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Some Merchants Object to Changing Street Name to Onizuka

July 30, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Some merchants object to renaming a Little Tokyo street to honor astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

″Changing the name of the street will cost thousands of dollars in creating new advertisement and packaging expenses,″ 22 of Weller Street’s 40 merchants said in a letter to City Hall.

The merchants offered to chip in and hire an artist to sculpt a statue of Onizuka, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported Wednesday.

Despite their objections, many residents remain committed to the change in honor of the Air Force lieutenant colonel who was killed Jan. 28 in the shuttle explosion, community officials said.

″He’s one of the few role models we have as Japanese-Americans,″ said Katsumi Kunitsugu, executive secretary of the Japanese-American Cultural and Community Center.

City engineer Robert Horii predicted the majority opinion in Little Tokyo will probably prevail, as it did nearly four years ago when Santa Barbara Avenue was changed to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Residents and businessmen of that street objected at the time, he recalled.

″The overriding sentiment of the community is in favor of the name change,″ said Cooke Sunoo, project manager for the Community Redevelopment Agency in Little Tokyo.

Some merchants cited another factor not mentioned in the letter: Although it’s not an uncommon Japanese name, the archaic meaning of the word Onizuka is ″place where the devil lives.″

″In Japanese it has a bad meaning,″ said Tetsuo Watanabe, general manager of a Weller Street store.

″After 10 years, 15 years, people will say, ’Why did they put the name Onizuka there?‴ said Kenji Kamiyama, manager of Mifuku U.S.A., Inc. on Weller Street.

Shigeki Kageyama, director of guest services at the New Otani Hotel, countered: ″Nowadays nobody translates it the bad way. It’s a family name.″

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