The Nisei Week Foundation has announced the 2013 Nisei Week Pioneers, who will be recognized during the 73rd annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival in Little Tokyo.
The six pioneers represent some of the most active and dedicated leaders of the greater Los Angeles Japanese American community. They will be honored at the 2013 Pioneers Luncheon to be held at the Doubletree by Hilton (120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles) on Wednesday, Aug. 14, at 12 noon. Tickets are $45 per person or $450 per table of 10 and can be obtained by calling the Nisei Week office at (213) 687-7193.
Following are profiles of this year’s pioneers:
• Shihan Fumio Demura is known as one of the most knowledgeable masters of martial arts in the world. As a practitioner of innumerable arts, his range of knowledge of the techniques and styles is unparalleled. Although best known for his expertise in Japanese karate-do, Demura Sensei is also well versed in almost every other significant martial art form.
Starting in early childhood, Demura Sensei had the great opportunity to study karate-do, kobudo (weapons), and batto-do and iai-do (sword) with some of the greatest masters in Japan. In 1961 he became Japan’s first all-Japan karate champion.
In 1965, Demura Sensei started his teaching career in the U.S., which, in the opinion of many, ushered in a new era in the world of martial arts. Immediately he began fulfilling his objective to be one of the most significant forces in bringing karate-do to the attention and interest of the United States and the world.
Demura Sensei’s expertise and infectious energy, combined with his truly humble spirit, have enabled him to build countless relationships within the martial arts world. He has also been able to create connections and bring many elements of society and culture together with martial arts, including entertainment, philanthropy, education, and law enforcement.
In particular, his involvement in the original “Karate Kid” movies, providing the fighting and stunt elements for the Mr. Miyagi character played by Pat Morita, typifies the quality of his capabilities, and the far-reaching effect he has had on Americans.
More recently, he developed considerable focus within the martial arts community on weapons training and competition and, separate from other weapons, sword training and competition. He is responsible for developing the first truly successful structure for kobudo kumite (weapons sparring) competition, which received a very enthusiastic response.
In acknowledgement of his innumerable contributions, many organizations have presented Demura Sensei with awards and other recognition. Most recently, the Martial Arts History Museum held a Fumio Demura Day in honor of his long standing as one of the most prominent members of their Hall of Fame. In addition, a much-anticipated film of his life has been under production for several years and is nearing completion.
Throughout this vivid and energetic journey, Demura Sensei has always been steadfastly dedicated to teaching his students and to developing an organization, Shito-Ryu Karate-Do Genbu-Kai, which has touched the lives of thousands, perhaps millions, all over the world. He continues to be involved with countless events, organizations, and schools, bringing the joys and benefits of training in karate-do to people of all ages, and extending to more countries every year.
His unswerving desire to enrich as many lives as possible, and the boundless inspiration, dedication, and enthusiasm he puts into attaining that goal, keep Demura Sensei at the forefront of the world of martial arts.
• Chogi Higa was born in 1940 in Okinawa. Shortly following his graduation from Futenma High School, he made the difficult move to Los Angeles to pursue higher education and worldly experiences. In 1970, he successfully graduated from Woodbury University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, majoring in foreign trade.
During the 1970s, Higa developed a strong interest in the preservation of traditional Japanese languages for the next generation of Japanese Americans. With the support of his wife, Hiroko, they enrolled both of their children into the Rafu Uwamachi Daini Gakuen, a Japanese language school, and undertook an active role in its activities. From 1985-1987, he served as president (riji-chou) of the school, and volunteered for 15 years in various functions and administration.
It was during his tenure at the Okinawa Association of America Inc. that he was able to contribute most of his talents. As a member since 1961, Higa was elected in 1970 to the Board of Directors – a position he held for more than 42 years – and is the longest-serving officer in OAA’s history. He was also elected president and served a total of five years, including serving as centennial president in 2009.
In 2002, he established three major components of the organization: Kajimaya Senior Citizens Club, the Okinawan Library, and a tuiton-free Okinawan language class. He has been serving as the instructor of this endangered language.
