The Nisei Week Foundation announced Bill Watanabe as Grand Marshal in the Grand Parade on Aug. 13, because the foundation recognized Watanabe as 2023 leader of Little Tokyo.
Watanabe was honored at the Nisei Week Awards Dinner at DoubleTree by Hilton hotel on Aug. 14.
Bill Watanabe was born at Manzanar in January 1944 and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, helping his family grow flowers for the downtown flower market.
In 1967, Bill did a one-year stint at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo to broaden his knowledge of the language and culture of Japan. In 1972, he received his Masters degree in Social Welfare from UCLA focusing on the field of community organizing.
Bill became, in 1980, the founding Executive Director of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) in downtown Los Angeles.
For 32 years, he guided its growth, in conjunction with the Board of Directors, from a one-person staff to a multi-faceted social services and community development program with over 100 paid staff, many of whom are bilingual in any of eight Asian Pacific languages and Spanish.
LTSC has become a major player in the preservation of Little Tokyo through its development of affordable housing at Casa Heiwa, the San Pedro Firm Building, the Far East building, and the Daimaru Hotel.
LTSC is also the major developer of the Union Center for Arts which brought the cultural arts of the East West Players theater, Visual Communications, and LA Artcore to Little Tokyo.
Bill retired from LTSC in June 2012 but has remained active as a volunteer. He can be seen giving historical tours of Little Tokyo, sharing with visitors the rich history and heritage of the neighborhood, including the food and major milestones of the past.
While at LTSC, Bill used his community organizing skills to found or co-found many key community organizations such as the Asian Pacific Community Fund, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, the Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, and the Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Historic Preservation.
In addition to establishing LTSC, Bill has left an indelible mark in Little Tokyo by initiating the Terasaki Budokan project, starting up the Little Tokyo Historical Society, and co-founding the Little Tokyo Community Council, and the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund.
Bill is married and lives in Silver Lake near downtown Los Angeles and spends precious time with his two young grandchildren.
Bill is currently the President of a new project called the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund, a community-based real estate investment fund aimed to help heritage small businesses in Little Tokyo and the Nikkei community.