The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California have selected five exemplary Japanese American community leaders for the 2012 Women of the Year award: June Kageyama, Nancy Kikuchi, Nosho Miyagi, Valena Noguchi, and Shizuko Uyemura.
“We are grateful that these five women spent countless years devoted to preserving and improving the community around them,” stated Hiroko Ikuta, president of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California.
“It is an honor to be able to acknowledge and thank them for their hard work,” added Kitty Sankey, vice president of the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter, JACL.
This year’s luncheon event will be held at the Quiet Cannon, Montebello I Room, 901 N. Via San Clemente, Montebello, on Sunday, May 20, at 12:30 p.m.
Since her journey from Japan to the U.S., preserving the Japanese American culture has been a personal mission for June Kageyama. She was born in Kochi on Sept. 20, 1941. Her family, which includes two brothers and three sisters, came to America and settled in Santa Ana in 1962. Kageyama became an American citizen in 1967. She moved to Los Angeles and was inspired to learn English at Cambria Adult School. She then went on to ITT Technical Institute, where she majored in business and learned how to use the new IBM machines.
In 1969, Kageyama married Ken Kageyama. They moved to Sun Valley in 1971. She worked at Dalin Corp. for six years until her first child was born. Later, she worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District Food Services Division for several years while raising her two daughters, Jennie and Karen.
Both daughters attended UC Irvine. Jennie continued on to the Southern California College of Optometry and is currently an optometrist at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. Her husband is Craig Kadonaga. Karen was involved in the visual effects industry working on many animated films at the Disney Studios in Burbank. Her husband is Charles Muranaka.
Kageyama loves children and has always inspired the children in her life to work hard and to believe in their goals and dreams. Her greatest joys are her four grandchildren, Troy, Lindsey, Evan, and Ryan, and 14 nieces and nephews.
In 1976, Kageyama became involved with the Valley Japanese Community Center when her daughter started going to Japanese school. In 1985, the Kageyamas bought the Far East Market that was located in front of the Valley Gakuen and Community Center, and operated it for the next 18 years. The friendly mom-and-pop store somehow became an information center and gathering place for members of the community: a place where the gakuen, judo, kendo, karate, and other organizations could depend on for Japanese groceries, a place where children could go to for advice and encouragement, and a place where the community could come together and call home. In this sense, Kageyama has been “mother of the community” for 35 years.
Like many businesses, community membership has also been decreasing. Kageyama passionately supported the Valley Buddhist Dharma School as president for over 10 years, always trying to recruit new members to revive and preserve the traditions. In 1979, she helped to expand and build the new classrooms for the Valley Gakuen, where she will continue to instill Japanese values for the next generation. She is grateful for the many wonderful individuals working together to strengthen the foundation that was laid before them.
Kageyama has been involved in such organizations asValley Gakuen PTA (president), Valley Dharma School (president), Valley Japanese Community Center (chairperson of social affairs), Valley Fujinkai, Nishi Hongwanji, Zenshuji, San Fernando Valley Community Center, and Kyodo System Japanese Language School.
She considers the community her family and hopes that the center will continue its legacy as it moves forward celebrating its 60th anniversary. With her glowing example, Valley Japanese Community Center will thrive.
“Volunteering is a ‘do good, feel good’ activity.” Nancy H. Kikuchi has been saying this since her high school days, when she was president of the community service club at her high school. She went on to obtain a BA from UCLA. Within a week of graduating, she departed for Japan to participate in the Mombusho English Fellows Program, the predecessor to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. After teaching in Kanagawa for four years, Kikuchi returned to Los Angeles to obtain her MBA from Pepperdine University and went on to hold various positions in Japanese-owned corporations.
In 1989, Kikuchi co-founded the JET Alumni Association of Southern California, which is now the largest and most active JETAA in the world. She has held a number of leadership positions within the organization, including chair of the Community Service Committee. JETAASC has volunteered its members for events held by various Japanese and Japanese American organizations, including the Little Tokyo Koban, the Tofu Festival, the Nisei Week Foundation, the Japanese Restaurant Association, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the Japan America Society, and Habitat for Humanity.
