This year, we lost prominent community leaders, scholars and veterans. The Rafu Shimpo pays tribute to those who had made tremendous contributions in their respective areas and will be missed greatly. Here is the list of some of the notable passings.
Philanthropist and insurance executive Sig Kagawa passed away on Jan. 3. He was 77.
He provided major leadership and support when the Japanese American National Museum was being formed in the 1980s and 1990s , a n d contributed to many important causes in his native Hawaii and nationally.
Kagawa, the son of life insurance pioneer Lawrence L.T. Kagawa, continued the family tradition of providing access to affordable insurance to everyone, regardless of race.
Sig Kagawa followed in his father’s footsteps, expanding the family’s insurance business and contributing to humanitarian and social causes both locally and nationally.
S. Stephen Nakashima, who served on the UC Board of Regents for more than a decade, passed away on Dec. 11 at his home in San Jose. He was 86.
During World War II, he was interned in the Poston concentration camp. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Nakashima’s experience in the camps, left him with the belief that citizens shouldnít be wrongly relocated and detained.
Following the war, he enlisted in the Army and served as a staff sergeant.
Nakashima practiced tax and estate law in San Jose from 1961 to 1999. He was involved in numerous organizations, including the Rotary Club, the Republican Party and the Japanese American Citizens League. In 1989, he was appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian to the Board of Regents to fill an unexpired term. In 1992, Gov. Pete Wilson reappointed Nakashima to a 12-year term.
Heart Mountain draft resister Mitsuru “Mits” Koshiyama passed away Feb. 6 with his loving wife, Mizue, at his side at their San Jose home. He was 84.
When the United States government started drafting Nisei men from the camps, one of Koshiyama’s brothers joined the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), while Koshiyama joined the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and refused to serve in the military until their Constitutional rights were restored by the U.S. government.
Of the 10 WRA camps, Heart Mountain had the only organized resistance movement, with 85 resisters. Koshiyama was among the first group of 63 men rounded up by the government. After participating in the largest mass trial in Wyoming history, the 63 men were sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary.
Sculptor and 442nd veteran Shinkichi Tajiri died March 15 at his home in the Dutch town of Baarlo. He was 85. While his work has been exhibited in museums and galleries all over the world, he is best known in Little Tokyo as the creator of the Friendship Knot, which stands at the entrance to Weller Court on San Pedro and Second Street.
Richard Masato Aoki, a charter member of the Black Panthers, passed away March 15 at his home in Berkeley from complications from dialysis. He was 70.
Although there were several Asian American members of the Black Panther Party, Aoki was the only one to have a formal leadership position. As a member, Aoki helped organize rallies and gave the Panthers weapons which they used during their patrols against police brutality.
Although most well known for his work with the Panthers, Aoki was also a founding member of the Asian American Political Alliance and a leader in the Third World Liberation Front Strike in 1969 at UC Berkeley.
Aoki served as the co-ordinator for the first Asian American Studies program at UC Berkeley, and was an advisor for Asians for Job Opportunities. He worked as a counselor, instructor and administrator at Merritt and Alameda Colleges.
Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, internationally known ecumenical theologian whose work as a missionary in Southeast Asia led to his development of a theology that made Christianity accessible and meaningful to Asians, died Wednesday, March 25 in Springfield, Mass. of pneumonia, the result of throat cancer. He was 79.
Dr. Koyama became an influential voice for ecumenism, speaking at conferences around the world and teaching classes on Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism at Union.
James D. Houston who collaborated with his wife Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston to write “Farewell to Manzanar” passed away on April 16 of complications from cancer. He was 75.
Houston wrote eight novels, most recently “Bird of Another Heaven,” published in 2007. Among his several nonfiction works was “Farewell to Manzanar,” a true account of Jeanne’s experience during and after the World War II.
At the time of his death, Houston was working on a novel about Queen Liliuokalani.
Los Angeles Police Department detective Janine Mitsuko Manji, 41, who inspired many with her professionalism on the job and courageous fight against cancer, passed away on April 13 after a 7-year battle with the disease.
She joined the LAPD on Aug. 7, 1995, starting at the North Hollywood Station and later transferring to the Wilshire Station, where she was promoted to the rank of detective in 2005. Manji was nationally recognized as a gang expert and assisted various local, state and federal agencies in the identification and capture of wanted fugitives for such crimes as theft, robbery, assault, extortion and murder.
On April 29, Shang Ging Jeong, co-owner and manager of the Far East Cafe , passed away at a local convalescent home. He was 87.
Shang Ging Jeong was the son of one of the original 10 shareholders who bought an existing restaurant in Little Tokyo and started Far East Cafe. He became a co-owner and the manager of the eatery after several shareholders were bought out. The restaurant then belonged to himself, his brother and three close cousins.
Harry Tanabe passed away unexpectedly on April 19 at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. at the age of 86.
Tanabe served bravely in World War II with his specialty being counterintelligence. He received the American Theater Ribbon, the Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation (Japan) Medal and the Purple Heart. He reached the rank of warrant officer junior grade.
Tanabe was an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Golden Gate Nisei Memorial Post 9879 and attended National JACL conventions for many years as a delegate for the Mount Eden Chapter.
Jack Yoshihara who was a member of the Oregon State University football team, passed away on April 20. He was 87.
Yoshihara was a sophomore reserve on the OSU team when the team was headed to the Rose Bowl at the end of 1941. In the hysteria following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Yoshihara was not allowed to go to the game, where OSU defeated second-ranked Duke. Instead he was sent to an assembly center and eventually the Minidoka internment camp.
The Rose Bowl was moved from Pasadena to Durham, N.C. for fear of another attack, and Yoshihara was banned because he was considered a security risk.
Togo W. Tanaka a journalist, businessman and former Rafu Shimpo English editor, died of natural causes on May 21 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was 93.
Tanaka joined the Rafu as the English section editor in 1936.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the FBI arrested Tanaka along with other community leaders. He was held for 11 days without explanation and was not permitted to contact anyone. He and his wife, Jean, who was expecting their first child, were sent to the Santa Ana Assembly Center and then to Manzanar, which Tanaka described as an “outdoor jail.”
Tanaka did not return to journalism after the war. In 1945, he got a job with the American Technical Society, textbook publishers in Chicago and headed the editorial department. Tanaka co-founded Chicago Publishing Corporation, which published Scene magazine, which covered Asian affairs.
He and his family returned to Los Angeles in 1955. Tanaka started a company that produced trade publications. In 1963 he founded Gramercy Enterprises, a highly successful real estate holding company. He retired as board chairman in 1985.
Charles Donald Albury, co-pilot of the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, has died on May 23 after years of congestive heart failure. He was 88.
Albury helped fly the B-29 Superfortress, nicknamed “Bockscar,” that dropped the weapon on Aug. 9, 1945. He also witnessed the first atomic blast over Hiroshima, as a pilot on a support plane that measured the magnitude of the blast and levels of radioactivity.
The Hiroshima mission was led by Col. Paul Tibbets Jr. aboard the better-known “Enola Gay.”
Albury said he felt no remorse, since the attacks prevented what was certain to be a devastating loss of life in a U.S. invasion of Japan.
Col. Phil Ishio of Silver Spring, Md., was the founding president of the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA), passed away in his sleep on May 23.
Born in Berkeley and raised in Salt Lake City, he went to Tokyo with his grandparents in 1939 after one year at the University of Utah. He completed two years of schooling and returned home in 1941 after receiving a warning from the U.S. Embassy about worsening relations between Japan and the U.S.
Drafted in 1941 Ishio saw action on various fronts and was decorated with the Bronze Star and two unit citations. He was discharged from the Army in 1947 and joined the CIA, remaining with that agency until his retirement in 1973, serving on assignments in Tokyo and Saigon.
Claire Minami died on May 24, at the age of 94, in Bethesda, Md., following a severe stroke.
Born in Sacramento, she was a graduate of Wilson Teachers College and possibly the first Asian American school teacher in the Washington, D.C. school system. She was also the first Asian American Worthy Matron in the Order of the Eastern Star, president of the D.C. chapter of the JACL and a charter member of the Washington Toho Koto Society.
She was interned at the Gila River camp in Arizona and relocated after the war to Washington, D.C. where she was a teacher and homemaker. She retired from teaching in the mid-1970s after 23 years.
Historian Ronald Takaki, professor emeritus of ethnic studies at the UC Berkeley and prolific scholar of U.S. race relations, died at his home in Berkeley on May 26. He was 70.
Takaki was born in Hawaii in 1939, was an accomplished scholar, author, academician and advocate. His teachings, articles, and books were invaluable in documenting the Asian Pacific American experience in the United States and in teaching of the Asian American immigrant history and contributions to American society.
Takaki authored more than 20 books including “Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii, 1835-1920” (1983), “Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans” (1989), “Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb” (1996), and “Iron Cages : Race and Culture in 19th-Century America” (2000).
Among his numerous accolades for scholarship and activism, Takaki received a Pulitzer nomination for his book, “A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America” (1993); a Distinguished Teaching Award from UC Berkeley and the 2003 Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association.
