The 2014 Rising Stars graduation. Front row, from left: Lindsay Taguchi, Teia Noel, Emily Arlens, Michele Hirano, Emily Shishima, Sharyse Watanabe, Dani Yang. Back row, from left: Ariel Imamoto, Kellie Arita, Mai Nojima, Sidney Tanioka, Erica Higa, Yuki Mano, Byron Brown, Nathan Tadios, Hiro Ozaki. Not pictured: Derek Manaka.


For the past 11 years, the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program has been a beneficial experience to many high school students. Once or twice a month, students from various areas around Southern California travel to Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles to participate in workshops and activities that are designed to teach them valuable leadership skills, as well as the Japanese American culture.

The Rising Stars program sprouted from the Building Community Through Leadership program, which took place in 2003. Representatives recruited from various Japanese American community centers gained experience in leadership workshops and worked on a group project involving strengthening the Japanese American community’s infrastructure, and organizing youth leadership training.

By the end of the program, participants saw the value in teaching these skills to the youth, and, as a result, the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program was formed.

Like Building Through Community Leadership, Rising Stars follows a structure similar to that of its predecessor, offering interactive projects and workshops to high school students. Just having completed its 11th year, the program has evolved to present six workshops taught by professional speakers. The workshops teach key leadership topics such as teamwork, assertive speaking, persuasion, and cultural values. Additionally, a couple workshops focus on vital real-world tools: financial fitness and networking.

John Kobara teaches Teia Noel the art of the handshake as part of the networking workshop.

With the ultimate goal of funding future Rising Stars programs, participants implement their newly learned teamwork and communication skills by collaboratively organizing a miniature golf tournament. Together, they work in groups on scheduling and logistics, sponsorships, raffle prizes, and publicity. Students also have the chance to practice their leadership skills by recruiting sponsors and selling raffle tickets for the event in their respective communities.

Additionally, some workshop sessions offer students a chance to learn about the Japanese American culture, while bonding and creating lasting friendships with other Rising Stars members. These activities include a Little Tokyo walking tour, a local scavenger hunt, and an exhibition tour at the Japanese American National Museum.

Over the course of 11 years, the Rising Stars program has taught over 200 students the value of leadership, community, and culture. Many participants come back to partake in social gatherings, and join the Rising Stars Alumni program. As past Rising Stars students reminisce on their experiences in the program, they comment on its success in giving them valuable tools.

Justin Noel, a participant of Rising Stars 9, says, “Rising Stars provided a comfortable environment to casually express ideas that were important to our project. We could be funny or entertaining and not feel pressured by our peers, and that’s a good situation to be in to learn how to work in a group. This has helped me in college, where working with other people to generate content is something I do pretty often in my major.”

Byron Brown, Hiro Ozaki, Sharyse Watanabe, Michele Hirano, and Erika Higa prepare for their “Speak to Persuade” presentation.

Having completed the program as a Rising Stars 11 participant, I can say that I have gained lessons that will bolster my ability to be an effective leader at my school, community, and future work environments.

Coming into this program, I thought of myself as a strong listener, and an open-minded individual towards other people’s opinions or beliefs. However, after completing the teamwork workshop, I received an in-depth lesson about other personality types both similar to and different from my own, thereby increasing my tolerance for others. This workshop not only strengthened my skills in listening, but also in speaking to others who may have personality types contrasting from my own.

Furthermore, the assertiveness workshop taught me about the strength between speaking and listening in leadership. This encouraged me to strengthen my speaking skills in order to complement my urge to constantly listen.

Additionally, Rising Stars offered the networking and financial fitness workshops, which taught me valuable real-world skills. In the networking workshop, I learned how to apply newly learned communication skills to talk to professionals. As a college-bound senior, the financial fitness workshop was especially useful because it put into perspective the importance of managing my money.

The cultural values workshop really tied together what Rising Stars stands for and promotes: leadership in the Japanese American community. This workshop not only taught us many Japanese American cultural values and allowed us to reflect on the parts of our lives that we identify as Japanese American, but it also taught us how to congregate these values into our leadership skills.

We learned how Japanese values such as wa, or harmony, seem to contradict the assertive and outgoing norms often associated with leadership. Despite this contradiction, we learned that maintaining the strength of our Japanese values, while being assertive and effective leaders, is still plausible and something we should be proud of.

Nathan Tadios serves manju from Fugetsu-Do Confectionery to Rising Stars members (from left) Derek Manaka, Dani Yang, Hiro Ozaki and Sharyse Watanabe.

Aside from the workshops, I have been able to put my newly acquired skills to use by working in committees to plan the golf tournament. I have had the opportunity to write press releases for the first time, which was both a challenging and rewarding experience. As a whole, the Publicity Committee has taught me the technicalities of selling something to the public. Because I am interested in conducting scientific research, I see this as a valuable tool for developing and proposing new ideas.

Lastly, I enjoyed getting to know my fellow participants. The Rising Stars 11 group is full of teenagers of various age groups, and interests ranging from basketball to robotics to snowboarding. However, it is especially rewarding to interact with people who share a common cultural background and desire to lead.

For information on the Nikkei Federation Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program, visit or contact Glenn Nakatani at (626) 915-5388 or

To apply for the 2014-15 Rising Stars Leadership Program 12, visit our website at Application and supporting documents must be postmarked by Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Enrollment is limited to 25 maximum. Participants must be enrolled in high school. Applications are available at the Nikkei Federation website and can be submitted directly online.

Teia Noel, a senior at Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades, was a participant of the 11th Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program and was on the Publicity Committee. She will attend UCLA in the fall of 2014.

Photos by Cyril Nishimoto

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