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Rising Stars: Meet Justin Kawaguchi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Kawaguchi.

Hi Justin, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Little Tokyo Community Council, a nonprofit organization representing the unique stakeholders of the Little Tokyo neighborhood (residents, nonprofits, businesses, etc.). As a part of my responsibilities, I supported small businesses in light of COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, many of our community establishments faced reduced customer revenue, foot traffic and general business activity. As I was transitioning out of my internship in the beginning of August and to my fall semester as a senior at USC, I reached out to my supervisor, Kristin Fukushima to inquire if there was a way I could still stay involved and give back. She connected me to a legacy small business named Anzen Hardware, a hardware store that has been the backbone of the community for decades. The only hardware in the neighborhood, the establishment has no website presence and, before this fall, was largely inactive on social media. I project managed a collaboration bundle with Anzen Hardware and another LT based small business, CRFT by Maki. Working with a team from Anzen, CRFT by Maki and a student designer, we created a limited-edition holiday bundle. The project was met with tremendous success and we hope the collaboration can act as inspiration to other small businesses on the importance of uplifting established small businesses, being respectful stewards of cultural communities and supporting one another in these challenging times.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Balancing this project while also a full-time student was no small feat. I also began my first semester of a combined graduate degree in the fall. This collaboration bundle came to life through a series of late night weekday calls, group texts and a lot of emails back and forth. Despite these challenges, the entire team came together because we genuinely care about Little Tokyo and the small businesses that make the community so vibrant.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a senior at the University of Southern California studying Global Health and Health Administration. I am a fifth-generation Japanese American and have spent my entire life volunteering, participating and engaging with the southern California Japanese American community. Since coming to college, I’ve made a point to give back in whatever way I can. From giving tours as weekend facilitator at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) to service on the national board of the Japanese American Citizens League, I’m very proud to bring a youth perspective to community spaces and help ensure that important stories and lessons are passed on to the next generation. Although I am but one of many passionate young JA’s, I hope to continue to show my peers the value of giving back and inspire them to find their own way to contribute.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs or other resources you think our readers should check out?
I love Asian Enough by the LA Times, the Go Little Tokyo Instagram account (for all things Little Tokyo) and Yo! Magazine (https://www.itsyozine.com)

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