“Let’s put on a show” might best describe Hideo Bill Kikuchi, a Kibei Nisei who devoted his life to entertaining generations in the local Japanese and Japanese American community through ondo, karaoke and Nisei Week.
Kikuchi passed away on May 2 at age 97 at L.A. County-USC Medical Center. According to son Steve Kikuchi, his father passed away of complications due to COVID-19.
In 2010, the Nisei Week Foundation selected Kikuchi as grand marshal in recognition of his many decades of volunteer work with classical dance instructors to coordinate the public ondo, a highlight of the summertime festival.
With gratitude, Kikuchi said, “I am honored that I was chosen for the Nisei Week grand marshal. I deeply appreciate all of you here who have gotten together for the Nisei Week Festival for all these years.”
Kikuchi was born in Stockton on Jan. 1, 1923. In December 1927, he moved to Odawara City, Kanagawa-ken, with his family and returned to the U.S. after graduating from Odawara Commercial High School.
In January 1940, he entered Maryknoll School and transferred to Belmont High in Los Angeles, but was soon taken to Manzanar War Relocation Center in 1942. In October 1943, as a so-called “No-No Boy,” he was transferred to Tule Lake Segregation Center, and in May 1946, he was moved to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas. In September 1947, he sent to San Diego Immigration Center in Linda Vista, and after finally being released, he married Maria Victoria Shizuka Naganuma in April 1948.
Entertainment was part of Kikuchi’s life from the early years. In the ’50s and ’60s, when there were no professional Japanese performers or artists, Kikuchi spread the value of Japanese culture and language in many ways such as ventriloquism, stand-up comedy, skits and short plays. He also performed saxophone and clarinet in a Nikkei big band, playing at summer picnics for kenjinkai (prefectural associations). Over the past 40 years, he served as an emcee on countless occasions in the Japanese American community.
Family friend Hisako Matsumoto noted that Kikuchi would invite professional singers for the Nisei Week Kohaku Uta Gassen, a popular event that he started in 1987. The stage show brought together the best karaoke singers in the region. Kikuchi served as president of the Southern California Karaoke League, which consists of 18 groups and over 700 members, promoting exchanges among the Nikkei communities through karaoke.
“Until he was 90 he was still on the stage and doing the emcee for Kohaku,” Matsumoto recalled.
In October 1997, Kikuchi was officially commended for his meritorious services by the Japan Popular Music Cultural Association.
Kikuchi was also a leader in the Taisho Club and volunteered for Keiro, organizing entertainment for residents of the nursing home. More recently, he was a resident of Kei-Ai in Lincoln Heights and his family recalled that he was one of their favorite residents.
Kikuchi was also known for his fashion sense, always dressing impeccably in colorful outfits.
“He liked that modern style,” Matsumoto said.
Kikuchi is survived by his sons, Steven Hisao (Janie) and Joseph Yukio (Pauline) Kikuchi; daughter, Elsie Akemi (Chuck) Spallone of Arizona; grandchildren, Jared, Lauren, Brandon (Candace), Brittany (Zach), and Bailey Kikuchi; and longtime family friend, Hisako Matsumoto.
For koden, checks can be made payable to Steve Kikuchi and sent to 1028 Don Ricardo Dr., Arcadia, CA 91006.