Community Pioneers to Be Honored at Nisei Week


The Nisei Week Foundation is pleased to announce the 2011 Nisei Week Pioneers, who will be recognized during the 71st annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival (Aug. 13-21) in Little Tokyo. The five pioneers represent some of the most active and dedicated leaders of the greater Los Angeles Japanese American community. They will be honored at a special 2011 Pioneers Luncheon to be held at the Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens (120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles) on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 12 noon. Tickets are $45 per person or $450 per table of 10 and can be obtained by calling the Nisei Week office at (213) 687-7193.

The 2011 Nisei Week pioneers are:


• Kazuo Ikeda, nominated by the Central Coast Service Club

Kazuo Ikeda was born in June 1918 and grew up in Oceano, Calif., where he graduated from Arroyo Grande High School. He attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and after two years left school to farm full-time with his parents, Juzo and Sei. During WWII he and his family were interned at Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. After the war Ikeda continued farming with his brothers, Seirin and Saburo, as Ikeda Brothers in Oceano and Arroyo Grande and the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange (POVE), an agricultural co-op founded in 1928 and reopened in 1945. It now consists of five Japanese farm families. Ikeda is proud of the farming tradition being carried forward by the Sansei and Yonsei of the Ikeda family. The farm produces nappa, bok choy, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, shanghai, spinach, and numerous other crops.

Ikeda has loved sports all his life. His father learned the game of baseball and English by following baseball every day in the San Francisco Chronicle. At 13, Ikeda was a starting catcher of the local Japanese team. There seemed to be a Japanese team in every town and the game was a very important social and cultural event. Ikeda went on to play four years of varsity ball in high school and lettered at Cal Poly. Even in the internment camp, baseball was their diversion.

Following instructions left upon his father’s death, Ikeda and his two brothers “gave back to the community whenever possible.” Though they gave their time, efforts and finances to numerous worthy local causes, baseball was the constant. They helped to run the local Little League, coaching, serving as board members, groundskeepers, and much more. Ikeda was one of the founders of Arroyo Grande Babe Ruth Baseball League, serving as both a coach and president for over 25 years.

Ikeda and his brothers have been honored locally. There is now Ikeda Field, POVE Stadium (the Arroyo Grande High School baseball field), and Kazuo Ikeda Track at the local Paulding Junior High. Going on to continue the tradition of Japanese baseball, he formed the Arroyo Grande Growers team. The Growers won numerous tournaments and were the host of the State “A” Tournament in 1980. Ikeda was also an invited guest for the opening of the Japanese American Baseball Display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

He is so well-respected that the Arroyo Grande High School 2011 baseball team and Coach Robin Ventura dedicated their season to him by wearing throwback uniforms copied from a 1930s photo of the Arroyo Grande Japanese baseball team. The team hats are even embroidered with Kaz’s name on the back.

A Rotarian for 61 years and past president, Ikeda was the long-time chairman of the Rotary Relays, a track meet for the area junior high schools. Each year the team with best sportsmanship is given the Kaz Ikeda Sportsmanship Trophy.

He and his wife of 60 years, Mitzi, were the grand marshals of the annual Arroyo Grande Harvest Festival. He has been honored as Arroyo Grande’s Citizen of the Year, 2000 San Luis Obispo County and 2004 Santa Barbara County’s Agriculturalist of the Year, and most recently, was inducted into Arroyo Grande High School’s Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame. The couple was honored as Champions for Children by the Children’s Health Initiative.

The honors were bestowed to him due to his support of the aforementioned organizations and the Five Cities Youth Basketball, Cal Poly Baseball, and contributions toward POVE Scholarship for a deserving high school senior.

The Ikedas have four children: Julie (Forrest), Stanley (Terri), Patricia (Patrick), and Vard (Terri); and 10 grandchildren: Caroline, Traci, Brycen, Shelby, Misha, Grant, Garrett, Carly, Robyn, and Kent.


• Louis K. Ito, nominated by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California

Sansei Louis K. Ito was born 1930 in Sacramento. After earning his bachelor’s degree in industrial design, Ito worked in the aerospace engineering field for 13 years, employed by both Aerojet General Corporation and McDonnell-Douglas Corporation. He decided to change his profession and enrolled in Southwestern University, School of Law graduating with a juries doctorate in 1970.

He was a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney for 25 years as a trial attorney prosecuting major felony cases. He later held various administrative positions in the office. When the situation arose, he worked on international cases requiring knowledge of Japanese law and a working relationship with the Japanese prosecutorial agencies. He mentored prosecutors from Japan who visited Los Angeles to study the U.S. criminal justice system.

