Rafu Staff Writer

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California installed a new president and recognized an organization and three individuals for community service at its annual New Year’s luncheon, held Jan. 22 at Almansor Court in Alhambra with about 270 people in attendance.

JCCSC Treasurer Howard Miyoshi served as emcee. Following a moment of silence for members who have passed away since the last gathering and victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Senior Vice President Yoshio Aoki introduced special guests (including Consul General of Thailand Damrong Kraikruan) and Senior Vice President Yoshiharu Hamano introduced past presidents in the audience.

JCCSC's 2012 officers are sworn in by former Assemblymember George Nakano. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

The 2012 officers were installed by George Nakano, board member and former state assemblyman, assisted by JCCSC’s new administrative director, Masami Yamazaki, who succeeds Carl Kawata. Senior Vice President Kitty Sankey introduced the 2012 board members who were present.

The officers are: Haruo Takehana, president; Aoki, Hamano and Sankey, senior vice presidents; Merry Jitosho (who was unable to attend), William Johnson, Ryu Kato, Kazutaka Kishita, Shigeo Nagayama, Tomoko Omura, Eiichiro Takeda, Max Yamaguchi, Ichiro Yamazaki and Eiroku Yoh, vice presidents; Masao Okamoto, secretary; Miyoshi, treasurer; and Grace Shiba, auditor.

In his farewell speech, outgoing president Toshio Handa said that while the job was “very challenging” and “extremely time-demanding,” “it has been a tremendous experience in my life …I’m a lucky guy because … I have received overwhelming help and support from many friends like you, from both inside and outside JCCSC.”

Describing Takehana as “the best choice” as his successor, Handa said, “I ask you to give JCCSC and Mr. Takehana the same kind cooperation that you have given me.”

Handa closed by thanking his wife, Toshiko. “I couldn’t have accomplished my job as president of JCCSC without the selfless help my wife kept giving me for the past three long years, every day.”

Toshiko Handa was presented with flowers by Yuriko Takehana, the incoming president’s wife.

Noting that the State of the Union address was to be delivered in a couple of days, President Takehana said, “There is one thing in common. Both of us are going to talk about how to make things better. President Obama may talk about how to make the country good and I’d like to talk about how to make this JCCSC good. So today, let me talk about my game plan for JCCSC.”

Established in 1905 as the Los Angeles Japanese Association to fight anti-Japanese discrimination, JCCSC was reorganized in 1949 to support Japanese Americans returning from the camps. Although the times and demographics have changed tremendously since then, Takehana said, JCCSC now faces challenges because of the recession. “The Japanese community as well as Little Tokyo were affected adversely. But … we now feel strongly that Little Tokyo has become better and more vibrant than several years ago …We have to move on. We have to fight back from the bad economy. How are we going to do it?

“We have changed course a bit. We have set up two basic goals. First, the retention and increase of members. Second, to improve our financial position … We have to reform and restructure some of our existing committees … We have a newly established committee called Business Networking … We also have to expand in other areas, including Orange County, where see more growth … We have to also reach out to more Japanese American younger generations and business people.”

Being a naturalized U.S. citizen born and raised in Japan, Takehana called himself a Japanese American Japanese. “As a JAJ, I love this country … but at the same time I love Japan because Japan is my mother country … We must keep our rich culture and tradition of Japan and make sure that our next generation will keep our legacy alive.”

Hisamori Iwashita, president of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, delivered greetings in Japanese. He mentioned JCCSC’s involvement in Ashinaga, an organization that is helping children who lost their parents in the tsunami.

Newly arrived Consul General Jun Niimi thanked Handa for introducing him to JCCSC and other organizations over the past three months. “Last year brought many difficulties to Japan, but already this year I feel a renewed sense of energy as Japan continues to look forward … I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Japanese Chamber of Commerce for all the efforts and dedication to help earthquake victims under the strong leadership of former president Toshio Handa and 2011 board members.

“I know your fundraising began immediately after the earthquake and was one of the major relief activities in the Southern California region. It is this spirit of service, I think, that has kept the JCCSC such an important community organization over the last century.”

In addition to the one-year anniversary of the tsunami, 2012 marks the centennial of the cherry blossom trees that were given by the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. as a symbol of U.S.-Japan goodwill, Niimi noted, adding that in a recent Japanese government survey, 82 percent of respondents said they have a positive view of the United States — the highest ranking in the history of the survey. “I understand the Japanese and Japanese American community and organizations play a vital role in that friendship … The JCCSC is a leader among such organizations. Let us take the opportunity in this centennial year to focus on that friendship.”

From left: JCCSC President Haruo Takehana and award recipients Joyce Wakano Chinn, Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Iku Kiriyama and Bill Watanabe. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

CORA and Nikkei Spirit

The recipients of the CORA (Community Organization Recognition Award) were the writers of the fourth volume of Nanka Nikkei Voices, a publication of the

Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California.

The project was initiated and chaired by Iku Kiriyama in 1995 “because she saw that there were no books that recorded the experiences of Japanese Americans old in their own voices,” Sankey said. “At that time, with the majority of the Issei already passed and the Nisei also aging quickly, she felt that their untold stories would be lost forever. Furthermore, the Sansei were only a few years themselves from joining the ranks of senior citizens. And from that beginning, the first three volumes were published.”