In 2000, Kikuchi joined the staff of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) as the Japanese-speaking business counselor. During her tenure, she also served as co-project manager of the historical mural that hangs on the Japanese Village Plaza parking structure wall on Central Avenue. The mural depicts the 100-year history of Little Tokyo and took three years, three muralists, over 500 volunteers, thousands of hours of combined effort, and eight funding sources to become a reality.
In 2007, Kikuchi joined the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) as the director of facilities. Although proud of many achievements, she is particularly proud to have been able to obtain a matching grant to help renovate the maple bridge in the James Irvine Japanese Garden.
Kikuchi is currently employed by the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles. She serves on the boards of the Little Tokyo Public Safely Association, the JETAASC, the Ehime Kenjinkai of Southern California, the LA Beat dance troupe, and TAIKOPROJECT.
She is also a former board member of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California and Nisei Week Foundation. She regularly volunteers for these and other organizations such as the LTSC, the JACCC, and the Los Angeles Tanabata Festival.
Grand Master Nosho Miyagi
Grand Master Nosho Miyagi has been studying, performing, and teaching Okinawan dance and music for over 58 years. Through her many accomplishments, she has brought Okinawan culture to life in California and communities throughout the U.S. Although she possesses an impressive collection of awards, certifications, and résumé of achievements that has earned her the title of grand master, she is popularly known in the community as Nosho Sensei.
Miyagi was born Yoko Uyezu in Naha, Okinawa. She was raised in Okinawa and was introduced to Okinawan dance and music at the tender age of 8. Her mother, Kame Uyezu, was a member of a dance school. Miyagi followed her mother regularly to practices and performances, which spawned her interest and enthusiasm to learn. By the time Miyagi was 14, she became a member of Miyagi Nozo Ryuku Dance School, where she received her formal training in Okinawan dance and sanshin under the direction of the late iemoto Grand Master Nozo Miyagi.
Throughout the following years, she devoted her time to regular practices and stage performances while also mastering the skills of Okinawan classical and folk dance and music. By 1978, Miyagi received her first teaching certificate in Ryukyu minyo. In 1982, she received the designation of natori and was given her professional title of Miyagi Nosho.
In 1969, Miyagi immigrated to the U.S. and became a naturalized citizen. In the same year, she married her husband, Billy Wilkison, a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. Together they raised their son, Riley Wilkison, while Billy served as a military officer in San Diego.
While Miyagi cared for their son at home, she also nurtured her interests in gardening and flower arranging. She trained at Sogetsu Ryu and received four certifications. She used her talents to personalize her house into a home with beautiful flower arrangements. It did not take long before a friend and military officer took notice of her special talent and encouraged her to offer classes to military wives. Shortly thereafter, Miyagi held informal classes teaching military wives the art of ikebana.
In 1978, Miyagi offered informal Okinawan dance and sanshin lessons at her home in Tustin. In 1982, she was awarded her instructor’s certificated by the late Grand Master Nozo Miyagi and formally opened her school, Miyagi Nosho Ryukyu Dance and Music School, in Orange County. In 1984, Miyagi Nosho Ryubu and Minyo School held a special recital celebrating her natori and shihan certificates, awarding her the title Grand Master Miyagi Ryu in the U.S.
Over the years, her school thrived under her mentorship and training and has expanded to several locations throughout the continental U.S.: Tustin, Torrance, West Covina, and Oxnard; Austin, Dallas and Houston, Texas; Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, and New York.
In her spare time, Miyagi enjoys her garden, which includes a beautiful variety of vegetables, orchids, and flowering plants. She also volunteers at the Okinawa Association of America, educating seniors about the health benefits of using organic vegetables in their regular diet.
Valena (Val) Noguchi was born in Campbell, near San Jose. She and her family were sent to a relocation camp in Heart Mountain, Wyo. during World War II. The family later relocated to Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they lived for many years.
When Noguchi was 14 years old, she was employed as a live-in “school girl” by a local physician. Her employers were very supportive of her and encouraged her to work in the medical field. They suggested that she train as an X-ray technologist, and arranged an interview for her with the head of the X-ray department at Herrick Memorial Hospital in Berkeley. Noguchi entered the hospital’s School of Radiologic Technology and trained with the future registered nurses. Following graduation, she was offered a position at Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu and worked as an X-ray technician for many years. It was there that she met her husband, Henry Takashi Noguchi, who worked as a laboratory technician.
