Five prominent leaders of the Japanese American community have been selected as the 2011 Women of the Year honorees by the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California. Merry Jitosho, Nancy Nobu Niijima, Ritsuko Shinbashi, Julia Tachikawa, and Yuriko Tanaka will be honored at a luncheon on Sunday, May 1, at 12:30 p.m. at the Quiet Cannon, Montebello Room, 901 N. Via San Clemente, Montebello.
Yoko Shiba, president of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California, stated, “It’s a privilege to be able to give five hard-working members of our community the honor that they deserve.”
“We have five honorees who have volunteered in so many diverse areas for so many years, and May 1 will give their many friends and supporters the opportunity to thank them,” added George Kita, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter, JACL.
Merry Jitosho is a Sansei, a mother of two children, Stephanie and Michael, a six-year widow, a 12-year breast cancer survivor, a clinical laboratory scientist for UC Irvine Medical Center, an organist for her Buddhist temple, a helping Dharma school teacher, and an occasional presenter at high school medical career classes.
Jitosho volunteered for Girl Scout leadership for nine years in the La Habra Girl Scout service unit. She was a Boy Scout Pack spaghetti chairperson, a Boy Scout Pack helping mom, and a high school band uniform coordinator for fittings, alterations, and cleaning for parades, field shows, and formal concerts.
Jitosho was active with Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple as a child and has been able to continue as an adult and to share this experience with her children. Her religious background has been the foundation in helping her endure the past few emotionally stressful years.
The worst seven weeks in Jitosho’s life started on April 1, 2004. She was on her way to pick up her daughter, who had been hospitalized for a newly diagnosed lupus episode, when she learned that her husband had stomach cancer and was being admitted into another hospital for surgery. The surgeon was not able to remove any of the cancerous tumors.
What followed was a nightmare. Jitosho sold her husband’s optometry practice, took care of her husband after his unsuccessful surgery and chemo treatments, arranged for her daughter’s many more treatments in the hospital, had a benign tumor removed from her chest, and made time for her son. Her husband passed away after seven weeks.
When Jitosho and her daughter decided to go to an end-of-the-year banquet, she realized how she was going to deal with her husband’s death; she was going to continue living. When all the funeral activities finished, Jitosho did not mope around the house, nor did she stay secluded. She wanted her children to realize that when she died, they would still have many relatives in their lives to continue living.
Jitosho’s adult life has not been easy but she tries to make the best of any situation. She volunteers in order to thank everyone for helping her in her time of need. She appreciates being able to make life easier for someone else.
Nancy Nobu Niijima
Nancy Nobu Niijima has a passion for the culinary arts, which she has shared with the Japanese community as a columnist in the cooking section of the Rafu Shimpo for the past 15 years. She has also shared her cooking expertise in the Fujinbu cooking classes at the Okinawa Association of America Inc. (OAA) Clubhouse since 1994.
Niijima gained her expertise through training at various culinary arts schools: Kyoto Daiwa Chorishi Gakko (Kyoto Culinary Arts Pro-chef), Cordon Bleu in Paris, Ginza “Lecan” Kaiyo, and Grand Chef Nobuo Murakami of the Tokyo Imperial Hotel.
Niijima was born in Shuri City in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, in 1948. She graduated from Musashino Ongaku Daigaku (Musashino Music Academy) with a bachelor’s degree. She was also a classic piano performance trainee at UCLA postgraduate school.
Niijima used her music as a treasured form of artistic expression as she played the piano for residents at Keiro Retirement Home. She has accompanied the chorus and performed in piano concerts for the past five years. She has also participated in piano and chorus performances at Koreisha Chushokukai (senior citizens’ luncheon) at the Little Tokyo Towers.
Niijima received many awards in piano contests such as the NHK contest. She also won first prize in the Kyoto Professional chef contest for her culinary expertise.