The Japanese Ministry of Justice invited Ito to Japan to speak at an international forum on the U.S. antitrust law and countermeasures against economic crimes. During his stay at the United Nations Asia Far East Institute (UNAFEI) in Tokyo, he met with law enforcement officials from many Asian countries and collaborated on topics of mutual concern. Ito retired from the DA’s office in 1995 and entered private practice with a Los Angeles law firm specializing in business and corporate law and civil litigation.

Ito is actively involved with many community, cultural and charitable organizations, including: Japanese American Bar Association of Southern California (past president); Gardena Evening Optimist Club; Japanese American Republicans; Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California (past vice president and current board member); Japanese American Treaty Centennial Scholarship Fund Inc. (trustee); and Aurora Foundation (legal advisor).

He is president of the Nanka Gunma Kenjinkai (NGK). In 2010 he was presented with the Korosho Award from Gunma Kencho for his contributions to NGK and for fostering international relations. Ito is also a member and supporter of Nanka Wakayama Kenjinkai. In 2009 he was appointed as the president of Omotesenke Domonkai, Southern California Region, which is one of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony schools of chanoyu with a 400-year history.

In 2003, Ito was decorated with the Kunsho from the government of Japan: Order of the Rising Sun with Gold and Silver Rays. This award was based on his work in assisting the Japanese government with the investigation and prosecution of international criminal cases, furthering Japan’s understanding of the American legal system, and promoting exchange between the two countries in the legal field through his pioneering role.

Ito and his wife Shizue, who have been married for 53 years, have three children and five grandchildren. They reside in Rancho Palos Verdes.


• Yoshinori Kawaguchi, nominated by the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai

Yoshinori Kawaguchi was born in Kagoshima-ken. He studied and was a specialist in raising domestic animals and livestock artificial insemination in Japan. Kawaguchi applied for immigration to the U.S. under Congress’ Refugee Relief Act in 1955 and arrived in Dinuba, Calif. in May 1956. He worked in the agricultural business for three years, then moved to the Los Angeles area to do gardening work. In June 1973, he opened his own liquor store in Montebello. In 1981, Kawaguchi received his real estate broker’s license and started Kawaguchi Real Estate, which he continues to operate today.

Kawaguchi spent an enormous amount of time and energy on Japanese language education in Southern California. Through many positions within the Kyodo System Japanese Schools, he advocated the importance of Japanese language education to children. As a result, there was an overall increase in student enrollment at many Japanese schools in Southern California. In addition, starting with Kyodo System Japanese Schools, he convinced the schools to extend courses beyond the elementary, junior and senior high school levels.

xAfter 13 years of basic language instruction, the school added special courses to teach Japanese history, Japanese social and economic systems, and religions in Japan. Japanese school graduates, after taking these highly specialized courses, are generally considered well-rounded in Japanese culture.

Additionally, Kawaguchi’s contributions to the Japanese Community Pioneer Center are likewise noteworthy. He was president of the center from February 2001-2004. During this time, Kawaguchi introduced new programs such as offering a special bus ticket rate for seniors, discount taxi coupons for disabled seniors and escort services. His volunteer time totaled 5,436 hours during the three-year period, taking home-bound seniors to doctor’s offices, hospitals and shopping. From April 2004 through April 2005, he also offered a large amount of volunteer time driving Keiro residents to various destinations.

While Kawaguchi was president of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, he supported the organization’s scholarship program. He also continued its annual talent show, which emphasized its members’ Japanese cultural skills. The shows provided an opportunity to perform and demonstrate skills they had been training for throughout the year.

Also during his presidency of Kyogikai, he raised $5,000 to place advertisements in Japanese newspapers and in Japanese language magazines to support Japanese language schools in various locations in the Japanese American community. The advertisements listed the locations of 17 Japanese language schools in Southern California and appealed to parents to enroll their children in a nearby school. Many Japanese schools thanked the Kyogikai for its effort, which resulted in an increased number of new students.

Kawaguchi was a key member of the Kagoshima Kenjinkai Association, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, Hokubei Hyakudokai (Let’s Work Until You Reach the Age of 100), and Southern California Showa-kai. He received numerous honors from the organizations he served and local communities and governments. In 2008, Kawaguchi received from the Japanese government the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays.