Sandra Otaka, who was the first Asian American judge elected in Cook County, Ill., passed away on June 6. She was 57.
Known as a staunch supporter of the Asian American community, Otaka was appointed to the bench by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000.
She served on the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, which has the responsibility of receiving and investigating complaints made against judges serving in the courts of Illinois, from 1992-1999, including two years as chair. Two years later, Otaka became the first judge of Asian Pacific American decent elected to the bench in Cook County in northeastern Illinois.
Kenji Murase, professor of Social Work, died at his home in San Francisco at the age of 89 on June 9.
As one of the first faculty members recruited for the new Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at San Francisco State University in 1967, he devoted his career to make the practice of social work more inclusive of diverse populations. He authored dozens of publications on the mental health and social service needs of Asian Pacific Americans.
Murase wrote the original United Way proposal to fund United Japanese Community Services, the Japanese Community Youth Council, and Kimochi, Inc. which serves seniors. He also conducted the community needs assessments for the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California and the Kokoro Assisted Living Facility when both projects were merely ideas.
Hugh R. Manes, a long-time civil rights lawyer, died at his Los Angeles home on June 13 after a long battle with emphysema. He was 85.
Although Manes gained a reputation for his work on police misconduct lawsuits, he also argued several American Civil Liberties Union cases involving Japanese Americans who had lost property as a result of federal actions after Pearl Harbor, according to the Los Angeles Times.
After graduation from high school, Manes joined the Army and served as a second lieutenant, earning both a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his actions.
During his time in the Army, he was assigned to the 442nd Infantry Regiment as a temporary training officer and served with the combat team until Nisei officers became commissioned at the Officer Training School.
JACL youth leader, Todd Sato died June 27 of heart failure at the age of 29.
Sato suffered from heart problems throughout his life and recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary as a heart transplant survivor. Due to a change in his health, he was put on the transplant list for a second time which was anticipated to be precautionary but not urgent.
He was a champion of organ donation and was passionate about the Donate Life project, a national organ and tissue donor registry. At the time of his passing, he was able to make precious donations that helped save the lives of others.
As a volunteer on the National, District, and Chapter levels of the JACL, Sato served the JACL as a past National Youth/Student Representative from 2004 to 2006. He was the Pacific Southwest (PSW) District Youth Rep from 2001-2004. He helped organize successful National Youth/Student conferences and worked hard for the JACL. He was the president of the Progressive Westside JACL chapter and currently served on the PSW District Council board.
He also worked closely with a number of community organizations that included Ties that Bind, Intercollegiate Nikkei Council, and the Chinatown Service Center. In 2006 and 2007 Sato was co-chair for the JACL Health Forums in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.
Federal Judge Robert M. Takasugi, the first Japanese American appointed to the federal bench, passed away in Los Angeles Aug. 4. He was 78.
Judge Takasugi was appointed to the federal bench by then President Gerald Ford for the Central District of California in 1976, after serving on the Los Angeles Municipal and Superior Court benches. As both a district court judge for 33 years and an invitee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Takasugi’s work has consistently been marked by a high degree of integrity and a commitment to equal access to justice.
Judge Takasugi mentored the founders of the Asian Law Caucus who battled for the vindication of all Japanese Americans by seeking coram nobis review of Korematsu v. United States.
Takasugi along with his family was uprooted from their homes in Tacoma, Wash. and incarcerated at Tule Lake during World War II. That childhood experience instilled in the judge a sense of social justice that was evident in his work as an attorney and on the bench.
He received his undergraduate degree from UCLA in 1953 and his law degree from USC in 1959. After a stint in the Army, Takasugi went into private practice in Los Angeles from 1960 until his appointment to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1975.
“The camps made a big impression on him and was a guiding force in throughout his life in legal career and judicial career, it gave him a sense of justice,” said Dee Hayashi, an attorney with the California Appellate Project and a former extern for Takasugi. “He wasn’t swayed so much by outside political forces and he always had a sense of integrity of what was right.”
In 2002, he gained national media attention for his dismissal of several indictments against Iranian and Iranian American defendants, alleged to be members of a terrorist cell attempting to overthrow the Iranian government. The defendants challenged the government’s unilateral characterization of the group as a terrorist organization. In the face of post-9/11 public sentiment, Judge Takasugi ruled that the government’s procedure for classifying the group as a terrorist organization was unconstitutional because the classification was made without due process of law.
Through his service on the Judicial Affirmative Action and Indigent Panel Committees, Judge Takasugi strived to expand the participation in law of women and people of color. He was the first judge in the Central District of California to hire a female law clerk.
