Yosh Uchida was joined by past and present members of the San Jose State judo team. (Courtesy Robert Handa)

SAN JOSE — Judo coach Yoshihiro “Yosh” Uchida celebrated his 103rd birthday a little early with 500 of his closest friends last Saturday at Signia by Hilton (formerly the Fairmont Hotel).

Uchida, who was born on April 1, 1920, has been promoting judo in the U.S. for nearly 80 years.

He established the judo program at San Jose State University in 1946; was instrumental in judo being sanctioned in 1952 as an official sport by the Amateur Athletic Union; helped organize the inaugural national collegiate judo championship in 1962; and was the first U.S. Olympic judo coach in 1964 at the Tokyo Games. Under his guidance, SJSU has won more than 40 men’s and 20 women’s titles.

Yosh Uchida in 1964

Uchida is also a community leader who built up a medical laboratory business that was sold to Unilab for $30 million in 1989 and founded the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce of Silicon Valley in 1996. With other investors, he formed the San Jose Nihonmachi Corporation, which invested millions to develop housing and businesses in San Jose’s Japantown.

For his contributions to judo, Uchida was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure with Gold Rays in 1986 by Emperor Hirohito; received San Jose State’s highest honor, the Tower Award, in 1992; was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 1996; and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2004. The building on campus that houses the judo dojo was renamed Yoshihiro Uchida Hall in 1997.

Born in the Imperial Valley town of Calexico to Issei farm laborers, Uchida grew up in Garden Grove and took up judo at the age of 10. He studied biology at San Jose State, where he became a student coach in 1940. During World War II, while his family was incarcerated, he was drafted by the Army and served as a medical technician.

Yosh Uchida with Robert Handa, Arlene Sison-Handa and Mike Inouye. (Courtesy Robert Handa)

The event was emceed by NBC Bay Area’s Robert Handa and Mike Inouye. The Steve Nakano Trio and Roy and PJ Hirabayashi of San Jose Taiko performed. There was a traditional kagami-wari ceremony in which a sake barrel was broken open.

Among those taking part in the celebration were former U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahon, former Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Yasushi Noguchi, professional cheerleader Krazy George Henderson, and several past and present members of the SJSU judo team.

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