• Eugene Toshio Murakami, nominated by the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council

Eugene “Gene” Toshio Murakami was born Dec. 3, 1933 in Orange, the third son to Kazuo and Yomiko. He grew up in the Huntington Beach and Lakewood areas. His family raised chili pepper. In 1941, he accompanied his grandparents for a visit to Japan when the war broke out. Unable to return, Murakami lived in Hiroshima for seven years and completed grammar school and one year of middle school. He was fortunate enough to “miss” the bomb. He returned to Los Angeles in 1947 and graduated from Dorsey High School in 1951. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from UCLA in 1955.

Murakami worked for several private companies specializing in industrial application of nuclear energy. He has traveled worldwide installing instruments for several industries and retired in 2000.

Happily married to Elaine (Tamura) for 35 years, he has resided in Diamond Bar for the past 33 years. They have three adult children: Glen, Erik, and Cheryl.

The couple’s children played basketball for the SOC Youth Group (one of the member organizations of the SEYO youth sports program). In support of his children’s involvement in SEYO, starting in 1987, Murakami spent many years serving on the SEYO Board of Directors and currently serves as webmaster. He has been a driving force at SEYO and is highly respected for his attention to detail and his steadfast commitment to making SEYO a great experience for the youth of the community. During his long tenure, the organization has grown to annually serving more than 2,000 youth participants in basketball and baseball.

After serving on the SEYO board, he was introduced to the Suburban Optimist Club, one of the largest and most successful Optimist clubs serving youth. Murakami has been an active member and has faithfully served on the club’s board since 2002. He currently holds the position of external vice president.

He has been recognized for his dedication to the community, receiving the Community Service Award from the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council (OCNCC) for his service through SEYO in 2000 and for his service through the Suburban Optimist Club in 2009.

Additionally, he has been actively involved with Senshin Buddhist Temple for many years. Once again displaying his intense commitment and desire to serve, Murakami has been on the board for eight-plus years, serving as treasurer for four years and president for two years. He remains a very active member of the church.

Paul Nagano

• Paul and Florence Nagano, nominated by Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress

Paul Nagano’s father wrote in his diary regarding his birth, “Another boy was born.” From this humble beginning to a Nisei Week Pioneer in the 71st Nisei Week Japanese Festival, Paul and Florence Nagano’s journey follows the path of many other Nisei. Born on 4th Street and raised in Boyle Heights, Paul grew up playing basketball and football for the Golden Bears and Roosevelt High. Florence Wake grew up in the Central California farm town of Reedley.

During the war, the Naganos were incarcerated at Poston II, while the Wakes were placed in Poston III. Paul moved to minister at Poston III. Shortly thereafter Paul and Florence married and left for St. Paul, Minn. They started two missions for the Japanese Americans of Minneapolis and St. Paul and many from the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage and later Fort Snelling.

With the end of the war and the closing of the concentration camps, Paul was asked by the Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society to return to Los Angeles to help those returning to resettle. These were busy days as they founded a church that ministered to all the Japanese Americans throughout Southern California and later became denominational churches. Paul began the Los Angeles Japanese Baptist Church, later named the Evergreen Baptist Church, in 1945 on Second and Evergreen in Boyle Heights.

The Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS) was founded in the 1950s and Paul volunteered to be its first executive minister. In 1954 Paul was asked to serve at Makiki Christian Church in Honolulu, which needed a Japanese American pastor. After serving nine years in Hawaii, the Naganos returned to Southern California and continued work with JEMS.

The question of identity was constantly with Paul since Executive Order 9066, which unconstitutionally demanded the evacuation and incarceration of the Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps. He enrolled at Claremont School of Theology, where he studied the question of identity and wrote his doctoral dissertation on “Japanese American Search for Identity; Ethnic Pluralism; and the Basis for Permanent Identity.”

They have been honored to serve Seattle Japanese Baptist Church (1971-1986), initiated the Asian American Ministries and the Asian American Caucus of American Baptist Churches, taught at the American Baptist Seminary of the West (1984, 1987, 1992), and served as interim pastor of the famous Oakland First Baptist Church.

He was minister-at-large for the Northern California Japanese Protestant Churches (Domei) 1986-2000 and interim pastor of many ethnic churches of Northern California. Since 1989, he has been director of the Council for Pacific Asian Theology, and he is presently a chaplain at the Atherton Baptist Homes in Alhambra, where they reside.

The 2011 Nisei Week Japanese Festival will take place in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district from Aug. 13-21.  For a calendar of events and volunteer information, log on to or call the Nisei Week Foundation office at (213) 687-7193. The office is located at 244 S. San Pedro St., Suite 303, Los Angeles, CA 90012.



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