The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California have selected two noteworthy Japanese American community leaders for the 2022 Women of the Year Award: Yoko Awaya and Miyoko Nishimoto.
This year’s luncheon event will be held at the Quiet Cannon, Rooms Crystal 1 and 3, 901 N. Via San Clemente, Montebello, on Sunday, May 1, at 12:30 p.m.
Yoko Awaya was born in Tokyo in 1941. She began studying koto at age 13, and jiuta-sangen at 18. She received her teaching credential and master’s degree from Michio Miyagi School of Koto in Tokyo. She moved to the Los Angeles area in 1965, and continued her studies under Madame Kazue Kudo.
In 1974, Awaya started her own group, Awaya-kai. In 1994, she founded the Yoko Awaya Koto Music Conservatory, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the Japanese musical arts of koto and jiuta-sangen.
Over the past 50 years, Awaya and Awaya-kai members have made numerous cultural contributions to the Japanese American community and musical arts. Their first concert was in Gardena in 1976. They performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Japan-America Theater, the Armstrong Theater, the U.S.-Japan Expo, the Los Angeles Museum, UCLA, USC, the Getty Center and Japanese Garden, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Macky Auditorium in Colorado, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Lafayette College in Philadelphia, and Jacobs Pillow in Massachusetts.
In 1994, Awaya-kai received a grant from the E. Nakamichi Foundation of Japan to produce a special “Baroque Music in Koto” concert in Torrance.
Awaya also performed for radio, television, and motion picture soundtracks, and made studio recordings for Walt Disney World. Awaya-kai has given many charity performances, such as for Keiro Senior Healthcare of Los Angeles; Makoto Takenaka Charity Jazz Concert at Marsee Auditorium and in Okinawa; the annual birthday party at Kei Ai/South Bay Keiro (1994-2019); Okarina and Koto Charity Concert for the Children of Fukushima in Torrance (2013); Tsunami Disaster Relief Project at Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden in Long Beach (2011); Charity Awaya-kai Concert for Kumamoto Earthquake in Torrance (2017).
Awaya and Awaya-kai performed regularly at community events such as the Torrance Bunka-Sai (1986-2019), Nisei Week, California State University of Long Beach, and Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. Special events include the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California 110th Anniversary Celebration and the Japanese Community Pioneer Center 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Awaya-kai actively participated in events organized by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California such as the Jokun Recognition Banquet at Hyatt Regency Los Angeles (1997), Jokun Recognition Luncheon at Quiet Cannon (1999), and New Year’s performances in Little Tokyo.
Awaya performed for the Consulate General of Japan on many occasions such as parties for a kabuki group from Japan, the Emperor’s Birthday at the consul general’s residence, and the “Japan Today” event at the Huntington Library.
Awaya and Awaya-kai received awards from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, the Japanese American Cultural Association of Orange County, the California State Assembly, and the City of Torrance.
Awaya has been involved in many music and culture-related organizations, including Kudo-kai (1966-1983), the Koto String Society (1984-1997), the Japanese American Cultural Association of Orange County (1980-2016), Nihon Geijutsu Shudan, and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California.
Miyoko Nishimoto was born in Fukuoka and raised in Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture. Upon the passing of her parents, and at the urging of her sister, she moved to the U.S. in 1970. Within six months, she received her driver’s license and began working at Voit Rubber Company in Santa Ana. She was the only Japanese employee, and with limited English-speaking ability, she immersed herself in English for the next two years. Two years later she quit her job to concentrate on raising her son, Nick, and three daughters, Kazumi, Mayumi, and Megumi. She also helped her husband, Kazuhiko, with his business.
In 1977, Nishimoto went back to work. She worked for the U.S. Naval Weapons Station K2 Division for two years; once again she was the only Japanese-speaking employee. Following her job at the naval station, she opened and operated a coffee shop.
The Orange County Japanese American Association (OCJAA) was established in 1986, and while participating in one of its many events, Nishimoto decided to become more actively involved as a volunteer. In 1987, she trained for three months in Little Tokyo under Yasuko Sakamoto and upon completing the course, started volunteering at the office every week.
Nishimoto’s volunteer activities expanded to the senior citizen appreciation group, New Year’s parties, golf tournaments, green card application and renewal process assistance, cultural festivals, and more. She was also a volunteer when former President George Bush made an appearance at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley.
For two years, Nishimoto volunteered three times a week at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California (JCCSC) office. She met many people from different backgrounds, further deepening her appreciation of volunteerism. She has been a volunteer at the JCCSC golf tournament since 1990 and at the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai golf tournament since 2004.
Nishimoto’s volunteer work was recognized by the OCJAA with the Community Service Award in 1993, 2012 and 2016; by the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council (OCNCC) Community Service Award in 2012 and 2014; by the Nisei Week Foundation as a 2014 Nisei Week Pioneer; and by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce with the Nikkei Spirit Award in 2018.
In January 2009, after living in the U.S. for 39 years, Nishimoto proudly became an American citizen. Currently, she assists her husband with his business and makes time to enjoy her family. She has seven grandchildren, ranging in age from 10-21 years. She helps out with pick-ups and drop-offs during the week.
Nishimoto is still active with OCJAA, Southern California Amami Kai, and Southern California Saga Kenjinkai. She previously held the following offices for the Southern California Kagoshima Kenjinkai: president from 2012-2014, treasurer from 1999-2001, president of the Women’s Division from 2002-2005 and secretary from 2007-2011. She is currently the president of the Southern California Showa-Kai, vice president of the Southern California Kenjinkai Kyogikai, and vice president of OCJAA.
Tickets are $45 per adult and $25 per child (ages 10 and under). Specify if vegetarian is requested. The deadline for reservations is April 16.
Registration begins at 12 p.m. No gifts please. Seating arrangements are made in tables of eight. Make checks payable to Downtown LA JACL. Mail check and the list of attendees to Amy Tambara, Women of the Year Chairperson, 526½ W. Riggin St., Monterey Park, CA 91754.
For more information, call Amy Tambara (English/evenings) at (323) 722-3897, Rodney Nakada (English/Japanese/days) at (213) 628-1800, or Joyce Chinn (English/Japanese) at (818) 317-4541.