Members of JBA Orange County Regional Committee and friends place flowers on Japanese pioneer graves of Anaheim Cemetery. From left: Junko Ikeda, Katsuyuki Miura, Hiroki Baba, Hiro Masuda, Shin Takagi and Patti  Hirahara. (Photo by Cynthia Baba for JBA)

By JBA Orange County Regional Committee

With the Japan Business Association of Southern California being established in California as a nonprofit organization on Dec. 30, 1960, many generations of JBA members have supported the local Japanese community for over 62 years.

Initially, in 1961, the JBA was inaugurated as the Japan Traders Club of Los Angeles with the support of 48 Japanese companies that were doing business here.

The JBA, in cooperation with corporate, city, educational, community, international and other private/public organizations, works towards the advancement of members’ interests and the overall success of its organization. In addition to strengthening the local business environment for Japanese companies here, the JBA seeks to work towards maintaining harmony with the local Southern California community.  

The JBA maximizes its local business contributions to the community through various nonprofit events that unite its members to be good corporate citizens.

In the late 1980s, the Japan Business Association of Southern California decided to establish its Orange County Regional Committee since many Japanese companies had established offices here at that time.

In 2004, the JBA started networking activities with Japanese American business leaders and six years later, the JBA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.

With 2020 marking the 60th anniversary of the JBA, the Japan Business Association of Southern California Orange County Committee stated, “Many Japanese expatriates come to Orange County for their assignments and don’t realize the historic presence of Japanese Americans before, during and after their incarceration.”

They decided to reach out to Patti Hirahara, a Yonsei, who is working to preserve the Japanese American legacy in Anaheim, Orange County, and throughout the U.S. She is a unique facilitator who understands the local Japanese American community as well as what Japanese businesses face when they do business in America. She also represented Orange County in Nisei Week in 1974 as Orange County Nisei Queen and the first Miss Suburban Optimist.

On May 31, 2021, the JBA wrote to Hirahara that “we read the L.A, Times article about your exhibition at the Anaheim Muzeo Museum, and we believe our members would learn the best from you and your collections.”

Cynthia Baba and husband Hiroki Baba, who is co-chair in charge of community service for the JBA Orange County Regional Committee, place flowers on Japanese pioneer graves at the Anaheim Cemetery this spring. (Photo by Patti Hirahara)

Hirahara was very happy to work with the JBA Orange County Committee on their request since she had been a coordinator in helping facilitate communications between the U.S. and Japan through her work with JETRO, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Matsushita Electric Works (Panasonic), ANA Hotels, and Nippon Express Travel USA Inc.

Ichiro Sone, who is now the executive vice president of JETRO, Tokyo, worked with Hirahara over the years when she was working with JETRO and made the following observations:

“Patti Hirahara has assisted with public relations and marketing activities of Japanese companies and JETRO Los Angeles over the years. She had helped JETRO L.A. a lot, especially in the ’80s and ’90s during the era of severe U.S.-Japan trade friction. For example, she did a great job arranging JETRO’s first ‘All Japanese Women’s Buying Mission to the United States’ in 1984. There are so many Japanese companies that she has helped, and she has now been working to introduce Japanese American history to the American people. I’d like to express my gratitude for her great efforts in helping to be a bridge maker between the U.S. and Japan.”

After the Orange County Regional Committee of JBA and Hirahara’s initial discussions, it was decided that a Zoom meeting would be scheduled to talk with Kenichiro Azumaya, who would be the project leader, and Kirk Miura, who would help with the technical aspects, to create an Anaheim Japanese American Pioneer history webinar for its Orange County members.

With the approval of Hiro Masuda, then VP and chair of the Orange County Regional Committee of JBA, many discussions and decisions were made on how the JBA Orange County webinar would be created.

After seven months of planning, the project, titled “Learning About History and Contributions Made by Japanese Americans Through the Life of Patti Hirahara,” was finally completed and debuted online on Feb. 25, 2022.