In 2000, Higa was given the opportunity to foster a better understanding of Okinawan culture via radio. He became the host of a monthly Okinawan program on Radio Pacific Japan (2000-2002), and became the producer and host of another Okinawan-themed program on Team J Station (2004-2011). As a result of his dedication in fostering a better understanding of Okinawan culture, he was granted the title “New Okinawa Goodwill Ambassador,” a position that he holds indefinitely, by the Okinawa prefectural government during the opening ceremony of the fourth worldwide Uchinaanchu (Okinawan) Festival.
Higa has also been involved with Japanese Prefectural Association Inc. (Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai), and was elected the 2011 president. During his term as president he was met with numerous challenges following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Under his leadership, Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai was able to direct the focus of 41 prefectural associations to gather relief aid from their respective organizations and the public, and hold a memorial event to honor the victims. His leadership was crucial, and the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai was able to raise more than $180,000 for Japan relief.
For his ongoing volunteer efforts dating back to the 1960s, he has been the recipient of more than 50 awards. Higa has made a lifelong commitment to take on leadership roles, embodying the spirit of volunteerism and dedication to the community.
He and his wife have two sons, Tomohiro and Ben. Tomohiro is married to Marjorie Taeko, and they have two children, Devin and Peyton.
• Takayuki Kubota, who was born in Kumamoto in 1934, began studying martial arts at age four under the direction of his father, Denjiro Kubota. At five he began to learn Tang hand, a bamboo spear and karate system. Because of his insatiable desire to learn every aspect of martial arts, he trained daily and studied several different styles, including dojutsu, judo, jujitsu, and kendo.
Despite his restrictive scholastic program and grueling training schedule, he managed to complement his martial arts training with studies in meditation, history, and other non-combative aspects of the arts. He distinguished himself by earning advanced instructor ratings in judo, aikido, kendo, iaido, meditation, calligraphy, and several other arts.
Kubota began his teaching career at 14 by teaching hand-to-hand and baton combat to Tokyo’s Kamata Police Department. By 17 he opened his first karate dojo in Haneda, Tokyo. From 1951 to 1963, he instructed military police and special forces of the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps based out of Japan.
In 1953, with the sponsorship of professional wrestler Rikidōzan, Kubota founded the International Karate Association in Tokyo. In 1964, he established the U.S. International Karate Association of America in Los Angeles. Since then, he has successfully opened various branches in 59 countries. For the past 49 years, he has also co-sponsored and participated in the Nisei Week tournaments, now known as the Nikkei Games.
Kubota is recognized for teaching police techniques for more than 49 years; from simple handcuffing to baton and kubotan techniques. Since 1964, he has taught advanced baton and arrest techniques to the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, DEA, Air Marshals, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy.
Kubota continues to actively hold seminars for police organizations in Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, New York, Ohio, and Washington. Other countries on his résumé include Italy, Spain, Poland, Russia, and Mexico.
He devotes much of his time to teaching karate at his school in Glendale; and since 1978 he has also taught karate at Occidental College. In 1997, Kubota became the defense and offense coach for Stanford University’s football team.
Kubota has received multiple awards from the FBI, LAPD, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Califonria Highway Patrol and California Judges Association. He was also recognized by President Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, U.S. senators, the governors of California and Hawaii, and the mayor of Los Angeles.
He has written several books on the martial arts, including “Action Kubotan,” “The Art of Karate,” “Gosoku-Ryu Karate,” and “Weapons Kumite,” and has produced a number of videos. Kubota is also an actor, appearing in over 300 movies, television shows, and commercials, including “The Mechanic,” “Killer Elite,” “Blue Thunder,” “Simon & Simon,” “Black Rain,” “Rising Sun,” “The Hunted,” and “Pearl Harbor.”
