SAN FRANCISCO — The 2013 Takeo Okamoto Community Leadership Award and Kay Okamoto Community Volunteer Award Committee and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California have announced the winners of this year’s awards.

This year’s Takeo Okamoto Community Leadership Award will honor Laura Takeuchi, posthumously, and the Kay Okamoto Community Volunteer Award is being given to Sachiyo Yamasaki.

Laura Takeuchi (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto)

The Takeo Okamoto Award is presented to individuals who embody a spirit that is modest and scholarly, and who have positively impacted their community through their long-term commitment. Created by his children, this award honors the memory of the founder of San Francisco Japantown’s T. Okamoto & Co., who was renowned for his leadership and dedication to the community, consistently exemplifying a strong, yet unassuming manner.

Takeuchi was an extraordinary community volunteer who passed away on Aug. 1. She is being honored for her leadership role and many years of work with Japanese American Services of the East Bay (now J-Sei), JACL, Cherry Blossom Festival Senior Appreciation Brunch, API Legal Outreach, Kokoro Assisted Living, California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, and Meals on Wheels. 

Takeuchi was born in San Francisco and raised in Walnut Creek. She attended Ygnacio Valley High School and later graduated from UC Berkeley. She was actively involved in community-based organizations for over 30 years, and was described by a colleague as a gentle spirit with a passionate work ethic. She was always guided by her commitment to help others and particularly enjoyed working with seniors, youth and the less fortunate members of society.

She often brought her knitting to meetings and she could actively engage in a conversation while creating her latest knitting project.  Laura also had a keen eye for details. One friend noted that nine times out of ten she would be the one to gently remind everyone of a detail that has been overlooked.

“Laura touched our lives in many ways and her unexpected passing is a huge loss for our community,” said the award committee. “Laura exemplified the modest and scholarly attributes of Mr. Okamoto while impacting the community by her quiet leadership.”

The Kay Okamoto Award recognizes an individual who exemplifies her spirit of volunteerism in the Japanese American community. Kay Okamoto, Takeo’s wife, was a longtime volunteer in San Francisco who believed in giving her time, money and energy for the benefit of senior citizens.

Sachiyo Yamasaki

Yamasaki ‘s life typifies the word “volunteer” — one who freely offers to undertake any task.

She was born, raised and educated in Japan. When she married Robert Yamasaki, she moved to the States and settled in Palo Alto, where she joined Aldersgate United Methodist Church. She has volunteered for over 40 years with the church, chairing many activities that required her to create menus and execute them for various functions. She became the primary volunteer whenever the church had a bazaar, Senior Appreciation Lunch, or Japanese cooking classes. She also would serve as a volunteer driver for senior citizens, host visiting pastors and guests, and teach crafts.

She has also served as a bridge between Issei and Nisei, and wives of Japanese executives and the local community, as she ably assisted them to adjust to the American way.

Yamasaki is currently promoting a knitting circle at the church to produce knitted blankets for children in need, and has volunteered to provide meals for the homeless. 

All of her volunteer activities have been done in a humble, selfless way. Her reverend said she has been the epitome of love, care and sacrifice at the church.

Her selfless volunteer efforts for her church exemplify the type of person that the Kay Okamoto Volunteer Award was intended to recognize.

The Okamoto Award recipients will each receive a gift of $1,000. One half of that gift is awarded to the honoree and the other half is donated to an organization of the honoree’s choice. 

The community is invited to the awards presentation to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of these two outstanding individuals. They will be highlighted at the JCCCNC’s annual fundraiser, “Tabemasho,” which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 4 p.m. at the JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco.  For more information, call (415) 567-5506 or visit

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