an article the JANM wrote: 

 

LOS ANGELES, CA (April 2) – The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) mourns Sakaye Aratani, who passed away on March 18, 2024. Aratani grew up in Gardena, where her parents ran a chicken farm. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, her family lived with relatives in Reedley, California before being forcibly removed to the Poston concentration camp in Arizona.

 

While visiting another camp she met her future husband, George, and they married in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while he was serving in the Military Intelligence Service. After leaving camp, Sakaye and George returned to the Los Angeles area, raised a family, and supported many Japanese American institutions in Southern California.

 

Sakaye was a founding member of the Montebello Japanese Women’s Club, and was one of the first women to serve on the board of the Sumitomo Bank of California. George was a member of JANM’s founding board of directors. He went on to serve on the JANM Board of Trustees (1990–2004) and JANM Board of Governors (2005–2013).

 

Through the Aratani Family Foundation, they were generous patrons of all the foundational institutions and organizations who made a significant impact in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo and across Southern California. Since 1993, they have supported JANM through the Museum’s annual dinner, ongoing programs, and general operations. 

 

“It’s with great sadness that we mourn the loss of an extraordinary woman whose impact touched generations. Sakaye’s grace, humility, and compassion were an example to all. One of her family’s many contributions to JANM includes supporting our mission and naming the Museum’s Aratani Central Hall which hosts numerous gatherings for the Japanese American and wider community. We and the whole Japanese American community will always treasure her thoughtfulness, elegance, and largess,” said William T Fujioka, chair of the JANM Board of Trustees.

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Newlyweds Sakaye and George standing in front of their first home in Minneapolis (1946)

Sakaye is having lunch at a restaurant

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