USC rock garden dedicated to Nisei students.
The East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California is pleased to announce a generous gift from the Kaji Family to support the EASC Global East Asia Maymester programs to Japan.

Kaji Family Background

Bruce Kaji was born in Los Angeles in 1926 to immigrant parents from Japan. After his family was sent to a concentration camp in Manzanar during World War II, Bruce bravely served in the U.S. Army and later as a Japanese-language interpreter for the War Crimes Tribunal. After returning to Los Angeles, Bruce graduated with an accounting degree from USC and founded his own accounting firm. Kaji’s firm landed a major client in Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. which led to the import of the Toyopet Crown, the company’s first attempt to break into the American market. This partnership led to the arrival of Toyota’s new headquarters being built in Torrance and ushered in a new era of Japanese investment and bolstered the Japanese American community. Bruce’s lasting impact can be felt through his community activism, including co-founding the Japanese American National Museum and advocating for the preservation of Little Tokyo. 

The Kaji family legacy does not stop with Bruce, but continues to live on with his son, Jonathan Kaji. Jon is a leader not only as the President of Kaji & Associates and a Torrance city councilmember, but also at the University of Southern California. An LA native, Jon graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Arts in History and East Asian Studies. Jon’s connection to USC goes beyond his alumni status—he has been actively involved with the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association, but it’s his dedication to a historic cause and a profound commitment to justice and recognition that sets him apart. 

Joined by his father, Bruce Kaji, Jon embarked on a 15-year mission to address a longstanding issue within USC’s history. Together, they sought to ensure that all Japanese American students (Nisei), who had their studies interrupted during World War II, received proper recognition. In 2022, Jon and the Nisei community achieved a significant breakthrough, leading USC to amend its policy to award posthumous degrees. This groundbreaking change meant that over 100 Nisei students, who have since passed away, have finally received the recognition they deserve. This initiative at USC represents more than just academic recognition; it embodies the Kaji family’s commitment to inclusivity and advocacy. Today, across from the East Asian Studies Center, the Nisei Garden now stands as a physical reminder of the injustices that the USC Nisei community faced and as a tribute to their perseverance. 

Jon Kaji’s journey to create change at USC is rooted in personal commitment and familial legacy. Inspired by his father’s vision, Jon continues to champion for a more equitable future. The Kaji family’s generous donation to the East Asian Studies Center will play a pivotal role in creating study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students and we are honored to be one of the recipients of their family’s generosity.