The Nisei Week Foundation announced the 2012 Nisei Week Pioneers, who will be recognized during the 72nd  annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival (Aug. 11-19) in Little Tokyo.

The five pioneers represent some of the most active and dedicated leaders of the greater Los Angeles Japanese American community. They will be honored at a special luncheon to be held at the Doubletree by Hilton (120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles) on Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 12 noon. Tickets are $45 per person or $450 per table of 10 and can be obtained by calling the Nisei Week office at (213) 687-7193.

The 2012 Nisei Week Pioneers are:

Yasumasa Hirayama, nominated by the Pioneer Center


Yasumasa Hirayama was born in Kumamoto Prefecture on Aug. 30, 1938. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural and civil engineering from Tokai University in Tokyo in 1962. In the U.S., he continued his education and earned a bachelor’s degree from USC in 1968. He worked for 35 years in engineering offices in Southern California as an architect and architectural engineer, eventually becoming an internationally renowned architect.

In 1993, Hirayama went to Kuwait and worked for four years on the reconstruction of infrastructure that was damaged by the Gulf War.

In 2002, he retired and concentrated on being a volunteer in the Japanese community. He has contributed to Hollywood Japanese Language School and served many years with the PTA, as president, board member, trustee and now, chairman of the board of representatives.

Hirayama also used his architectural expertise by updating and redesigning the Hollywood Japanese Cultural Institute facilities to be safe for children. The Japanese language school is located at the institute.

In addition, at the Pioneer Center he has held the positions of board member, officer of the board, and president. Hirayama also served as board member for many organizations, including: Japanese Community Credit Union, Nishi Hongwanji Betsuin, Nanka Kumamoto Kenjinkai, and Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai.

In 2002, he and his wife, Hiroko, established a Japanese radio station, which still serves as a leading Japanese media outlet in Southern California. This community radio program offers news, music, and a short-story reading program for seniors.

He and Hiroko have a son, Bertrand, and daughters, Yukari and Emiko.

Arthur Ichiro Murakami, nominated by the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council


Arthur Ichiro Murakami is a kendo guy. His daughter had his iPod engraved with “Kendo is my life. My life is Kendo.” These two sentences sum up the dedication to the art of kendo that has led him to teach its techniques and traditions to the next generation of practitioners.

At the age of eight, he was sent to kendo lessons by his great uncle, Kato. He practiced kendo until he left for Hiroshima with his grandparents in 1941. He lived in Hiroshima throughout World War II and is a hibakusha or atomic bomb survivor. Being a Kibei Sansei, a third-generation Japanese American who was born in the U.S. but raised in Japan, during the war meant that studying martial arts was not an option.

Murakami did not return to active kendo practice until 1960 when he became a student and protégé of Torao Mori, a highly regarded master of European and Japanese fencing. Mori Sensei focused on kendo fundamentals with all his students, even the most seasoned  kendoists. It is his constant and consistent teaching of fundamental kendo skills that Murakami honors today and continues to teach.

Since 1967 he has promoted kendo in California and throughout the U.S. by serving in various capacities with the Southern California Kendo Federation (SCKF) and All United States Kendo Federation (AUSKF). A past SCKF president, he currently serves as a senior advisor. Murakami is currently president of AUSKF and a vice president of FIK (International Kendo Federation). Because of his involvement with these organizations, he frequently has the opportunity to travel domestically and internationally.

Murakami holds the ranks of kendo 7th dan kyoshi and iaido 6th dan. He is founder and chief instructor at Industry Sheriff’s Kendo Dojo (formerly Monterey Park Kendo Dojo), teaches at All Nations Church Kendo Dojo in Sun Valley, and is advisor to Sho Tokyo Kendo Dojo. He also teaches kendo and iaido at workshops and seminars throughout the Americas.

Though retired, Murakami is often recognized by those who lived and/or shopped in the Seinan area of Los Angeles from the days he worked at Boys Market on Crenshaw Boulevard. He is devoted to his wife, Lena, and two children, Julia and Timothy (Norma).  He is a proud grandfather of Jason (Tiffany), Brittany (Travis) Spell, Timothy (Raelene) and Bethany; and great-grandfather of four active boys, Solomon, Lincoln, Arthur and Caleb.

You can see him interviewed by his great-nephew Cole Kawana on being a survivor of the A-bomb here.

Matsutoyo Sato, nominated by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California


Matsutoyo Sato (given name Junko Fukuchi Ishikawa) was born in Osaka. She studied European music and opera in Japan for 10 years as a child. At 16 she was formally exposed to minyo, shigin, and the biwa. By age 20, her instructors strongly encouraged her to apprentice under Madame Matsuko Sato in Japan, the late iemoto or grand master of the Sato School.

During this time, she embraced and excelled in a variety of traditional music genres: minyo, minbu, nagauta, hauta, and zokkyoku. Her skill, determination and talents were recognized with performances on both local and national NHK TV and radio programs, and various stage performances throughout Japan.

She came to San Francisco in 1966 as the president of the Japanese Folk Song Club of America. The members were fascinated by the beauty of minyo (a Japanese folk music style) and asked her to teach it. She established the Matsutoyo Kai Minyo Group and dedicated herself to teaching and promoting Japanese folk music culture in the Northern California area. Within 10 years she taught and certified more than 150 students to attain natori, or professional performer status.

