The Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles held a conferment ceremony for Spring 2020 Decoration recipient Nancy Kyoko Oda, former president of San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and president of Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, on March 11.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ceremony was held at the Consul General’s Official Residence with a very small number of guests.
Oda received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for meritorious service toward Japan.
For over 40 years since 1978, Oda has been an active member of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, and was appointed as president from 2011-2013, recognized for her experienced leadership as a former elementary school principal for 17 years. She has continued to serve as an officer of the center after her term ended, and has supported the continued development of the center, which currently serves 1,000 families and has contributed greatly to the progress of the Japan-U.S. relationship.
The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred the year that Oda became president of the SFVJACC. She mobilized the center and its organizations and youth groups in a major disaster relief fundraising effort that raised $110,000 over one year. In 2016, Oda helped organize a fifth-anniversary fundraising event to benefit orphans in Japan.
As a child of the WWII concentration camps, Oda, a third-generation Japanese American, has exhibited a strong commitment to keeping alive the stories of the Japanese American incarceration. During her college years at UCLA, she translated “Tule Lake Stockade Diary,” written by her father, Tatsuo Inouye, during the war. In 2018, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center published her translation online as part of the Suyama Project.
In June 2013, due to persistent actions by a group of advocates led by Oda and other community leaders, the City of Los Angeles designated the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station in Tujunga as a Historic Cultural Monument. Oda and the coalition had relentlessly sought recognition of the site where 2,000 Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants and Japanese taken from Peru were detained for several years during WWII.
In 2014, due to her stature in the community as a Tule Lake survivor and long-time leader at the SFVJACC, Oda was designated the first president of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, a new nonprofit formed to preserve the history of Tuna Canyon.
Under Oda’s leadership, the coalition developed a traveling exhibition, which received funding through the U.S. National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant, entitled “Only the Oaks Remain.” The exhibit tells the story of the detainees of Tuna Canyon through photos, diaries, letters, and interviews, and has been shown at 12 locations throughout the West Coast.
Due to Oda’s strong leadership and the publicity and advocacy efforts of the coalition, in 2018 the City of Los Angeles installed street signs at the site of the former detention station, providing a visible homage to a chapter of Los Angeles history that prior to the coalition’s formation was largely unknown.
Motivated by a desire to teach the younger generations the history of Japanese American internment, Oda has been a speaker at UCLA, CSU Northridge and CSU Long Beach, in addition to local high schools.
“My parents gave me a gift when they named me Kyoko,” Oda said in her acceptance speech. “The kanji ‘kyoryoku’ means cooperation. To me, it was meant for me to create harmony. Their hope was that I would be able to make a difference in the world with the community, my friends, and the family.
“I am blessed that my dear husband, Kay, has encouraged me to follow my dreams, to accept challenges, and to fly.
“I would like to acknowledge two groups that have inspired me. First, I have had the privilege at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center to promote the Japanese American experience for many years.
“Then the passion of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition gave me the strength to preserve the stories of the Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants, and Japanese taken from Peru and others during WWII.
“On this March 11, the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I pray that the bonds between Japan and the United States will be always be strong.
“As a child of the camps, I never thought that I would ever receive this precious recognition and will continue to do my best. Thank you very much to all.
“Watashi no kokoro kara kansha. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”