After the children were grown, Noguchi looked for volunteer opportunities within the community. Although she is not a musician, she and her husband have a mutual interest in classical music, which led to her involvement as a volunteer in that field. In 1991, Noguchi was invited to join the Peninsula Committee L.A. Philharmonic, a support group of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. After serving in many capacities within the board, she served as co-chair of the Peninsula Music Fair in 2000, and was later elected president of the Peninsula Committee in 2002. Noguchi remains an active member of the board. As president of one of 17 affiliate groups of the L.A. Philharmonic, she joined the Philharmonic Affiliates in 2002. In 2003, she was also invited to become a member of Encore, an organization made up of past presidents of affiliate groups.
In 1992, Noguchi became a charter member of the Asia America Symphony Guild (formerly Japan America Symphony Guild), a support group of the Asia America Symphony Association. She served as president of the guild from 1996-1998 and again in 2007-2008. She has been a board member of the Asia America Symphony Association since 1996 and now serves as secretary under AASA President Ted Tokio Tanaka, FAIA.
Noguchi has been a member of the Japanese American Medical Association Auxiliary since moving to South Bay and was president from 1986-1988. She has also been a member of Nichi Bei Fujinkai since 2000, serving as president in 2004.
Noguchi presently lives in Pales Verdes. Her eldest daughter, Karen Bronson, lives nearby with twins Jack and Mariko, and is an active board member of a non-profit charitable organization in South Bay. Noguchi’s second daughter, Dr. Barbara Noguchi Willis, is a retinal specialist who lives in New Orleans with her two children, Caroline and Claire. Noguchi’s son, Dr. Kevin Noguchi, works as a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. Her youngest daughter, Jennifer Noguchi, is a graphics designer and lives in New York. Her husband, Dr. Henry Noguchi, is a semi-retired ophthalmologist. They have been happily married since 1962 and are looking forward to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year.
Shizuko Uyemura was born on Aug. 4, 1921 in Courtland, Sacramento County, to Sakuhei and Shiki Tsukida. She was the middle of five children, with two older brothers and twin younger brothers. Uyemura and her brothers were sent to Japan for their education. After completing high school in Japan, she returned to the U.S. to attend high school in San Francisco and to learn English. Uyemura went on to obtain a degree in fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.
Uyemura met and married her husband, Robert Tadashi Uyemura, in 1942. Soon after they were married, they moved into the internment camp in Gila River, Ariz. They had three children, two daughters and a son. Uyemura was widowed in 1957.
After her children were grown, Uyemura was introduced to Kitsu Chikurei, a renowned shakuhachi player and Columbia recording artist. Uyemura went to Japan for three months to study singing and shamisen under Chikurei Sensei. She continues to learn from him by visiting Japan three to four times a year for the past 40 years.
Thirty-five years ago, Uyemura began L.A. Chikurei Kai with the approval and support of Chikurei Sensei. Her mission was to connect younger and older generations through the teaching and learning of Japanese folk music. Her motto was “Keizoku suru koto wa chikara nari,” which means “perseverance is strength.” Uyemura provided her students with free lessons in both shamisen and singing.
Uyemura chose to give free lessons because younger people did not have much money for lessons and she wanted to give them the opportunity to learn for enjoyment rather than obligation.
Many of Uyemura’s students have been with her for the past 35 years. Some are third-generation Chikurei Kai members. Uyemura’s own daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandsons are also part of her group.
Twenty-five years ago, Uyemura began volunteering her time through teaching and performing at the Keiro Retirement and Nursing Home communities. Her group has performed countless number of times for various non-profit organization events in order to expose the Japanese minyo culture to the community.
As Uyemura looks back on the past 40 years of volunteer service, she has come to realize that true satisfaction comes from giving to others and watching people learn about themselves through the love of music and community service.
Tickets are $40 per person. The deadline to purchase the tickets is May 11. Make checks payable to the Downtown LA JACL. Mail checks and the list of attendees to Amy Tambara, Women of the Year chairperson, at 526 ½ W. Riggin St., Monterey Park, CA 91754. If you have any questions, call Amy Tambara (English/evenings) at (323) 722-3897 or Rodney Nakada (Japanese/days) at (213) 628-1800.