By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
More than 300 people turned out for the 2015 Jokun Recognition Community Luncheon, held by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce Foundation on June 14 at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello.
The honorees were seven Southern Californians who received the Kunsho from the Japanese government during the past year.
“In the fall of 2014, only 57 were awarded, and in the spring of 2015, 85 recipients were acknowledged, and they represented 30 countries and territories, so we’re very honored and very fortunate to have these leaders with us,” said JCCF Vice President Grace Shiba. “… Decorations are conferred upon foreigners twice a year on April 29 and Nov. 3, concurrently with the conferment of decorations and medals to Japanese nationals.”
The recipients are individuals who have made outstanding contributions, including “promotion of exchanges between Japan and other countries in fields such as research, education, medicine and social welfare, economy and industry, and culture and sports,” Shiba explained.
The event began with the singing of the U.S. and Japanese national anthems by Keiko Takeshita. A moment of silence was observed for recipients who have passed away, and 14 past recipients in the audience were recognized.
The honorees were introduced by JCCF Auditor Howard Miyoshi and Vice President Kitty Sankey, and each received a commemorative plaque from President Yoshio Lee Aoki.
• Hiroo Kanamori, who was accompanied by his wife, Keiko, received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Stars. A graduate of University of Tokyo, he continued his research in geophysics at California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He became professor of the Earthquake Research Institute at University of Tokyo and later at Cal Tech, where he was named director of the Seismological Laboratory.
Kanamori’s research has led to the development of systems to help reduce seismic disaster and also contributed to the spread of earthquake early warning and alarm systems. He served as president of the Seismological Society of America in 1985 and is currently emeritus professor at Cal Tech, continuing his research and its application to hazard mitigation.
Recalling his years at University of Tokyo and Cal Tech, Kanamori said, “Working in a very different culture and very different environment … has been really wonderful. At the same time … seismology made a very good advance, so regardless of my contribution, seismology has really become a very useful discipline.”
He thanked everyone “who helped me enjoy doing research” for the past five decades.
• Toshio Handa, who was accompanied by his wife, Toshiko, received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays. A graduate of Keio University in Tokyo, he became manager of the Aircraft Department for ITOCHU Corp. Los Angeles, returned to Japan, then came back to the U.S. in 1981 and began a private trading company, which he ran until his retirement in 2011. He organized the first Pasadena Seminar in 2003 for people of Japanese descent in the northeastern region of Los Angeles.
During his tenure as president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, he raised $560,000 for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and he has continued to visit the disaster area each year. As president of the Japanese Community Pioneer Center since last year, he has provided services for the elderly, including the Nikkei Helpline.
Handa has also contributed to Chado Urasenke Tankokai Orange County Association, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Little Tokyo Community Council, Japanese Prefectural Association of Southern California, Beikoku Shodo Kenkyukai, L.A. Tokyo-kai, Taisho Club, and Japan America Society of Southern California.
“Receiving a Kunsho is a great honor and I am humbled,” Handa said. “However, I am most honored and rewarded by many, many kind words of friendship and encouragement by so many of wonderful friends like you … I want to continue my modest efforts in the community and I would appreciate your continued presence and friendship with me …
“I want to thank my parents — my father in heaven, my mother in Tokyo, 97 years old now but still healthy, fortunately — for giving me this one life and raising me to be healthy and to work in the community.
“I also want to thank my one and only wife, Toshiko. This year for us is the 50th year since we met for the first time back in 1965 in Tokyo … quite a long time. So I’m thankful that she has been with me all that time without ever kicking me out.”
• Jan Perry received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays. A graduate of USC, she worked as a legislative aide to three Los Angeles City Council members before being elected to the council herself in 2001, representing the 9th Council District, which included Little Tokyo. She advocated for services benefiting constituents and fought to preserve and promote Japanese culture and Japanese American history.
Under her leadership, public safety, infrastructure and the landscape in Little Tokyo were significantly improved. She brought the Regional Connector project to Little Tokyo, supported development plans for the Budokan, supported construction and maintenance of the Go For Broke Monument, was instrumental in gaining the city’s backing for development of the Japanese American National Museum, and has been actively involved in Nisei Week.
Perry organized a fundraising event for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan and has actively promoted Los Angeles’ sister-city relations with Nagoya, which she visited in 2009 to discuss economic and urban development policies.
“I reflect back on the afternoon that I spent at the [consul general’s] official residence receiving this medal, and I still get very emotional when I talk about it because it was such a special moment for me to be recognized by the community in front of my family and my friends,” Perry said.
Representing Little Tokyo has been one of the high points “in my life as a councilwoman but even more so as a friend and advocate,” she continued. “My friendship and relationship with the community does and will continue for as long as you will let me. I currently serve as a board member at the JACCC and I still each year practice my ondo steps, which I hope to get better every year.”
During the photo montage preceding the presentation, Perry said, she was “very touched” to see a picture of herself with her late friend Frances Hashimoto at Nisei Week “because she was always my guide each year.”
• Yukio Tatsumi received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays. A native of Terminal Island, he attended school in Wakayama Prefecture and moved back to Southern California, graduating from San Pedro High School in 1940. He worked as a crewman on a fishing boat and was a key player for Terminal Island’s baseball team, the San Pedro Skippers. He was interned at Manzanar, where he married Chiye Shintani and started a family.
The couple operated the Oriental Food Market in Long Beach from 1956 to 1982. He then worked for the California Rice Company until his retirement. In 1971, Tatsumi and friends created the Terminal Islanders Organization to preserve the history and legacy of the Japanese fishing village, and he served as president from 1984 to 2011. In 2002, the group created the Terminal Island Memorial Monument.
A skilled calligrapher, Tatsumi was active with Beikoku Shodo Kenkyukai. He has also been involved with Nanka Wakayama Kenjinkai and received the Commendation of the Consul General for his work in promoting friendship between the U.S. and Japan.
Tatsumi briefly gave thanks in Japanese. His son, Mel, added, “It’s a great honor. The only thing I regret is that my mother couldn’t be here. She passed away two years ago. I know for Dad this entire process has been an incredible experience. We appreciate it so much.”
• Peter O’Malley is a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. A graduate of University of Pennsylvania, he became an employee of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962 and was appointed vice president in 1967 and president in 1970. He later served as president and owner until he sold the team in 1998. Having attended the Dodgers Goodwill Tour to Japan in 1956, he was inspired to promote U.S.-Japan relations through baseball.
He invited professional baseball players, coaches and managers as well as amateurs from Japan to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla. and to Dodger Stadium so that they could learn the substance of Major League Baseball. He visited Japan about 85 times, developing good friendships with people in the Japanese baseball world, and signed Hideo Nomo to become MLB’s first player from Japan in 30 years.
O’Malley also established the Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara and Peter O’Malley Memorial Sports Management Class at Waseda University in Tokyo in 2003, addressed the first class, and sponsored 11 subsequent classes through 2009.
“Every trip to Japan and every experience I’ve had supporting baseball in Japan has been a pleasure,” O’Malley said. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I look back on those pictures [in the introductory slideshow] with the best of memories.
“To those who are honored here today, I salute you all. I was thinking about your contributions as you were introduced, and if we added together everything you all did, just imagine the impact that has had on the relationship between Japan and the United States.”
He added, “I have not yet received my award. We’re working on a date. I just hope the government doesn’t change their mind.”
(The medal ceremony was subsequently set for July 8 during Japan Night festivities at Dodger Stadium.)
• Minoru Tonai, who was accompanied by his wife, Mary, received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. A native of Terminal Island, he lived in Japan in 1934 and moved with his family in 1936 to San Pedro. When the war broke out, his father was jailed as a community leader and the rest of the family was sent to Santa Anita Racetrack and later the Amache camp in Colorado. After the war, he enrolled at UCLA, was drafted by the Army in 1950 and served during the Korean War in northern Japan and on the front lines. He earned his degree at UCLA, worked as an auditor, and built his career in finance and management at high-tech companies, retiring in 1987.
