By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
MONTEBELLO — The five most recent Southern California recipients of the Kunsho — a prestigious decoration from the Japanese government — were honored June 9 at a luncheon hosted by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce Foundation at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello.
Grace Shiba, JCCF vice president, served as emcee. She explained that the biannual awards are given to Japanese nationals and foreigners for “outstanding contributions made to Japan in the areas of culture, science, industry, economics, medicine and social affairs” and the promotion of “international goodwill between the U.S. and Japan and other nations of the world.”
Shiba called for mokutou (a moment of silence) “in memory of those Jokun honorees who are no longer with us, but whose contributions will never be forgotten.”
Katharina Miyoshi and Shigeo Nagayama sang the national anthems of the U.S. and Japan, respectively.
Kaz Kishita and Howard Miyoshi, JCCF vice presidents, introduced the fall 2012 recipients:
• Allan James Acosta of Seal Beach, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at California Institute of Technology and a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, for contributing to the development of liquid rocket technology in Japan and promoting research exchange between the U.S. and Japan. He was accompanied by Annette Robinson, a family friend.
• Akemi Kikumura Yano of Sherman Oaks, former CEO and president of the Japanese American National Museum and visiting scholar at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, for contributing to the development of Japanese American studies and promoting understanding toward Japanese Americans in the U.S. and Nikkei in the Americas. She was accompanied by her husband, Gary Yano.
“We don’t do anything by ourselves,” Kikumura Yano said. “It’s really with the good grace of others who help us along the way. It’s a collective effort.” She thanked her colleagues and family, and noted that the celebration coincided with her 34th wedding anniversary.
• Kazuye Suyeishi of Torrance, former Special Communicator for a World Without Nuclear Weapons and president of the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors. Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for contributing to the promotion of understanding of the anti-nuclear position and advancing the welfare of hibakusha in the U.S.
“I never did all by myself — so many people supported me,” Suyeishi said, thanking her friends for 15 years of efforts to have the Kunsho awarded to her.
The spring 2013 recipients were introduced by JCFF Vice President Masao Okamoto:
• Thomas Iino of Pacific Palisades, chairman of the U.S.-Japan Council and Pacific Commerce Bank, former chairman of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and a member of the JANM Board of Governors. Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, for helping to strengthen the economic relationship and promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the U.S. and Japan. He was accompanied by his wife, Barbara.
Iino said that links between Japan and Japanese Americans are “a natural step in the evolution of our respective cultures. Because of the effect of World War II, this step of enhancing our relationship has evolved slowly, but … has really gained some momentum in the last 20 years … I can assure you that we’re just at the beginning.”
Naming two Kunsho recipients who recently passed away, Iino continued, “George Aratani showed us how to succeed in business and how to pioneer early relationships with Japan. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye enhanced our cultural image by becoming the most influential Asian (American) politician of our lifetime … We are all proudly carrying on the mission … The efforts of the Japanese Americans can make a real difference.”
• Kaneko Bishop of San Diego, president of the San Diego-Yokohama Sister City Society and former vice president of the Japanese Friendship Garden/Sankeien. Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for contributing to the promotion of the regional relationship between the U.S. and Japan. She was accompanied by her husband, H. Kenneth Bishop.
Mrs. Bishop related a story about her recent trip to Japan: “Following an award ceremony in Tokyo, we visited San Diego’s sister city of Yokohama for a courtesy call on Mayor (Fumiko) Hayashi. As soon as I entered the hallway to Mayor Hayashi’s office, I was greeted by all the city employees who lined the hall clapping their hands and saying, “omedetou, omedetou” (congratulations). I was overwhelmed by their sincere welcome. The mayor also welcomed me so very warmly. It is this culture that makes Japan such a special country.”
JCCF President Yoshio Lee Aoki, who presented an award to each honoree, noted, “One of the recipients I was having a conversation with this morning said, ‘I was lucky to receive this.’ I don’t think any luck was required … It’s a result of what a person has done for the community, for the family, for friends … I think the Japanese government has done its research to honor these honorees today.”
Congratulatory messages were also given by Hisamori Iwashita, president of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, Hiroko Ikuta, president of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California, and Consul General Jun Niimi, who was attending his second Jokun luncheon.
Although there have been changes over the past year, including a new prime minister for Japan and a new secretary of state for the U.S., “our bilateral relationship remains strong,” Niimi said. “In fact, it is stronger than ever … These five recipients honored today are the leading examples of such invaluable people who have been the foundation of today’s amicable bilateral relationship … What struck me most about this year’s recipients from Southern California is how diverse their accomplishments are. Their professions are different, yet they share a common passion for service and a love of Japan.”
Referring to Bishop’s speech, Niimi added, “Yokohama is my hometown, so I’m so proud that the people of my hometown so warmly welcomed her … I’m sure all five recipients had similar experiences.”
The program included shukugin by Nakamura Kokushi, shihan, of Rafu Kokusei-Ryu Shiginkai; a toast led by Keiichi Araki, president of the Southern California Gardeners Federation; and shokuzen no kotoba (pre-meal remarks) by Bishop Noriaki Ito of Higashi Honganji.
Entertainment was provided by kabuki actor Gankyo Nakamura, aka Bando Hiroshichiro, who performed “Sanbasou.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo