From left: George Kita, Kyuka Kanesaka, Matsutoyo Sato, Margaret Nitta Takimoto and Joyce Chinn on May 7 at Quiet Cannon in Montebello.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

MONTEBELLO — The Sunday before Mother’s Day, a tradition of recognizing outstanding women continued at a moving ceremony at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello.

Kyuka Kanesaka, Matsutoyo Sato, Fumiyo (Fumi) Stark and Margaret Nitta Takimoto were honored on May 7 as the 2023 Women of the Year. The annual event is sponsored by the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California and the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

George Kita, president of the Downtown JACL, served as emcee, and greeted the audience of approximately 250 guests, who stood and applauded as the honorees took their seats at the head table.

Kanesaka was accompanied by her husband, Kenji; Sato was joined by Chiye Matsutoyo, a shihan and longtime student; Fumi Stark was accompanied by husband, Mike; and Margaret Takimoto was joined by her son, Curtis.

The tradition goes back to 1963 when Haru Masaoka and Saku Shirakawa were recognized as the first Women of the Year. Since then the award has served to honor women who are essential leaders and tireless volunteers in their community organizations. Crucially, the women have been teachers, sharing and passing on their knowledge to future generations.

Kanesaka founded the Yukari Kai Kimekomi Doll Academy and has taught kimekomi doll-making throughout Southern California and beyond, demonstrating the Japanese art in festivals around the country. She continues to teach and practice kimekomi dolls, passing on the knowledge and history of this wonderful cultural tradition. Kanesaka has granted 30 kyōju (equivalent to a master’s degree) to students throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Audience cheers for the Women of the Year.

Sato formed Matsutoyo Kai in 2006 and serves as its artistic director. The mission is to provide instruction in singing, shamisen, taiko, and kane and to give public performances in Japanese folk and classical music. Her beautiful voice continues to be heard every summer during Nisei Week in her recording of “Sho Tokyo Ondo,” or “Little Tokyo Ondo.” The song was recorded in 1984 and is about bringing peace in unity to the community.

Stark serves as a volunteer at Zoe International, Crossway Church in Pacoima, and the Japanese American Pioneer Center. In Tokyo she was president of the USC Japan Office, facilitating alumni relations, recruiting Japanese students to USC, and helping USC faculty members and students who came to Japan. At Pioneer Center, Stark served first as a treasurer, and then as a secretary. She was elected Pioneer Center president for 2022, becoming the first woman president in its 50-year history.

Takimoto has been active in the San Fernando Valley community and the Rising Stars Leadership program. She is co-chair San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center’s Future Planning Committee and has been working on plans to add a new multipurpose room, Japanese school, and gym on the SFVJACC campus where all generations will thrive.

Kanesaka offered words of appreciation on behalf of the four women, expressing both humility and gratitude. At the conclusion, the gathering rose again to give each woman a round of applause and standing ovation.

Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo

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