He has served as president of Amache Historical Society, Terminal Islanders, Japanese American Korean War Veterans, and Omotesenke Domonkai Southern California Region; chairman of the Terminal Island Memorial Monument Committee and JACCC; a board member of JANM, Asia America Symphony Association, UCLA Foundation, and Nikkei Bruins; advisor to Nanka Wakayama Kenjinkai and Esumi Sonjinkai; and a member of the Wakayama Kenjinkai Scholarship Committee.
“The things that I did for the community, with the community, were because I loved to do those things,” Tonai said. “… As a young child, I had experienced prejudice, and one of the things that I really wanted to do was if the American public got to know more about Japanese culture and Japanese food, like sushi and things like that, I felt that we would be not so different anymore and that we would be accepted as an American, and that’s my big motivation.”
He was glad to have studied Japanese at Compton Gakuen. “I spent the first nine months of my tour of duty overseas in Japan. [At school] we couldn’t speak the dialect of my parents; we had to speak standard Japanese. That really helped because when I would go anywhere in Japan, they understood me. I may not have understood them because they spoke their dialect, but it was a thing that I really appreciated that I was able to do.”
Tonai developed the memorial court at JACCC that contains monuments to Japanese Americans killed in action in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts. He started by helping the Vietnam vets, then worked on the JAKWV memorial to honor friends that he had lost. “So by seeing that, the American public would appreciate that we Japanese Americans have fought for this country and gave our lives,” he said.
While expressing gratitude for the honor, he stressed, “Getting the Kunsho was not my motivation, and I didn’t think I was going to get it.”
• Shinkichi Koyama, who was accompanied by his wife, Fumiko, received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays. A native of Fukushima Prefecture, he came to the U.S. in 1959 to visit his mother and grandmother, returned to Japan to get married and begin his career at a brokerage firm in Tokyo, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1968. He became a gardener two years later and has had clients in the greater Los Angeles area ever since.
He served as president of the Southern California Gardeners Federation and Nanka Fukushima Kenjinkai. For the latter organization, he was chief editor of the 100th Anniversary Memorial Book in 2008, which resulted in a Lifetime Achievement Award from the governor of Fukushima Prefecture. He was also chairman of the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle and the Showakai, and president of the Bay City Gardeners Association.
Koyama has been recognized with the Green-White Achievement Award from the Agricultural Committee of Japan and the Commendation of the Consul General.
Giving his acceptance speech only in Japanese so that he could better express his feelings, Koyama said that the centennial book was hard work but that he was happy to have completed it and pleased with the response, which included a reporter from Fukushima coming all the way to L.A. to write about it. Being of service to the community also enabled him to grow as a person, he added, stressing that his accomplishments are not his alone but are due to all the support he has received.
Aoki congratulated the honorees and said, “Behind a great man there is a greater woman … I know you are here to acknowledge the recipients, but I’m here also to acknowledge the better halves of the recipients.”
Congratulatory messages were also given by Kay Inose, president of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California, and Steve Kobayashi, president of Nanka Kenjinkai.
Consul General Harry Horinouchi noted, “It is unusual to see this many recipients from one area,” but given the size and strength of the Japanese American community of Southern California, “I am not surprised to see so many people who should be recognized by the government of Japan for their accomplishments.”
He said that the luncheon, now in its 28th year, is “another valuable contribution” to the community by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California.
Shukugin (a celebratory poem) was performed by Nakamura Kokushi Shihan of Rafu Kokusei-Ryu Shiginkai, and shokuzen no kotoba (prayer before a meal) was delivered by Bishop Noriaki Ito of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. Derek Furukawa, president of the Southern California Gardeners Association, led the kampai (toast). Harpist Hitomi Suzuki performed “Haru no Ogawa” and “Baroque Flamenco.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo