By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Bryan Takeda revealed that it was a trip into the tanbo (rice field) that led to his lifelong passion for the Japanese and Japanese American communities.
On March 17, Takeda was conferred the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for his meritorious service toward Japan in a ceremony at the consul general’s residence in Los Angeles.
Speaking before a limited gathering of family, friends and community leaders, Takeda recalled his first visit as a child in 1964 to Japan and his father Kiyoshi’s hometown in Gobo, Wakayama. He walked along the concrete edges of the rice field and wanted to get a closer look at the stalks of rice.
“Then I fell in, I fell into the tanbo, my pants were soaked, my shoes were muddy. It was so embarrassing. I could only wonder what my cousins would think when I came in as I walked into the house. They were all laughing and smiling and I clearly remember my cousin Hisayuki (Yamanaka) saying, “Yappari itoko da na! On second thought, he is a cousin!” Takeda recalled.
“Since that moment, I’ve always felt a true connection to Japan. It was part of me. It was part of my family and it was my home.
“It was with that feeling in my heart I’ve always pursued every opportunity to connect with Japan and the Nikkei community. And it is with this love and passion that I continue to do what I can to help others connect. To make new friends to strengthen relationships and to pursue opportunities.”
Takeda dedicated the award to his father, Kiyoshi Takeda, who passed away in March 2020. Kiyoshi survived imprisonment in a Soviet gulag prison camp during World War II, emigrated to the U.S. in 1953, and became an active leader of the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute, Pasadena Nikkei Seniors and Pasadena Kendo Dojo.
Takeda was recognized for his work with a number of organizations, both in Pasadena and the greater Japanese American community, including U.S.-Japan Council, Rising Stars Youth Leadership and Nikkei Federation Program. In 2016, he founded Mirai Nihongo Gakuin – Pasadena Japanese Language Academy at the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute, becoming its president.
Via video, officials from the city of Mishima in Shizuoka Prefecture offered congratulatory greetings, including Mayor Takeshi Toyooka and Toshiyuki Hiraide, president of MIRA (Mishima International Relations Association).
Takeda has served as an official of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee, Mishima Subcommittee from 2002. During a visit to Japan in 2001, he met with the mayor of Mishima, personally initiating the establishment of the Pasadena-Mishima Friendship Youth Exchange Program. Until the program was paused in 2020 due to the pandemic, the program facilitated youth exchanges every year, alternating between the cities of Mishima and Pasadena.
Yuko Kaifu of Japan House Los Angeles offered congratulatory remarks. “We are so very proud of you and the family. I’m sure your father is sitting beside your mother enjoying this great celebration,” she said.
Between 2009 and 2012, Takeda served as program director for the U.S.-Japan Council. Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake disaster, he helped raise contributions for hard-hit regions, bringing the USJC’s total fundraising for such efforts to over $1 million.
Kaifu shared a personal anecdote of a young student from Ishinomaki who lost both her parents to the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. “This girl told us she had never laughed since the disaster. During her time with Operation Tomodachi, she started to smile and laugh.
“She wanted to come back to the U.S. to study. And you know who she reached out to? Of course, Bryan. He went out of his way to encourage her.”
The girl, Shiho Abe, ended up attending Pasadena City College and eventually transferred to Rider University in New Jersey to complete studies to become a professional dancer.
Takeda’s daughters Courtney and Lauren shared their pride in their dad’s accomplishments. They said they their lives have been enriched by hosting students from Japan and learning about their Japanese American heritage.
“Dad. to say you’ve impacted our lives and the community around is truly an understatement. You’ve helped build a core foundation to ensure that Jpanese culture is rooted in us and shared across the country. Building a home for Japanese Americans was a passion for Grandpa and he would be so, so proud of this achievement,” Lauren said.
“We’re so proud to be Bryan’s daughters. We love you and congratulations!” Courtney and Lauren said in unison.