SAN FRANCISCO — Yo Hironaka, a fixture in San Francisco’s Japanese American community, passed away on Aug. 30.
She was known for her long-time involvement with the San Francisco JACL, Japantown Task Force, Christ United Presbyterian Church, and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. She served on the board of the JCCCNC for more than 25 years and was its last Nisei member.
“Through her quiet determination and low-key leadership, Yo has provided a steady hand to the JCCCNC Board for many years,” the JCCCNC said last year when it honored Hironaka at an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the center. “Her talent for fundraising is unmatched … She is continually one of JCCCNC’s best fundraisers because of her gentle, yet convincing powers of persuasion.” Or, as Greg Marutani of San Francisco JACL once put it, “You don’t say no to Yo.”
“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 at the time. “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 she shunned the spotlight, Hironaka, who was interned at Topaz, Utah, agreed to participate in the diploma ceremony, knowing that her presence 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.
Hironaka also received the 2011 Kay Okamoto Volunteer Award for volunteerism in such capacities as a Sunday school teacher at Christ United Presbyterian Church and a 20-year board member of San Francisco JACL. She organized two of the chapter’s annual events, Kenko no Hi, a community health fair, and the Spaghetti Crab Feed, whose proceeds are donated to a worthy local cause.
Other honors she received include the Woman Warrior award from Pacific Asian American Women Bay Area Coalition (PAAWBAC) in 2000.
JCCCNC Executive Director Paul Osaki announced Hironaka’s passing in a message to staff and board members:
“Yo passed away very comfortably. She awoke this morning, slowly, but her eyes opened. She did not eat but looked very calm. A few minutes later she closed her eyes and fell asleep and gently passed away around 9:10-9:20 a.m. She didn’t suffer at all, no breathing problems, no pain. Just a quiet goodbye …
“She knew that her cancer had returned and was given a very short time to live. She moved into The Avenue to receive hospice care from the beginning and didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t want anyone to fuss over her or go out of their way. That was Yo, a very private person, not wanting to burden anyone.
“There will be no mention of the date of her birth on her obituary. That’s the way she wanted it. Once a paramedic came to her house after she fell to the ground and as he took her vital signs, he asked for her age and Yo said, ‘I’m not going to tell you!’
“I’m sure all of you have your own memories and favorite stories of Yo. Keep them. She would like that …
“Yo would always kid around that she was a nobody, but she was a somebody, someone we could only hope to be one day.”
Comments posted on Facebook reflected the same sentiments.
“Yo was a community darling,” said Allen Okamoto, JCCNC board member and past president. “She was always ready to help and to give. Yo was a special person and we all will miss her.”
“Very sad news,” said Amy Sujishi, board chair of Japanese Community Youth Council. “A kind, caring and wonderful woman who will be dearly missed. She always had this knack of making everyone feel so special. My heart goes out to her family.”
“It’s difficult to imagine Japantown without Yo. It really seemed like she would be around forever,” said JCCCNC board member Kyle Tatsumoto.
“Thank you for all you’ve done for our community. You will be missed, and never forgotten,” said Chris Hirano, former JCCCNC director of community development.
Hironaka was preceded in death by her husband, David “Taxy” Hironaka; daughter, Marcia Hironaka; parents, Konosuke and Rui Kiwata; and brother, Kenichi Kiwata.
A celebration of Hironaka’s life will take place at the JCCCNC at a date to be determined. She will also be remembered at the center’s annual fundraising event on Sept. 29. For details, visit www.jcccnc.org.