Yonsei Basketball President Kathy Ikari (left) and former President Scott Kohno receive the Foreign Minister’s Commendation from the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles, Kenko Sone, during a ceremony at his official residence on Jan. 20 in Hancock Park.


As a high school student in Japan, young Kenko Sone’s motivation to play basketball had a particular focus.

“A friend of mine said it would make me taller, so of course, I tried.”

Now the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles, Sone emphasized the value of sport as a vehicle of international understanding, during a ceremony Jan. 20 at his official residence.

“As the recent Tokyo Olympics showed us, sports have the unique ability to unite people and cross bridges,” Sone said.

The afternoon gathering was held to confer a commendation from the Japanese foreign minister honoring the Yonsei Basketball Association for its contributions to youth development and pan-Pacific relations.

Leonard Young (in glasses), one of Yonsei’s founding members, with alumni of the program: from left, Ryan Lee (Y10), Katie Ikemoto (Y24), Darrin Chung (Y26), Alyson Chang (Y23), Brandon Chan (Y20), Kenji Ikari (Y3), Izzie Chan (Y27) and Kenna McConnachie (Y20).

Yonsei was founded in 1993 by a group of Japanese Americans in Southern California, with the idea of fostering cultural exchange through their love of basketball. Inthe three decades since, some 600 middle school students from SoCal have taken summer trips to Japan to play goodwill games and homestay with local families. A similar number of Japanese students have taken the reciprocal journey to the L.A. area.

“Now 30 years on, Yonsei has shown how it is so much more than basketball,” said the group’s former president, Scott Kohno. “Most important is how our players go on to embrace their heritage and the culture of Japan, much more than they ever imagined.”

Yonsei engages students in community service projects and awards scholarships, but due to the pandemic, the program was forced to abandon its travel plans since 2020. Plans are in the works for the Yonsei 27, the current teams – as well as the Yonsei 26 teams – to visit Japan this coming summer.

Jayme Kiyomura-Chan, daughter of Yonsei founder Frank Kiyomura, leads a toast.

Current Yonsei President Kathy Ikari said around 13 is an ideal age for students to travel, consistently providing players and their families with a priceless experience.

“You discover a side of you that you never know before,” she said, noting that several former players have been motivated to study Japanese or move to Japan after their Yonsei experience.

For more information, visit: https://www.yonseibasketball.com/

Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo

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