In 1967, she married Takao Niijima, who was a philosophy professor at Osaka University. They came to California when her husband became an exchange philosophy professor at UCLA. Upon his return to Japan, he started writing his doctoral dissertation. In 1970, they returned to California so that her husband could earn his Ph.D. at UCLA. They were married for 40 years.
Niijima and her husband took over a translating business from Mrs. Nitani following Mr. Nitani’s death. Niijima and her husband continued the business successfully for the next 30 years until her husband’s death in 2007. Afterwards, she lived at the Keiro Home and continued her volunteer work with their chorus and concerts.
Special thanks go to Nancy and Takao Niijima for their layout work and publishing of the quarterly OAA Newsletter for over 10 years. Mr. Niijima’s also served as chairman of the search committee for the present OAA Center. Mrs. Niijima continues to share her expertise in the Fujinbu cooking classes. Their active involvement in OAA exemplifies the “Uchinanchu spirit of unity.”
Their daughter, Elizabeth F. Niijima, was born in 1973. She and her husband, Ryan Prine, live in Northern California, where she works at Kaiser Permanente and he works at Wells Fargo Bank.
Ritsuko Shinbashi is a certified Ikenobo ikebana instructor, an Urasenke chado (tea ceremony) instructor, and is dedicated to helping those around her. Born in Osaka, she is the daughter of Matahei and Ayako Tanaka. Shinbashi was influenced by her grandmother to appreciate the traditions of chado and the art of ikebana flower arrangements. She has learned to fully understand the peace of harmony and tranquility in those arts as well as in her own life.
Shinbashi came to the U.S. in 1960 and graduated from Yamano Beauty College with a certificate in cosmetology. In 1963, she married Kenzo Shinbashi. Their children are Linda Yoko, Alan Masao, and James Yasuo. Shinbashi became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1965.
Shinbashi has been an active 40- year member of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center (SFV JACC). During the 13 years her children were involved with SFV JACC basketball and baseball, she supported them as a team parent. She was president of the Mothers Group at the SFV Japanese Language Institute and an instructor for five years.
For the past 14 years, she taught Ikenobo Iikebana classes at SFV JACC. She also teaches at the Hollywood Japanese Cultural Institute and is an advisor for the Ikenobo ikebana class at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Shinbashi is active in the SFV JACC Meiji Senior Citizens’ Ondo group and ballroom dancing group, and has participated in the summer Obon festivals, the Nisei Week Parade, the Little Tokyo Cherry Blossom Festival, and the Ronald McDonald House fundraiser in Pasadena.
In 1998, she joined the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of Los Angeles teachers’ group and earned the Sokatoku, the highest scholarly degree for that field. Shinbashi has attended workshops in Kyoto, Washington, D.C., Alaska, and Arizona, and is an associate professor at the Urasenke Chado School.
Shinbashi assisted with the design of arrangements for the 100th anniversary of the Kagoshima Kenjinkai. Her Ikenobo ikebana has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, Long Beach Philanthropic Center, San Fernando Valley Nikkei Senior Gardens Assisted Living Facility, Pasadena Huntington Library Camellia Show, 90th anniversary of the Hollywood Japanese Cultural Institute, Kyodo Japanese School Headquarters, Ikenobo Ikebana International Convention in Arizona, Pasadena Asian Pacific Museum, and Ventura Festival of Japanese Cultural Arts. Since 1997, the SFV JACC has received from her the gift of a four-foot-tall Ikenobo ikebana arrangement commemorating the New Year’s celebration.
Shinbashi has demonstrated Ikenobo ikebana arrangements at the Japanese language schools in Orange, Sun Valley, San Fernando, and Hollywood and at the Chrysanthemum Festival, the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, and the Obon Festival of the San Fernando Nishi Hongwanji.
Julia Tachikawa first came to the U.S. in 1967 as an exchange student for her junior year abroad after attending the International School of Sacred Heart and International Christian University in Japan.
Tachikawa returned to the U.S. in 1975 after completing the Ph.D. program at the University of Tokyo, and obtained and Master of Letters at UCLA and a Juris Doctor degree at in 1985 at Loyola Law School, where she served as articles editor for the Law Review.
