The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California have selected four outstanding Japanese American community leaders for the 2014 Women of the Year Award: Hiroko Hirayama, Keiko Yonamine Reich, Yoshie Sato, and Fujima Seiyumi (Dianne Michiko Fukuwa).
This year’s luncheon event will be held at the Quiet Cannon, Montebello II Room, 901 N. San Clemente, Montebello, on Sunday, May 4, at 12:30 p.m.
• Hiroko Hirayama was born in Anzan City, Manchuria, in 1938. She returned to Kumamoto, Japan when she was 8 years old after the end of World War II. In junior high and high school, she developed a love for playing the piano and singing in the school chorus. She graduated from Yamaga High School in 1957.
From 1961 to 1970, Hirayama worked for Kumamoto Broadcasting (RKK) as a television and radio announcer. She married her husband, Yasumasa Hirayama, and moved to the United States in 1970.
From 1971 to 1977, Hirayama continued working part-time as an announcer and newscaster for Asahi Home Cast while raising her children.
From 1979 to 1986, Hirayama was hired by United Television Broadcasting (UTB) and appeared on television as a newscaster. She worked for the Japanese Language School Kyodo System as an instructor, teaching Japanese from 1981 to 1988.
She took a brief break during the 1990s and worked for the Japan Travel Bureau. In 2002, she returned to radio with her own Japanese-language program, Nikkei Community Radio, which she has been running for 11 years now.
Hirayama was a member of the Hollywood Japanese Community Center for 35 years and help with maintaining the facilities. She was also the president of Japanese Language School Kyodo System PTA (Fukinkai) and was the president and treasurer of the Nanka Kumamoto Ken Fujinkai. She is currently a board member of the Japanese Community Pioneer Center and helps with the publication of its newsletter.
Hirayama and her husband have three children: Yukari Hirayama, Bertrand Masahiro Hirayama, and Emiko Hirayama Lee.
Hirayama is certified to teach Japanese as a foreign language and broadcast journalism. She received her certifications from the Japan Cross Culture Center, the Business Language Institute, and the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
• Keiko Yonamine Reich, the headmaster of the Kansenkai, was born on July 27, 1944, in Kin-Cho, Okinawa. In 1963, she graduated from Ginoza High School, where she was on the basketball team. After graduation, she worked as a bookkeeper in a restaurant business.
In 1972, Reich began to learn Okinawan dance from Grandmaster Iemoto Shizu Ikehara, head of the Tamagusuku-Ryu Kansenkai (formerly named Gyokusenkai). Reich participated in Ikehara’s dance recitals and at various community events as a way to develop and promote Kansenkai.
In 1982, Reich enrolled at the Kyoto Kimono Gakuin, where she earned her first- and second-class teacher’s licenses and became a teacher’s assistant.
In December of 1984, Reich’s military husband was transferred to the United States, so her family moved to Oceanside, where she opened her first dance studio. At her students’ request, Reich opened a second studio in Orange County and a third studio in Tuscon, Ariz.
In 1984, Reich became a member of the Okinawan Association of America and of Geinobu. At this time, she also began to participate in numerous events at UC San Diego, CSU Sacramento, Logan University in Utah, Washington State University, the Norris Theater’s Japanese Festival, the Morikami Garden Japanese Cultural Festival in Florida, the Hawaiian Okinawan Festival, and so on. Through her participation in these various events, she was able to introduce the Okinawan culture to many places by collaborating with local dance teachers and performing in their dance recitals.
In 1987, Reich became one of the founding members of the Geinobu Performing Arts. From 1998 to 1999, she served as Geinobu’s chairperson, and she is currently the group’s advisor.
In 1990, Reich received her teacher’s license from Iemoto Ikehara. In 2004, she received her shihan master’s license.
In 1992, she invited her iemoto from Okinawa to her first performance, “Furusato e no Hitotoki,” at the Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles. In September of 1997, she performed at the first Kansenkai Charity Show in Oceanside for San Diego Children’s Hospital. In October of 1997, she performed at the second Kansenkai Charity Show at the Orange County Church for Orange County Children’s Hospital. In August of 2010, Kansenkai performed in a charity show at Oceanside.
Reich donated all of her proceeds to Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.
Reich’s family includes her husband, Dan Allen Reich, a retired veteran; her son Henry, a regional project director at Leggett and Plat; her daughter Setsuko, a production manager at Lending Tree; and three grandchildren.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Kansenkai under Reich’s leadership. Today, she continues to preserve and cultivate Okinawan traditional dances for future generations. Recently, her younger students have earned their Shinjinsho (Newcomer’s Achievement Ranking), Yushusho (Achievement of Excellence Ranking), and Saikosho (Achievement of Superiority Ranking) at the Okinawan Prefecture Contest, as well as their teacher’s license.
• Yoshie Sato has been an avid supporter of the Nikkei community for many years. She has been the president of the Tochigi Kenjinkai for the past eight years. At the association’s 20th anniversary ceremony, she received the Distinguished Service Award from Gov. Tomikazu Fukuda of Tochigi Prefecture. Sato organized the LA Sweets Charity Event at the Miyako Hybrid Hotel to raise funds for Ganbaro Tohoku.
Sato’s active involvement in promoting Tochigi has awarded her the title of Tochigi Mirai Taishi by the governor himself. She also served as an ambassador to promote positive public relations for Tochigi. In 2011, Sato served as secretary for the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, and helped with entertaining special guests from Japan.
She performed at the annual Kenjinkai Kyogikai Shinboku Engeikai, an event to raise scholarship funds for young men and women who excel in promoting and continuing to practice the Japanese culture.
Sato has been promoting Tanabata from the beginning as one of the leaders at the kazari-making workshop. At the 2013 Tanabata Festival in Little Tokyo, Sato designed her own kazari, titled “Tochimaru Kun,” which was awarded first place and received the People’s Choice Award. Because of this, Sato was selected to take part in the Nisei Week Parade.
Sato and her husband, chef Ryo Sato, have been active members of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center for many years. Every year at the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Akimatsuri, they organize a booth of sweets, handmade by her husband, to raise funds to support the Student Exchange Program. To date, over 180 students have participated in this summer homestay program.
Sato has also organized many other events in connection with the exchange program. She bought the Tamachi Ohayashi Taiko group from Tochigi to participate in the Nisei Week Festival, to visit the Keiro Retirement Home, and to perform at the ESGVJCC and Bell High School. The success of this exchange program has prompted the City of West Covina to sign a sister-city relationship agreement with the City of Ohtawara.
When the ESGVJCC needed to rebuild its social hall, Sato volunteered to raise money by organizing and performing in the Yoshie Sato and Friends Variety Show. She also organized the same event at the ESGVJCC for the Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund. Sato currently teaches 7- to 9-year-old students at the Japanese Language School (Gakuen).
Sato volunteers at Keiro Retirement Home and other non-profit organizations. She and her husband donate sweets to the coffee shop at the retirement home and she teaches karaoke to the residents. Through Chefs de Cuisine of California, Sato helped with fundraising efforts at the Rosemarie Cottage Children Service and for the Rose Parade float for the City of Arcadia.
Sato and her husband received the Parent of the Year Award from Nikkei Parents Day Association in 2000. She sings and performs with the Yamatogaku group in different places, including UCLA. In January 2014, she took part in the Kohaku Utagassen singing competition, held at Nishi Hongwanji.
Sato really enjoys volunteering and supporting the Nikkei community in any way that she can. It gives her pleasure to see that her efforts bring smiles to people in the community and open up the opportunity for the younger generation to enrich their lives.
• Dianne Michiko Fukuwa is a third-generation Japanese American who is also known by her stage name, Fujima Seiyumi. Introduced to her Japanese culture at an early age, she felt as though her parents chose her to embrace the cultural traditions for the family. Because of this, Fukuwa was immersed in the arts, which included koto, shamisen, chanoyu (tea ceremony), ikebana (flower arrangement), shodo (calligraphy), and Nihon buyo (classical dance).
In high school, Fukuwa was selected to be part of the City of Gardena’s first delegation to visit its sister city, Ichikawa. She attended UCLA, where she minored in Asian studies and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Japanese. Shortly afterwards, Fukuwa had the opportunity to live in Japan and taught English not only to adults and children, but to employees of notable entities like Lotte, Nippon Kokan, and Tokyo Ika Daigaku (Tokyo Medical University).
Fukuwa was encouraged to continue her study of Nihon buyo by Madame Fujima Chiseye, her mentor in Los Angeles, and received tremendous support from renowned experts of dance and choreography such as master instructor Madame Fujima Isesuzu of Tokyo, Fujima Tomoaki, Nakamura Danshichi, and Madame Hanayagi Chiyo.
In addition to performing at several venues in Tokyo, Fukuwa was given the chance of a lifetime to perform at the Kabukiza Theatre and he National Theatre of Japan. Of all her dances, she feels that “Kagami Jishi” was the most physically challenging as its depiction of a shy court lady’s gradual transformation into a fierce lion lasts nearly an hour.
After receiving her shihan (master ranking), Fukuwa eventually returned to Los Angeles, and was asked to teach Nihon buyo to three children. This number quickly grew, and over 300 have taken her classes in the last 21 years. This path has led her to receive many unanticipated honors, including the Excellence in Art Award for Dance from the City of Torrance Cultural Arts Commission and the Teachers Making a Difference Award from the Cherry Blossom Festival of Southern California. She was also recognized by the Los Angeles Vet Center and Community Clinic, and was honored with a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles.
Fukuwa’s dance school continues its involvement in the community by performing and volunteering at church and community festivities and fundraisers. The students have enjoyed dancing at Keiro Retirement Home and volunteering for Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. In addition, Fukuwa has collaborated with the entertainment industry on special film and television projects.
In an effort to raise cultural awareness, her students have performed at ethnically diverse locations such as the Sanatan Dharma Hindu Temple, Hsi Lai Temple, and the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. Fukuwa also remains a strong supporter of the values and traditions upheld by the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, Venice Japanese Community Center, the Japanese Cultural Institute, the Japanese Community Pioneer Center, and the Japanese American Citizens League.
Fukuwa’s desire is to share the beauty and essence of Nihon buyo. She has attracted students from all walks of life, and is always gratified to see them develop into dancers with an appreciation for the art. This is what inspires her to continue and, as her stage name translates, “spring forth with a beautiful spirit.”
Tickets are $40 per person. Ten people per table. Deadline for reservations is April 18. Registration begins at 12 p.m. Attendees are asked not to bring gifts. Make checks payable to Downtown LA JACL. Mail check and the list of attendees to Amy Tambara, Women of the Year chairperson, 526½ W. Riggin St., Monterey Park, CA 91754. For more information, call Tambara (English/evenings) at (323) 722-3897, Rodney Nakada (English/Japanese/days) at (213) 628-1800, or Kay Inose (English/Japanese) at (310) 541-8022.