Oda, Kito to Receive Kunsho from Japanese Government

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On April 29, the Government of Japan announces the recipients of its Spring 2020 Decorations. From the jurisdiction of the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, the following two distinguished persons will be awarded. Information about a conferment ceremony will be provided at a later date.

• The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for contributed to enhancing the social welfare of Japanese American society and promoting the friendly relationship between Japan and the United States goes to Nancy Kyoko Oda, 74, of Van Nuys, former president of San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and president of Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition.

• The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for contributing to promoting friendly relations and mutual understanding between Japan and the United States goes to Brian Kito, 63, of Los Angeles, president of Little Tokyo Public Safety Association and owner of Fugetsu-do.

Nancy Kyoko Oda

For over 40 years since 1978, Oda has been an active member of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, and was appointed as [resident from 2011-2013, recognized for her experienced leadership as a former elementary school principal for 17 years. She has continued to serve as an officer of SFVJACC after her term ended, and has supported the continued development of the center currently serving 1,000 families, and has contributed greatly to the progress of the Japan-U.S. relationship.

The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred the year that Oda became president of the SFVJACC. She mobilized the center and its organizations and youth groups in a major disaster relief fundraising effort that raised $110,000 over one year. In 2016, Oda helped organize a fifth-anniversary fundraising event to benefit orphans in Japan.

As a child of the camps, Oda, a third-generation Japanese American, has exhibited a strong commitment to keeping alive the stories of the Japanese American incarceration. During her college years at UCLA, she translated “Tule Lake Stockade Diary,” written by her father, Tatsuo Inouye, during World War II. In 2018, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center published her translation online as part of the Suyama Project.

In June 2013, due to persistent actions by a group of advocates led by Oda and other community leaders, the City of Los Angeles designated the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station a Historic Cultural Monument. She and the coalition had relentlessly sought recognition of the site where 2,000 Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants and Japanese taken from Peru were detained during World War II. In 2014, due to her stature in the community as a Tule Lake survivor and longtime leader at SFVJACC, Oda was designated the first president of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, a new nonprofit formed to preserve the history of Tuna Canyon.

Under Oda’s leadership, the coalition developed a traveling exhibition that received funding through the U.S. National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant, entitled “Only the Oaks Remain.” The exhibit tells the story of the detainees of Tuna Canyon through photos, diaries, letters, and interviews, and has been shown at 12 locations throughout the West Coast. Due to Oda’s strong leadership and the publicity and advocacy efforts of the coalition, in 2018 the City of Los Angeles installed street signs at the site of the former detention station, providing visible homage to a chapter of Los Angeles history that prior to the coalition’s formation was largely unknown.

Motivated by a desire to teach the younger generations the history of Japanese American incarceration, Oda has been a speaker at UCLA, CSU Northridge and CSU Long Beach, in addition to local high schools.

Brian Kito

For close to 30 years, Kito has contributed greatly to the well-being and safety of Little Tokyo through his leadership in the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association and various community organizations. In 1991, through special appointment by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California and the Little Tokyo Business Association, he became vice president of the LTPSA under President Satoru Uyeda, and was appointed president in 2001.

The LTPSA was formed in 1982 by the members of the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, who became worried about the declining safety in Little Tokyo and called on neighborhood businesses for donations to dispatch nighttime mobile security staff. When Kito became vice president of the association, he added to the existing security staff by mobilizing volunteers to form patrol teams. Through innovations such as securing LAPD patrol cars to join these enhanced neighborhood safety teams, Kito made vital contributions to the development and improved safety of Little Tokyo. A **Los Angeles Times** article published in 1995 noted that after beginning joint patrols, the crime rate in Little Tokyo decreased 66% from the previous year.

In 1996, Kito, with the help of community business volunteers and the City of Los Angeles, opened the Little Tokyo Koban, which serves as a resource for public safety as well as tourists visiting the neighborhood, and is managed by the LAPD and the LTPSA. The Koban contributes greatly to the safety of Little Tokyo and its visitors, and was awarded a Commendation from the Foreign Minister of Japan in 2004.

In response to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Kito was involved in the disaster relief fundraising of the LTPSA and contributed to Japan’s recovery efforts. In 2008, he also helped found the annual Los Angeles Tanabata Festival at Nisei Week, which after the 2011 earthquake provided support to the Tohoku region and the City of Sendai.

Kito has been invited by the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University Los Angeles to give lectures to close to 880 Southern California region law enforcement officers on how to improve community-based policing, and has contributed to the development as well as identification of potential candidates from the Japanese American community for law enforcement positions.

As the third-generation owner of Fugetsu-do, a Little Tokyo confectionery that opened in 1903 and is the oldest business in Little Tokyo, Kito has also contributed to the preservation of Japanese traditions and the introduction of Japanese food culture to the U.S. Fugetsu-do makes a range of Japanese sweets, such as traditional mochi (rice cakes) and manju (steamed cakes), and in recent years to encourage more Americans to enjoy Japanese traditions, Fugetsu-do has expanded its offerings to include new creations such as strawberry-flavored mochi with peanut butter filling.

Kito has also increased mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S. through numerous additional community endeavors. Since 1989, for over 30 years, he has taught manju-making to nearly 100 elementary school students annually at Little Tokyo’s Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple’s summer program “Saishin Dojo,” and has also led cooking classes at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

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