SAN FRANCISCO — In the Japanese culture, seniors hold a place of respect and reverence. Their lives have been filled with hardships, but their experiences have opened new doors for generations to come.

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival will once again present the Senior Appreciation Brunch on Sunday, April 21, at 9:30 a.m. at the Hotel Kabuki on Post and Laguna streets in Japantown. Now in its 26th year, the event is generously sponsored by Kaiser Permanente.

Senior centers and groups will attend the Sunday morning affair and enjoy a program that includes entertainment by singer Ayako Hosokawa, an awards ceremony, and remarks by elected officials. Also on hand to help honor the award recipients will be Consul General of Japan Hiroshi Inomata and the president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, Hiroshi Tomita of Konica Minolta Laboratory USA Inc.

As volunteers, many seniors are the backbone of community organizations. Some are or have been valuable leaders, while many more are individuals who give of themselves for the sake of others, helping behind the scenes, taking care of details, providing companionship, and handling various tasks that keep organizations and communities moving forward. This year, 12 individuals have been selected by their peers to be honored:

Kunio Shibata (Sakura Kai Senior Center)

Following his internment at Tule Lake and Heart Mountain, Kunio Shibata went into the auto repair business. With his brother and brother-in law, he built a small shop a successful auto body and repair shop in El Cerrito. In retirement, he and his wife Teruko participate at Sakura Kai. Teruko’s family fruit farm in Reedley will often donate fresh plums, peaches, grapes, persimmons or tangerines. To the delight of all the seniors at the center, the Shibatas make the four-hour drive to bring back abundant amounts of the delicious fresh fruit for all to share and enjoy. An avid golfer, Shibata also enjoys model ship building and the guitar.

Teruko Shibata (Sakura Kai Senior Center)

Raised on a farm in Reedley, Teruko Shibata was interned at Poston, Utah. After moving the Bay Area, she became a board member of the Contra Costa JACL and has served in that capacity for many years. In 1971, she began working with her husband at Tri-City Service Center in the front office, and she continued until the business was sold. Retirement has given her more time for golf, Momiji-kai at Buddhist Church of Oakland, Sakura Kai Senior Center, and trips with her husband to bring fruit back from Reedley.

Yoshiye Kawabata (Eden Japanese Senior Center)

While rebuilding their lives after being interned in Tule Lake during World War II, Yoshiye Kawabata has been a committed volunteer and community leader for the past 45 years for a number of groups in the Eden area and East Bay. She has been generous with her time and talents. The well-being of aging seniors is dear to her, from those who take part in the activities she plans for them at the Eden Japanese Senior Center to the more frail who reside at the Kotobuki homes.  

Calvert Kitazumi (Nikkei and Retirement)

Cal Kitazumi was born in Sacramento. During World War II, he and his family were interned in Tule Lake and Amache, Colo., where he graduated from Amache High School. He was an outstanding athlete in Nikkei baseball and bowling leagues, and is a retired entrepreneur who has owned several dry cleaning establishments. For the past 10 years, Kitazumi has been assisting Nikkei and Retirement in San Francisco as the Program Committee chair, helping to find interesting, thought-provoking and informative speakers to hear and learn from for the group’s monthly sessions. He also secures entertainers as the talent coordinator and emcee of the annual summer and holiday luncheons.

Ella Nakabe (Nikkei and Retirement)

Ella Nakabe was born in Healdsburg. During World War II she was interned in Amache. Her professional career included being a secretary at the State Department of Industrial Relations and judicial assistant at the State Court of Appeals. She is an active volunteer at Christ United Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and a member of the church choir. She has been serving lunches to seniors at the Kimochi lunch program once a week. She is also active with Nikkei and Retirement, where she has been the registrar for 15 years, helping at the monthly programs and assisting with registration at the San Francisco JACL Health Fair.

Yoshi Hara (Hamilton Senior Center)

Yoshi Hara shares his love of music and song with seniors at the Hamilton Senior Center, Kimochi Senior Center and Kokoro Assisted Living in San Francisco as a member of a singing group led by Peko Yamaguchi. A retired insurance agent who spent his formative years in both the U.S. and Japan, he delights audiences with his voice. While regularly performing for the seniors, the group also leads them in sing-alongs. Hara’s kind and generous spirit is expressed through his singing and gentle nature to the enjoyment of all as he overcomes the many challenges of being blind.  