In 1976 Matsutoyo Sato moved to Los Angeles in hopes of grasping new hearts with this Japanese art, setting up classes and performances throughout Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties. Her talents have been recognized broadly in the U.S., as she has performed on the “Gypsy Rose Lee Show,” in films such as “The Karate Kid II,” and in various television commercials.

Through a chance meeting with a music director at a minyo concert in Los Angeles, she was able to record an album with Polydor Records, “Matsutoyo Sato Japanese Folk Songs.”  The album included “Sho Tokyo Ondo” (Little Tokyo Ondo), with music by Hachiro Kasuga and lyrics by Kaori Nana, which is still played at the Nisei Week Japanese Festival. This song represents the beauty of Los Angeles, the oneness of people from all walks of life joining together to celebrate the Little Tokyo festival.

In 2006 Matsutoyo Kai became a nonprofit organization. Its primary objective is to pass on the traditional music of Japan and to create and leave a Japanese music legacy. Part of that purpose is to provide instruction in singing, shamisen, taiko, and kane and to give public performances in Japanese folk and classical music. As artistic director, Matsutoyo Sato continues to expand Matsutoyo Kai, keeping this rare art of Japanese culture alive.

She has four children: Paul (Maem), Lisa (Yu Ooka), Peter, and Scott; and three grandchildren: Pert, Ken and Kathryn. Lisa received her natori, stage name Marisa Kosugi, in Tokyo. Her husband is training under Matsutoyo Sato and received his natori, Matsutoyo Yu. Granddaughter Kathryn plays the shamisen and performs with Matsutoyo Kai.

Today, Matsutoyo Sato continues to pass on her knowledge, passion, and expertise in traditional minyo throughout Northern and Southern California.

Kazuko Shimbashi, nominated by the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California


Kazuko Shimbashi was born in Osaka to Shigemitsu and Sue Shiokawa. She completed her early education in Kagoshima at Ichioka-dai-ni School, and Kokubu Women’s Junior High School, graduating with an elementary school teaching credential.

By February 1944, Shimbashi began working at the 13th Tsukahara Naval Base and went on to work at the Higashi Kokobu village office. It was there she met her future husband, Shigeo Shimbashi. They were married in 1950 and moved to Hotel Sasuma-so in Kobe. She and her husband relocated to Nada-ku in Kobe, and celebrated the birth of their son, Toru, in March 1951 and the birth of their daughter, Setsuko, in 1954.

In March 1956, the family moved back to Kokubu-shi, Kagoshima, where Shimbashi entered Kokubu Dress Making School. She excelled in dress making and graduated with honors. In 1961, Shimbashi entered Ikenobo University, Kado School to learn flower arrangement in Kyoto. She graduated in March 1963 and became a certified instructor of flower arrangement.

It was in this same year that the Shimbashi family moved to Los Angeles. She began teaching Ikenobo flower arrangement and Urasenke tea ceremony from her home, in local community centers, and for various organizations in and around Southern California.

For her continued interest and support of Japanese culture through flower arrangement and tea ceremony, she has received many honors and awards from the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and many fujinkai (women’s groups). In May 2000, Shimbashi received the “Kun 6th Zuihosho” (6th Order of the Sacred Treasure) from Emperor Akihito.

Sadly, in 2005, her husband passed away. She has two children, Toru (Misako) and Setsuko Yamamoto (Leonard); four grandchildren, Kyle (Kelly), Luke (Lisa), Andrew, and Erin; and two great-grandchildren, Evan and Brandon.

Yasukazu Takushi, nominated by the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai


Yasukazu Takushi was born in Maui, Hawaii in 1932 and at the age of two, moved with his family to Okinawa. After completing his education, he was a schoolteacher for five years in Okinawa. He was also very active in many types of sports and dance. He spent many years studying the culture of Okinawa classical buyo dance. He graduated from Tokyo Art Academy, where he learned tap dance, in 1951. In 1956, Takushi became a director of Japanese classical dance.

He returned to the U.S. in February 1957, moving to Los Angeles. In 1977, he established an import and export business, Ryukyu Enterprises Inc. He started Shureido USA, a supplier of karate gi and other martial arts equipment and products, and supported Eisai Taiko and Karate Do. He became chapter president of the Nomura Ryu Okinawa Music Association in 1980.

In 1975, Takushi became president of Hokubei Okinawa Kenjinkai (Okinawa Association of North America) and a board member of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai. That same year he also participated in the 35th Nisei Week Parade by introducing the Eisai Taiko group to the festival. He established the Okinawa Geino Shinko Wado Kai as well as many art and culture activities through the Hokubei Okinawa Kenjinkai. His leadership led to the organization’s participation in the Nisei Week Parade every year.

He served as president of the Hokubei Oknawa Kenjinkai for a second term in 1994 and a third term in 1995. He was chairman of the Hokubei Okinawa Kenjinkai’s 90th anniversary and led the organization’s efforts to purchase of its own building in Gardena. He became president of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai in 2007. Takushi served the Japanese American community of Southern California as a member of many nonprofit and cultural groups. Currently, he is in his second term as president of the Southern California Showa Kai and is a member of the Orange County Japanese American Association. Describing him as very dedicated and committed, yet a modest individual, the board of the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai is proud to nominate Takushi as a 2012 Nisei Week Pioneer.

A long-time widower, Takushi currently resides in Garden Grove and has a son, Eric, two daughters, Jocelyn and Irene, and two grandchildren, Gavin and Kalia.

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