• Nori Uyematsu was born in Cupertino (Santa Clara County) in 1931 after his parents immigrated from Etajima, Hiroshima. The Uyematsus were a “family divided,” as his three eldest siblings were born in Japan and left in the care of relatives.
Uyematsu was in the sixth grade in Campbell when World War II began. With the signing of Executive Order 9066, all Japanese Americans, including his family, were evacuated from their homes. The Uyematsus were interned for three years, first in the Pomona Assembly Center and then in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
With the closure of the camp in October 1945, the family moved to Brigham City, Utah. At 17, after graduating from high school, Uyematsu volunteered for the U.S. Army. He completed a three-year stint when the Korean War started. Initially serving his tour of duty in Japan, he was sent to Korea with the 865th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, landing at Inchon. He was transferred to the 521st Military Intelligence Detachment to interrogate prisoners of war. Uyematsu was honorably discharged from the Army in July 1952.
Uyematsu received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1957. After a long career in that field, he retired from Emerson Electric Company. He married Rose Fujikawa in April 1957 and they have three boys, Michael, Ronald, and Thomas.
In December 1958, his family moved to Orange County. He got involved in many community organizations, including Kazuo Masuda Memorial VFW Post 3670, where he served was commander for three terms.
Robert M. Wada, a past Nisei Week Pioneer, was charter president of Southeast Youth Organization (SEYO) and Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park (SOC) and asked the VFW in 1968 to join SEYO Youth Program; Uyematsu agreed. Wada and Uyematsu were key in the formation of the SEYO Basketball League in 1969 and co-editors of the first SEYO booklet. They were advisors to the VFW Post 3670 Youth Group, which annually sponsors a statewide basketball tournament with more than 400 teams and approximately 3,500 participants ranging from third-graders to adults. This year the VFW Basketball Tournament will celebrate its 33rd anniversary. The VFW Youth Group was established as a direct result of the formation of SEYO.
In 1969, the Japanese American Korean Veterans was organized under charter president Wada, and Uyematsu was a board member. He was also a member of Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council (NVCC) and life member of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 100, Sadao Munemori American Legion Post 321, Japanese American Veterans Association, Korean War Veterans Association, Japanese Cultural Community Center of Hawaii, and California State Sheriff’s Association.
Now the proud grandparents of 11 grandchildren, Uyematsu and his wife reside in Anaheim Hills.
• Yoshiko Yamaguchi was born in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. After majoring in English literature at Kobe College, she received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Kansei Gakuin University. Upon graduation, she worked at the Osaka headquarters of C. Itoh Trading Company in research and wrote market and merchandize trading reports.
While visiting the U.S. in 1969 to help her Fulbright scholar sister at Stanford University, she met her future husband, Hiroshi Yamaguchi. They later married and moved to Los Angeles, where he became an aerospace engineer.
Busy raising two children, Ken and June, she started to teach Japanese, first at Los Angeles-based Kyodo Systems and later at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center (SFVJACC) Japanese Language Institute. While her kids were in elementary school, Yamaguchi went to graduate school at UCLA, first in the School of Oriental Languages, then switching to the School of Social Welfare. While getting her degree, she started to volunteer at the SFVJACC in 1971 to provide social services to the community. She later joined the human services staff as program coordinator.
Yamaguchi graduated from the UCLA School of Social Welfare with a master’s degree and soon thereafter obtained her clinical social worker’s license (LCSW) from the State of California. She started to work for the state’s Department of Social Services, which later merged with the North L.A. County Regional Center (NLACRC), to provide assistance to developmentally disabled clients as a case manager.
After retiring from the NLACRC in 1993, she became an adjunct professor of Japanese language at Pierce College and also taught at LAUSD Adult Extension, and at the Japanese Community Pioneer Center as an instructor of English as a second language and U.S. citizenship. Over the past 30 years, Yamaguchi has helped numerous Japanese immigrants obtain U.S. citizenship by teaching them U.S. history and civics to prepare for the Immigration and Naturalization Service and later Department of Homeland Security interviews.