The Takasugi Fellowship was created by his former clerks and externs in 1999 and continues to award fellowships to law students interested in pursuing issues of equal justice.
Sen. Edward Kennedy died Aug. 25 after a 15-month long struggle with brain cancer.
“America lost a great patriot and a great leader. I lost a good friend. America mourns Ted Kennedy’s passing,” Senator Daniel Inouye said.
Asian Americans in particular honor him for his work in 1965 when he led, and won, the battle to pass that year’s Immigration Act, which lifted the 1924 racial restrictions on immigration from Asia and abolished immigration quotas. He led the fight for the Refugee Act of 1980, which ensured humanitarian protections for refugees in overseas camps or seeking asylum. The Asian American community would not be as large or as diverse as it is today without his championing of immigrants and refugees.
“Sen. Kennedy was the Senate’s extraordinary advocate for equality. He believed in, and fought doggedly to protect, the civil rights of all Americans. The immigrant community is especially grateful for his years of service and commitment, and for being one if its staunchest advocates,” said Karen Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center.
More recently, he was the chief sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and was integral to the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Even while he was battling brain cancer, he never stopped fighting for others. Earlier this year, Kennedy was key to passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored the right of employees to challenge wage discrimination and which was the first law President Obama signed. He was in the middle of trying to get long sought hate crimes legislation and immigration reform enacted.
Katsumi “Kats” Kunitsugu, a longtime volunteer and leader in Little Tokyo, passed away on Aug. 25 following a brief illness. She was 84.
Whether at Nisei Week or the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Kunitsugu was a fixture in Little Tokyo, offering her time, writing skills and bilingual abilities to countless organizations. Nisei Week honored her as a grand marshal in 1995 and a pioneer in 2004.
Kunitsugu was active in such community organizations as the Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee, the Little Tokyo Service Center, the Nisei Week Japanese Festival Board of Directors, and the Little Tokyo Business Association.
Most recently, she volunteered for Keiro and served as a charter member of the Friends of the Keiro Retirement Home.
Kunitsugu received the Order of the Precious Crown from the Japanese government in 1994. She received the JACCC President’s Award in 1993, and in 2000, she was named one of the “Women of the Year” by the Downtown Chapter of the JACL and the Southern California Japanese Women’s Society.
Former Kashu Mainichi editor and publisher, Hiroshi E. Hishiki passed away on Friday, Oct. 2, after a long illness. He was 91.
On his registration questionnaire, Hishiki avowed his loyalty to the United States on Question 28, but on Question 27, which asked whether he would agree to serve in the armed forces of the United States.
He moved to New Jersey in 1945 and worked as an accountant for the non-profit organization, Sloan-Kettering. A few years later he moved back to Los Angeles because of family obligations, giving up his dream of becoming a CPA in order to assist his father-in-law with the Japanese/English language newspaper,The Kashu Mainichi.
He worked in all departments of the newspaper, eventually becoming editor and publisher. He continued in the publishing business for 40 years. Hishiki was honored as a Nisei Pioneer and was one of a group of businessmen who worked with the city government to redevelop Little Tokyo in the late 1970s.
Colonel Chris Keegan, Commander of “H” Company, 442nd, died at Fort Belvoir, Va., Oct. 11, just one month short of Veterans’ Day.
Colonel Keegan had been in declining health since last Thanksgiving, suffering progressively from congestive heart disease and dementia.
During WWII, Keegan was a heavy weapons commander with the 442nd. He wrote about his experience in the book, “The Operations of the 2nd Battalion, 442nd Infantry.”
Former state Assemblyman and Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi, died from complications of a stroke on Nov. 19. He was 87.
Born in Oxnard in 1922, Takasugi worked at his family’s grocery store before enrolling at UCLA. He and his family were interned at Gila River in Arizona during the war. While still at Gila River, Takasugi was offered a chance to leave the camp and attend an East Coast university. He graduated from Temple in 1945 and went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946.
In 1976, he was elected to the Oxnard City Council and served mayor from 1982 to 1992.
In the state assembly, he represented Oxnard as a Republican before being termed out in 1998. At the time of his election, he was the only Asian American in the legislature. He was reelected in 1994 and 1996.
After suffering a heart attack shortly after leaving Sacramento, Takasugi decided not to return to public office. However, at the urging of Oxnard Harbor District President Jesse Ramirez, he ran for and was elected to a seat on the board of the Oxnard Harbor District in 2000 and remained on that body until his retirement in 2008.
Takasugi’s family was featured in Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” which focused on those who lived during and through the war. He told Brokaw that he chose not to be bitter nor regretful about what had befallen his family in the hysteria of wartime.