Her legal career started out at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. She moved on to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to head its Los Angeles office’s International Department in 1986. Since1997, Tachikawa has been in private practice and she is currently acting as an outside general counsel to about 25 Japanese companies.
Tachikawa served as governor of the Japanese American Bar Association from 1989 to 1996, director of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California from 1997 to 2005, and advisor to the California State Bar Litigation Section Executive Committee from 1990 to 1994.
In 1995, Tachikawa co-authored “Soshou Boukoku America” (Litigation Drowns America, Bungei Shunju) and in 1999 “Bengoshi ga Kowai” (It’s the Lawyer You Should Be Afraid of, Bungei Shunju).
With her husband and most of her friends now retired, Tachikawa is often asked when she is going to retire. Her answer is: “My father, who is 87, is still working full-time, and I have many, many more years to go. Seeing him, you realize mind and time are like a rubber band. You can stretch both quite a way. His last birthday gift wish was an iPad.”
Tachikawa herself also loves all kinds of IT gadgets and is surrounded by them. She tells her daughters: “Don’t lose your curiosity.”
Yuriko Soyu Tanaka
Yuriko Soyu Tanaka was born in Miyagi Prefecture. After graduating from Meiwa Women’s Junior College in Sendai City, she attended chanoyu (tea ceremony), ikebana, cooking, and dressmaking classes. In 1957 she married Fred Kiyoshi Tanaka and moved to the U.S. They have a son, Dr. Thomas Tanaka, a daughter, Karen Uyematsu, and five grandchildren. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1972.
Tanaka continued to study chanoyu under Mme. Sowa Hitomi, the founder of the Omotesenke School of Tea in Los Angeles, and received her teaching credentials in 1973. She began student sessions in Orange County and organized her own tea group, known as Yuwakai. In 1983, she began chanoyu sessions at Orange County Buddhist Church. Tanaka received the highest professional rank from Omotesenke Headquarters in Japan in 1988. She has mentored many students during her 38-year chanoyu career.
Since 1973, Tanaka and her students have participated in and organized many tea ceremony demonstrations at local and community events such as the Nisei Week Festival, the OCBC Hanamatsuri Bazaar, the Orange County Japanese American Association Culture Fair, the Los Angeles Buddhist Federation Hanamatsuri, and the Anime Expo, as well as various schools ranging from elementary to university level (UCLA, UC Irvine, CSU Long Beach).
Tanaka hopes that there can be a greater understanding and harmony between Japanese culture and the rest of the world through education in the art of chanoyu and other traditional Japanese customs.
As a charter member of the Omotesenke Domonkai Southern California Region, Tanaka has continuously served in important positions for the organization. She was the recording secretary from 1977 to 1985, the executive director from 1985 to 1998, and the vice president from 1998 to the present. She has also served as chairperson for its 15th, 20th, and 25th anniversary events.
For almost 20 years, Tanaka has been a member of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California. She has been an advisor since 2005 and served as vice president from 1999 to 2004. She volunteers in Keiro Home visits, Nisei Week rummage sales, and the year-end welfare collection. She served on the 95th, 100th, and 105th anniversary event committees. At the 105th anniversary celebration, she received the Tokubetsu Koro-sho from the organization and also special commendations from the mayor of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County of Board of Supervisors.
Tanaka has been a member of OCBC since 1970, a member of the Orange County Buddhist Women’s Association since 1974, and served as president for two consecutive terms in 1979 and 1980.
Tickets are $40 per person. The deadline to purchase tickets is April 20. Send the list of attendees and a check, made payable to the Downtown L.A. JACL, to Amy Tambara, Women of the Year chairperson, at 526 ½ W. Riggin St., Monterey Park, CA 91754. For more information, call Tambara (English/evenings) at (323) 722-3897 or Rodney Nakada (Japanese/days) at (213) 628-1800.