Irene Simonian and Craig Ishii Receive Community Leader Award

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Pictured at the Kizuna office are (from left) Christy Sakamoto, Kristin Fukushima, David Miya, Craig Ishii, Rep. Xavier Becerra, Sophie Wang, Dina Furumoto, Kent Marume, Nicole Sato, Paul Matsushima. (Photo by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Pictured at the Kizuna office are (from left) Christy Sakamoto, Kristin Fukushima, David Miya, Craig Ishii, Rep. Xavier Becerra, Sophie Wang, Dina Furumoto, Kent Marume, Nicole Sato, Paul Matsushima. (Photo by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

By TIMOTHY CHUMAN, Rafu Staff Intern

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) presented the 34th Congressional District Community Leader Award to Irene Tsukada Simonian and Craig Ishii on May 31 for their outstanding work in the district.

Simonian, the owner of Bunkado, a store in Little Tokyo that sells items from Japan, received the award for running a successful business that allows people to take a piece of the Japanese culture with them.

Ishii, the director of Kizuna, received the award for giving back to the youth by teaching them about the Japanese American culture, and for helping them gain essential leadership skills.

Bunkado was opened in 1946 in the heart of Little Tokyo and was founded by artist Tokio Ueyama and his wife Suye. Suye’s brother, Masao Tsukada, and his beloved wife, Kayoko, took over the store in 1970 and managed the store successfully for nearly four decades. Their daughter, Irene, and her husband, Steve became the new owners in 2007 and have been running the business ever since.

“I think my parents and my aunt and uncle who started Bunkado would be especially proud. They witnessed the challenges of being of Japanese descent during World War II, and to be honored by a United States congressman would have been unimaginable at the time,” Simonian said.

Little Tokyo continues to grow and expand to new levels, but “Irene keeps up a tradition by making sure that people who come and visit Little Tokyo have an opportunity to take a little bit of Little Tokyo home with them,” Becerra said. As Bunkado celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, it is honored for being a prosperous business in the Asian Pacific American community.

Irene Simonian, owner of Bunkado, is honored by Rep. Becerra. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Irene Simonian, owner of Bunkado, is honored by Rep. Becerra. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Kizuna is a program that is barely five years old, yet the impact that Ishii has made on the community has been monumental. The organization’s mission is to educate, assist and develop the future generations of Japanese Americans. It achieves this through extremely beneficial leadership, community service, and Japanese cultural programs.

“I’ll be honest that I don’t feel like I’ve really done enough to earn this recognition but I’ll keep working hard so that maybe one day I can live up to it,” Ishii said.

Ishii is a humble worker surrounded by a core of hard-working staff, and together they have helped the organization flourish into a prominent leadership pipeline that works with students in the greater Los Angeles area. He was well deserving of the award “because of all the things he does for the youth, and he inspires Japanese Americans to be proud of who they are,” according to Becerra. The program may be young, but Ishii was honored with the Community Leader Award for being a difference-maker in the 34th Congressional District.

This past month has been Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which is a time for everyone to celebrate the culture, traditions and history of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The award is a great way to celebrate the history of Bunkado and commend Craig for his work in teaching children about the Japanese culture.

Downtown Los Angeles continues to develop, yet it is people like Simonian and Ishii who help preserve what remains of Little Tokyo, Becerra said. “Their work is not going to stop. Irene is going to continue to be there as the owner of the business trying to keep Little Tokyo thriving. Craig’s not going to stop because they have to do their programs. It’s nice to periodically let people know we appreciate what they do for the community.”

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