The fourth volume, whose theme is “The Japanese American Family,” features essays, recollections and poems in five categories, “Cultural Values,” “Rituals, Traditions, Celebrations,” “Family Stories,” “Home, Place, Community,” and “Crossing Generations.” The writers come from “Pasadena to Torrance, New York to Chicago, and countries such as Mexico, Canada and Japan,” Sankey said, and range in age from 14 to 94.

Kiriyama thanked designer Kimiyo Ige, who worked on all four issues, and the many writers, including Harry Honda, who coined the “Nanka Nikkei” title; JAHSC President Roy Sakamoto, whose piece is titled “My Name Is Baka”; Marie Masumoto, whose mother was a war bride; Grace Serizawa and Molly Serizawa, who are mother and daughter; and fellow award recipient Bill Watanabe.

The first Nikkei Spirit Award went to Joyce Wakano Chinn. JCCSC Auditor Grace Shiba said, “I know many of us volunteer in so many organizations, but to volunteer over 35 years to one organization is just outstanding … Her 35-plus years of volunteering began in 1974 when her friend asked her to answer phones and do light work for a Japanese American organization called Nisei Week Japanese Festival …Through Nisei Week she has made many friends and become acquainted with the Little Tokyo community as well as the Nikkei community.”

A retired Los Angeles Unified School District elementary teacher, Chinn has also been active with the Los Angeles-Nagoya Sister City Affiliation, organizing children’s art exchanges between the two cities.”

Former Nisei Week queens in attendance described Chinn as “extremely generous with her time and knowledge,” “a great mentor for all the volunteers,” “very organized” and “knows no limits,” among other accolades, Shiba said.

Frances Hashimoto of Mikawaya said that Chinn “truly epitomizes the word ‘volunteer.’ She is dedicated, she is a friend to all of us. There isn’t anything that Joyce won’t do for her friends … So I think I’m privileged to be representing all of her friends here.”

A statement from Rev. Mark Nakagawa, Nisei Week Foundation president, was also read. Joining Chinn on the stage was her husband of 35 years, Greg, who has also volunteered for Nisei Week.

Chinn said, “I really feel the need to accept (the award) on behalf of all the volunteers from the past to the present whose hard work and dedication keep the tradition of Nisei Week going. Nisei Week has been a wonderful experience and an education for me, as well as giving me a greater understanding and respect for my cultural heritage … I have a Nisei Week family and many, many role models and mentors.”

The next Spirit Award went to Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who is affiliated with such organizations as the Japanese Community Pioneer Center, Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California, and Nanka Nihon Minyo Kyokai. A graduate of Kansei Gakuin University, she came to the U.S. in 1959 to help her sister who was studying as a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University. She met husband, Hiroshi, and they moved to Los Angeles, where she taught in the Kyodo System and at San Fernando Valley Japanese Language Institute while attending graduate school at UCLA.

After earning her MSW in 1972, Yamaguchi became a licensed clinical social worker and worked for the California Department of Social Services until her retirement in 1993. She taught Japanese at Pierce College and authored a bilingual guide to U.S. citizenship. She also shares her knowledge of Japanese folk and contemporary dancing as a certified natori and shihan.

“She has truly displayed the values of what it means to serve community with Nikkei spirit,” said JCCSC Secretary Masao Okamoto.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi joked that he has “endured” many nights eating Nijiya or Marukai bento while waiting for his wife to come home, but added, “I support you all the way … and I still love you.”

Yoshiko Yamaguchi remarked, “When I was told that I was selected as one of the award recipients, I wondered — why me? However, whatever I have contributed … it is with your support and encouragement that I was able to do so.” In Japanese, she thanked the various groups she belongs to as well as her “better half” for his support.

The final Spirit Award went to Little Tokyo Service Center Executive Director Bill Watanabe. Aoki, who is also a small business counselor for LTSC, said that LTSC began in 1979 as “a one-person office” and has since “developed a comprehensive program of social services, housing and community development activities with a combined staff of over 150 employees and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers.”

LTSC President Alan Nishio, who has known Watanabe for over 40 years, said, “I can’t think of anyone that more exemplifies and deserves the Nikkei Spirit Award than Bill … He took a one-year contract with no guarantee of success and built an organization based upon that. As we look back 32 years later, we can see the impact that LTSC and Bill have had upon the Japanese American community and Little Tokyo … If you look at the Union Center for the Arts, Casa Heiwa, the Far East Restaurant, San Pedro Firm Building, you can see testaments in our community that represent Bill’s leadership …

“Bill is a visionary. He’s a person who thinks about the future of our community. He’s organized the ‘Ties That Bind’ conferences … and he also is a visionary as he leads the campaign for Budokan of Los Angeles, a recreation activity center that will re-establish Little Tokyo as a major center for being able to host basketball and judo and other major tournaments.”

Watanabe said he considered the award an honor not only for himself but also “our great staff, who are very dedicated, our volunteers and our board of directors … They too need to be recognized for the work that they do because no one person can do these things without the help of a great many friends.”

With Watanabe’s retirement set for later this year, the board has selected a replacement, he said, but the announcement was delayed when the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center named its new director, and again when the Japanese American Museum did the same.

“I want to just encourage the new officers of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce who will be leading the organization into the future along with these new executive directors and others,” Watanabe said. “They’ll be facing very great challenges in the days and months ahead. The community is changing and we have a very difficult economy. So I’m hoping that they take on these future challenges together, working together for the good of the community.”

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