Her interest in the welfare of the community extends beyond work-related issues. As a court-appointed social worker, Yamaguchi used to advocate for defendants in cases where international cultural customs were at the core of the trial.
In the 1980s, Yamaguchi became interested in Japanese folk dancing and joined the Kikuta Kai Genchi Minyo group under the tutelage of Madame Kiyoko Kikuta. Yamaguchi was eventually granted the title of “shihan” (teacher). Today she participates in various minyo and contemporary dance performances at community events.
Yamaguchi has been a member of the Japanese Community Pioneer Center since 1993 and is currently its first vice president and sits on its Board of Directors. She is responsible for coordinating and planning various programs for senior citizens, including health-related lecture series and cultural classes. She is also an active vice president and board member of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California.
• Kiyoshi Yamazaki was born in 1940 in Chiba Prefecture. His father, who was a kendo instructor, trained him in martial arts. In 1956, Yamazaki Sensei began karate training at the Ryobu-Kan, under Yasuhiro Konishi, the founder of Shindo Jinen Ryu. He received his karate teaching license in 1962 and Konishi Sensei also arranged for Yamazaki Sensei to travel to Okinawa for extensive training with world-renowned kobudo instructor Shugoro Nakazato.
Yamazaki Sensei attended Senshu University, joined the Shotokai organization and established himself as a member of the Senshu University Karate Team. Whenever possible, he trained at Ryobu-Kan with Konishi Sensei. After graduating in 1964 with a degree in economics, he continued training at Ryobu-Kan, and eventually assisted Konishi Sensei in demonstrations and seminars worldwide.
Yamazaki Sensei moved to the U.S. in 1969, was an instructor at Citrus College in Azusa, and later opened a dojo in Anaheim. In 1970, he served on the committee that selected the U.S. Karate Team that participated in the first World Karate Tournament in Japan. Other committee members included Fumio Demura, Gogen Yamaguchi, and Hidetaka Nishiyama. This tournament marked the beginning of the World Union of Karate-do Organizations, which eventually became the World Karate Federation (WKF).
Yamazaki Sensei maintains a busy schedule promoting Shindo Jinen Ryu and supervising and developing all Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai (JKR) schools outside of Japan. He conducts seminars worldwide, and is a sought-after instructor. He is also an accomplished exponent of iaido in the traditions of Omori-Ryu and Kashima Shin-Ryu, and developed his own organization, Iai-Tate-Do Federation.
He has also worked in the motion picture industry, teaching and displaying swordplay that entertains while maintaining technical integrity. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a student for “Conan the Barbarian,” “Conan the Destroyer,” and “Red Sonya.” Yamazaki Sensei also consulted on “Dune” and “Dragonheart.” Other celebrity students include Sting, Brad Dourif, Richard Hatch, Sandal Bergman, Wilt Chamberlain, Brigitte Nielsen, Grace Jones, Sean Connery and Dennis Quaid. In 1997-1998, Yamazaki Sensei acted in and was a technical consultant for the TV series “Conan the Adventurer.”
Yamazaki Sensei has served for many years as the Technical Committee chairman for the USA National Karate-do Federation’s, WKF, and Panamerican Karate Federation.
His passion is not confined to martial arts. As part of his philosophy of budo, he is very concerned about international relations, and works to promote mutual respect and cooperation in his travels throughout the world. In 1991, he visited Iraq with other martial arts instructors to promote peace. He continues to encourage multi-national martial arts activities as a bridge to cross cultural and political boundaries.
In March 2011, Yamazaki Sensei passed his examination for 8th dan with the Japan Karate Federation (JKF), making him the highest-ranking JKF black belt outside of Japan. He was also awarded the 9th dan in Shindo Jinen Ryu by Konishi Sensei, soke (founder) of Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai.
On Sept. 9, 2012, Yamazaki Sensei was appointed as the deputy soke of JKR, allowing him to act on behalf of Konishi Sensei and oversee JKR internationally. This appointment authorizes him to establish and enforce policies for all of JKR.