SAN FRANCISCO — The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) will honor three current board members at its “25th Anniversary of Opening Our Doors” event.
These honorees have served on the JCCCNC Board of Directors for more than 25 years each and have given outstanding support to the center and to the community.
• Kaz Maniwa, a social activist out of UC Berkeley and one of the founders of the Japanese Community Youth Council, joined the JCCCNC Board of Directors nearly 39 years ago, convinced that a community center was an important part of San Francisco’s Japantown. He was part of a group of young Sansei who joined the board before JCCCNC was incorporated, dedicated to the idea that a facility would help strengthen the sense of community in Japantown.
His commitment to Japantown and the Japanese American community runs deep: he established his law practice in Japantown and has been involved in a variety of organizations through the decades, including service on the boards of Kimochi Inc. and the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association.
Elected as president of the JCCCNC Board of Directors in 1990, Maniwa began his leadership role with JCCCNC the same year that Paul Osaki was hired as executive director. The most pressing issue during his three-year tenure was fundraising to retire the mortgage. After he stepped down as president, he agreed to become the capital campaign chair in 1994 and also assumed the title of chairman of the board.
Most recently, Maniwa has played a key role in JCCCNC’s influence beyond Northern California; he was a founding member of the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council — a statewide organization of Japanese American non-profit groups that JCCCNC helped form — and served of chairman of the board. He has also helped with JCCCNC’s efforts to promote people-to-people relationships between the U.S. and Japan.
• Allen Okamoto’s involvement with JCCCNC is almost genetically predisposed. The son of Takeo Okamoto, he remembers talk of a community center among the Nisei in his younger days and of planning meetings often held in his parents’ living room. The elder Okamoto was JCCCNC’s first board president, a position that the younger Okamoto would hold himself in the 1990s.
Active in a number of community organizations, including the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, Okamoto holds a special place for JCCCNC, primarily because of his family ties. With pride he remembers the 1994 visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan and when the center was able to “burn” the mortgage in 1996.
During his three-year tenure as board president, JCCCNC played a key role in: coordinating the “Legends of the Japanese American Baseball League” with the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park in 1996; leading a group of 176 community ambassadors to further goodwill as part of the 40th anniversary of the San Francisco-Osaka sister-city relationship in 1997, beginning the first Shinzen USA Nikkei Youth Goodwill Basketball Tour; community efforts to preserve the YWCA, Sokoji Temple site, and Japantown Bowl; organizing the “Ties That Bind” Japanese American national conference in Los Angeles.
Now that he is a grandfather, he is looking forward to four generations of Okamoto involvement with the JCCCNC.
• Yo Hironaka is the only Nisei among this year’s JCCCNC honorees, and the only Nisei remaining on the Board of Directors. Although she may be of a different generation, she is probably the youngest at heart. Her leadership and volunteerism throughout the Japanese American community are well known — her long-time involvement with the San Francisco JACL, Japantown Task Force Inc., and Christ United Presbyterian Church. Although she no longer drives, she rarely misses a board meeting, often depending on public transportation to get her to where she needs to be.
Through her quiet determination and low-key leadership, Hironaka has provided a steady hand to the board for many years. Her talent for fundraising is unmatched and if you’re one of the many buyers of JCCCNC’s sweepstakes and raffle tickets because of her tenacious soft-sell, you’ve had personal experience with her determination. She is continually one of JCCCNC’s best fundraisers because of her gentle, yet convincing powers of persuasion.
“It has been important for me to stay involved over the years so I can help educate and shape future generations into community leaders,” Hironaka said. “After receiving my honorary degree from City College of San Francisco as part of the California Nisei College Diploma Project, I have a much greater appreciation for the JCCCNC and their role in fighting for important issues affecting the Japanese American community.”
Although not one to seek the spotlight, she agreed to participate knowing that her presence at the ceremony would symbolize what happened to other Japanese American students who were forcibly removed from their homes during World War II and recognizing the importance of educating a new generation of students.
The annual fundraising event, is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter St. in San Francisco.