Marge Tsukamoto (Pine United Methodist Church)

Marge Tsukamoto retired from teaching elementary school after 30 years, during which she was well-respected for her warm personality and her ability to nurture her students and their families.  From the youth group to her current position as president of the Board of Trustees, she has held a number of leadership positions within Pine United Methodist Church in San Francisco. She leads with compassion for the feelings of others, making all feel welcome and appreciated. She also lends her professional background, serving on the policy committee of the bilingual and bicultural ABC Preschool, which is located at the church.

Noriko Kashiwabara (Kokoro Assisted Living) 

When Kokoro Assisted Living in San Francisco was looking for volunteers, long-time business owner Noriko Kashiwabara accepted without hesitation. She is at Kokoro every week to lead a Japanese sing-along session, always dressed in kimono. Included with her songs are fun exercises and story-telling, which further contribute to the well-being of the seniors. Kashiwabara is a committed volunteer whom the staff of Kokoro feel they can always count on.

Emiko Ogawa (Kokoro Assisted Living) 

Emiko Ogawa is a hair stylist who joined the resident care staff of Kokoro Assisted Living in 2003 when the facility opened and was an extraordinary staff member for nine years. Since her retirement in October 2012, she has dedicated even more of herself, volunteering to lead a number of group activities, including a weekly calligraphy class, monthly cooking demonstrations, daily walks around Japantown, and monthly day trips. Her caring nature extends beyond Kokoro as she also looks in on many seniors, checking their well-being, bringing food to them, and sharing herself with them. Ogawa says what she does for others is nothing special, but those whose lives she touches know she really cares.

Hiroshi Shimizu (Kimochi Inc.)

Active in several community groups, Hiroshi Shimizu’s volunteerism touches a wide range of people. He is a board member and past president of the San Francisco Chapter of the JACL.   Born in the Tule Lake camp, he directs much of his time to teaching the younger generations in the Nikkei community and the broader community about the internment and why the injustice cannot be repeated. He is the president of the Board of Directors of the Tule Lake Committee, a member of the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Committee, and chairman of the biannual Tule Lake Pilgrimage. As a board member of Kimochi Inc. in San Francisco, the most rewarding part of his service is helping to set policy and direction for the agency to expand services and to reach out to a senior community that is becoming increasingly diverse.


Jean Yamaguchi (Yu-Ai Kai)

After retiring from the U.S. Postal Service seven years ago, Jean Yamaguchi was looking for something to do. She started working part-time at Yu-Ai Kai in San Jose as a receptionist but now can be seen throughout the organization cheerfully lending a helping hand. She is usually one of the first to arrive when the Tuesday Night Volunteers come out once a month to work on a variety of tasks such as washing the vehicles and stuffing envelopes. Beyond the program hours of Yu-Ai Kai, Yamaguchi volunteers at all the fundraisers and activities, including Crab Feed, Bonen Kai, Mochitsuki, and Sake San Jose, to name a few. She also dedicates time to the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, Wesley United Methodist Church, and Nikkei Singles, now known as the Nikkei Social Club.

Warren Iwamura (Yu-Ai Kai)

Retiring in 2009 from a career as a systems engineer didn’t mean “slow down and sit back” for Warren Iwamura. Instead, if there is something he can do to help out, he is probably already there working on it. At least once a week he is lending his handyman skills to the San Jose Buddhist Church. During the weeks leading up to the Obon Festival, he is checking all the booths and making any necessary repairs. During the festival weekend, he is there night and day, often doing the heavy lifting. As one of Yu-Ai Kai’s Tuesday Night Volunteers, he works on  a number of projects. He also volunteers in support of Yu-Ai Kai fundraisers and events. People in Alameda are also a recipient of Iwamura’s time and energy. He prepares and serves lunch for the seniors of Extending Connections and with manju preparation for the Buddhist Temple of Alameda’s bazaar. Further yet, for the Lodi community where his mom lives, he helps the Buddhist Church with its annual fundraisers. He says the gratitude he sees on people’s faces is his reward.  

Honorees at a previous Senior Appreciation Brunch. (Hokubei Mainichi)

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  1. Yes its very nice to see Ms. Jean Yamaguchi volunteer at Yu Ai Kai honored for her great service to the Asian Community in San Jose 2013…keep up the fine work.