By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
The road not taken was on David Ono’s mind as he was conferred the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette on Feb. 18 at the consul general’s Los Angeles residence.
Ono was honored by the Japanese government for efforts to promote understanding of Japan in the U.S. and his work in the Japanese and Japanese American communities.
It almost didn’t happen.
On a windy and sunny afternoon, the news anchor shared that in 1996 he thought his career path would lead to New York, but a call from ABC7 executives, including Cheryl Fair, ABC7 president and general manager, changed his career trajectory and his life. Since that fateful decision, through his journalism and volunteer efforts, Ono has become an essential part of the local Japanese American community.
Consul General Akira Muto presented the award to Ono before a small gathering of friends and local JA community leaders. Muto highlighted some of Ono’s documentary work, including “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” which was based on 2,000 photographs secretly taken during World War II depicting life in a Japanese American internment camp in Wyoming. Most recently he and partner Jeff MacIntyre produced stories on the impacts of climate change.
“David shined a light on the difficult and often tragic results of living in this rugged place, but also showed the spiritual strength and friendship cultivated in adversity,” Muto said.
“‘The Legacy of Heart Mountain” won the Edward R. Murrow Award and four Emmys. It was broadcast on ABC7 and PBS as well as screened at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, helping to educate Americans about a chapter in history that has been largely ignored.”
Ono highlighted many of the friendships he has formed in the JA community, including Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do, Mitch Maki of Go For Broke National Education Center, Linda Aratani, Robert Horsting, Ann Burroughs of the Japanese American National Museum, and Yuko Kaifu of Japan House Los Angeles.
“All those doors opened because I thankfully came to Los Angeles,” Ono said. “It’s less about an end and getting an award; it’s kind of like a halfway point.
“It’s like martial arts. If you love the craft and the art, then the black belt is actually just the beginning. There are so many degrees that lie ahead. There are so many stories left to be told and projects to jump on top of. I thank you for what you’ve done and I hope you continue to support me.”
At times, the news anchor was emotional, citing his father, who served in the military, and his voice cracking slightly when he spoke of his mother — all of those emotions bringing him back to the Japanese American community.
“I love this community because we are a living entity, we our own organism, we all hold each other up and we help each other,” Ono said.
“I want to continue that understanding and celebrate that understanding because we are all here together. I don’t talk about my past, my mother, [but] you have all helped me make her proud.”
His Nisei Week cohort Tamlyn Tomita led the gathering in a kampai toast.
“What he really connects us to is our head to our hearts. More importantly is one to another,” Tomita said. “This is why we believe in his storytelling, his sense of humor. He’s always trying to magnify the ordinary, the things about all of us that make us personal heroes and heroines to ourselves and to our children.”
In his congratulatory remarks, MacIntyre kidded the news anchor for his “iconic thicket of TV hair,” but said Ono’s gift is finding the beauty in the small details of life and sharing with viewers.
In March 2011, Ono and MacIntyre went to the Tohoku region to cover survivors of the tsunami and earthquake. They found a group of young girls who were on a tennis team and hoped to one day be invited to play in a tournament.
“To him, beauty lives in the small details and by telling that story of those tennis players — girls who’ve lost everything but hope — it was really an incredible way to deliver a greater message about Japan,” MacIntyre said.
Fair said since hiring Ono in 1996, she has watched him find his identity and sense of purpose through involvement in the JA community.
“David definitely sees himself as a beneficiary of and ambassador for all the wonderful things Japan and the Japanese American community represent,” Fair said. “And he shares that passion with his family and our viewers. There is no question that ABC7 Eyewitness News is richer and our audience better informed because of his contributions.”
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo