The Nisei Week Foundation is pleased to introduce the newly established Nisei Week Inspiration Award, which recognizes individuals who exemplify the spirit of Nisei Week by going above and beyond to volunteer their time and/or service or whose contributions have promoted the Japanese and Japanese American community and/or culture.
This year, two individuals will receive the Inspiration Award, Aki the Akita artist Dick Sakahara and kimono and hair stylist Michie Sujishi.
Sakahara and Sujishi will be honored at the annual Awards Dinner to be held on Monday, Aug. 17, at the Double Tree by Hilton (120 S. Los Angeles St. in Little Tokyo) starting at 6 p.m. Individual tickets are $75 and tables of 10 are $750.
Also recognized at the Awards Dinner will be this year’s grand marshal, Chef Roy Yamaguchi, founder Roy’s restaurants; parade marshal, Kenny Endo, master taiko artist; and the eight Nisei Week Queen Program sponsoring organizations: Evening Optimist Club of Gardena, East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, Japanese Restaurant Association, Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council, Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute, San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, Venice Japanese Community Center, and West Los Angeles Japanese American Citizens League. In addition, the Consulate General of Japan will be honored for its 100th years of being in Los Angeles.
For tickets or information, call the Nisei Week Foundation at (213) 687-7193 or email [email protected]
Following are profiles of the Inspiration Award recipients:
Dick Sakahara had always dreamed of being a veterinarian for his love of animals. Instead he became a graphic illustrator creating creatures from real life and from his imagination, including the design of the Nisei Week Japanese Festival mascot, Aki the Akita.
Born at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, the only son of the late Henry and Toshiko Sakahara, he grew up in Pasadena surrounded by pet animals. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in design at the UCLA, and began working for various design firms in Southern California. After gaining experience and confidence, he began freelancing from his home studio, as he continues to do today.
His passion for living creatures grew into a life’s passion for travel around the world to see, in person, those creatures that so captured his imagination. His travels have included nine safaris to Kenya and 12 trips to the jungles and villages of India, Nepal, Madagascar, Ecuador, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, China, and Sri Lanka. “Photo-hunting” big game has allowed him to use this first-hand experience as research for many of his work assignments. He has donated designs for animal rescue, saving sea turtles and river otters.
In addition to his graphic illustrations, Sakahara has infused his design talents into wildlife-related jewelry and products. The creation of Aki the Akita was born from his research into Japanese folk tales. He found recurring examples of Japanese animals such as the saru (monkey), kaeru (frog), usagi (rabbit), kuma (bear), and tanuki (raccoon-dog), but ultimately selected the Akita dog for its authentic and unique relationship to Japanese culture. As Sakahara stated, “Everyone loves a dog!”
He has been able to unite that which he loves with what he does best. His designs are simple but elegant, deeply rooted in the strength of Japanese aesthetics, where less is always more.
Creating Aki the Akita for the Nisei Week Foundation has brought joy and happiness to thousands of people. Aki has been invited to appear at countless community events for more than 18 years and is loved by children and adults alike.
Sakahara’s innate sense of design and his lifelong passion for living creatures has developed into an ability to design and illustrate mascots and creatures like very few others anywhere in the world. With a career spanning more than 40 years, he has created mascots and logos for NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks, WNBA’s Lynx, MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, plus numerous collegiate teams.
Sakahara has also done work for Disneyland and Disney Products; American, Delta and Northwest airlines; Miller and Anheuser Busch brewing companies; Reebok; RJ Reynolds; American Express; Milton Bradley Toys; Kikkoman Foods; Crazy Shirts of Hawaii; and the San Diego and Singapore zoos. A multitude of Los Angeles-area companies and restaurants have icons that bear that “Sakahara” touch.
He and his wife, Arleen, live amidst their folk art collection in Rancho Palos Verdes with Joji and Kuri, their Shiba inu.
Michie Barbara Sujishi is a Sansei born in Burbank. As a young child during World War II, she and her family were sent to the Manzanar incarceration camp. The family subsequently relocated to the Tule Lake camp as her grandfather wanted the family to return to Japan after the war. Sujishi spoke no English when she first moved to Japan and her mother spoke no Japanese. What a pair! The family settled into life in Tottori Prefecture.
At her mother’s suggestion, after completing high school, Sujishi attended a beauty college in Kamakura, near Tokyo. She excelled in the two-year program and was invited to teach new students after she graduated, which she did for six years. Part of the beauty education in Japan involved learning how to dress and style women for formal events, including kimono dressing.
In 1963, Sujishi and her mother moved back to the San Fernando Valley, where she met and married her husband Hisashi in 1964. They had two children, Cathy and Mako. Her involvement with the Nisei Week Japanese Festival began that same year by way of her uncle, who told his friend Mr. Torii, a kimono shop owner in Little Tokyo, about his talented niece who was an expert kimono dresser. Thus began her 50-plus-year journey of volunteering for Nisei Week.
When daughter Cathy became a teenager, she started helping her mother with dressing the court in kimono for the Nisei Week festivities.
While Sujishi started as a kimono dresser, her volunteer career with Nisei Week expanded over the years to include being queen chair, chaperone, kimono and Japanese etiquette trainer. Her professional career also took off. In addition to doing many wedding and event makeup and hairstyling, Sujishi worked on films (“Karate Kid”), commercials (Kool-Aid) and television (“The Andy Williams Show”).
After working at several salons in the San Fernando Valley, she opened her own salon, Michie’s Place, in Van Nuys in 1995. She still owns and operates the salon today, using only the finest hair products. She is a master hair colorist for Goldwell, having completed additional education with the company.
Sujishi loves furthering her education, be it in learning the latest styles, treatments, and trends in hair to traveling to Japan to continue to learn about the art of kimono dressing. Her passions outside of making people feel and look beautiful include singing, going to the theater with friends, traveling, and enjoying her four wonderful grandchildren. She is grateful to give back to her cultural heritage by sharing her natural talents.
The 2015 Nisei Week Japanese Festival is a nine-day event first held in 1934, and is recognized today as one of the longest-running ethnic festivals in the United States. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, the festival will take place in Little Tokyo from Aug. 15 to 23. For a calendar of events, log on to www.NiseiWeek.org, call the Nisei Week Foundation office at (213) 687-7193 or email [email protected] The Nisei Week office is located in the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St., Suite 303, Los Angeles, CA 90012.