Azumaya said, “Once Kirk Miura and I finished editing the interview with Patti and put it online from our JBA Orange County Regional Committee, we were very pleased with over 240 views from our JBA members. Many of us were not aware of the Japanese American incarceration or the history of the Japanese pioneers, who came to this country from Japan. The reaction we received from the JBA members was very positive. Although we had limited time for this first interview, we hope to have further discussions and activities in the future with the Orange County Japanese American community.”

Patti Hirahara and JBA interviewer Kenichiro Azumaya on YouTube video discussing the history of the Anaheim Japanese pioneers for the JBA Orange County Regional Committee’s new webinar project. (Courtesy JBA)

Masuda added, “The video featuring the history of Japanese pioneers in Anaheim is available to all JBA members on YouTube and is truly an important asset for us. We believe that this video will remind the Japanese working here in Southern California of our roots and help to create a new history.”

In the 25-minute interview, Hirahara explained about the history of the Japanese pioneers in Anaheim. She highlighted the city’s originally created 2019 exhibition “I Am an American – Japanese Incarceration in a Time of Fear,” which was the most popular Muzeo exhibit in city history. She had worked for 20 years to see this exhibition come to fruition.

One of the interesting exhibit highlights was the story of those who are buried at the Anaheim Cemetery. Joe Ogihara was the first to be buried there in 1907. Deceased at birth, he was also the youngest of the 64 persons that are recorded.

According to Hiro Masuda, now a member of the board of directors of JBA, Asahi Gakuen, and the OCJAA, “As a result of this 2022 interview, the Orange County Regional Committee of the JBA wanted to select a project where they could honor these Anaheim Japanese pioneers.”

So, this spring, a group of the newly appointed leadership of the JBA Orange County Regional Committee and its members met at the Anaheim Cemetery to place Japanese chrysanthemums on these pioneers’ graves, to honor those who have been buried there — many of whom have been forgotten for over 11 decades.

The JBA members who participated were Shin Takagi, VP and chair of the JBA OC Regional Committee; Hiroki Baba, co-chair in charge of community service for the JBA OC Regional Committee, and his wife, Cynthia Baba; Junko Ikeda, a member of the JBA OC Regional Committee; Hiro Masuda, JBA board member and member of the OC Regional Committee; and Katsuyuki “Kirk” Miura, a past member of the JBA OC Regional Committee.

Many of the Japanese characters on the headstones have almost vanished but the group could read the names and where they were from. Many of the grave locations are unknown but it was a unique experience for the JBA members to be able to see this in person.

According to Takagi, “When I went to the Anaheim Cemetery and saw the names in kanji and dates engraved on the headstones, I realized that there were Japanese immigrants who lived in this area many years ago. They were Issei people who must have gone through tremendous hardship. Some lived long lives and others died as children, but I felt that we share the same roots as Japanese families and due to their perseverance, they made it easier for people like me to be able to work and live here in Southern California today.

“We may have difficulties adapting, but we work hard to make a living and build trust in the community. I felt very honored to be able to pay tribute to these Anaheim Japanese pioneers and through our Japanese heritage, we want to learn more from the Nikkei community on how we can work together.”

Hiroki Baba said, “In looking at the dates on the headstones, we can see how early these Japanese pioneers came to the U.S. and made a commitment to establish a life here for many generations. I feel it is important for the next generations to preserve what these pioneers have left for us, so that we can always remember our Japanese ancestral roots here in Southern California.”

Masuda continued, “Ever since I met Patti Hirahara and heard her story about the Anaheim Japanese pioneers, I have been wishing to visit the Anaheim Cemetery, where the Japanese pioneers are buried. On the day of our visit, on a calm and sunny spring day, I was able to think about the efforts and accomplishments of our Nikkei predecessors.”

Hirahara was encouraged by the JBA’s interest in the Japanese American community in Orange County. “Preserving the Nikkei legacy here is very important and the Orange County Japanese American story is one that needs to be told. Many Orange County Japanese pioneers are passing away and I am working to have their history included in a time capsule that will soon be buried here.”

Masuda concluded, “In putting together our webinar during the height of COVID, we showed our resilience to create this unique project.  We, the Orange County JBA, hope to continue to create more projects like this with the local Japanese American community in the future, to honor these Orange County Japanese pioneers and share their long history with our members.”

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