The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California have selected five exceptional Japanese American community leaders for the 2015 Women of the Year Award: Kimiko Goya, Yoshie Hirata, Martha Nishinaka, Pearl Omiya, and Nancy Takayama.
This year’s luncheon event will be held at the Quiet Cannon, Montebello II Room, 901 N. San Clemente, Montebello, on Sunday, May 3, at 12:30 p.m.
Kimiko Goya was born in Ginowan City, Okinawa, where she graduated from Futenma High School. In 1962, she moved to Hawaii to study English. She graduated from the Hawaiian Mission Academy and from the University of Hawaii Community College System’s Kapiolani Technical College.
Goya worked as a Japanese school teacher for 25 years, since 1986, before retiring in 2011. As a way to broaden the social studies of her students, she supervised yearly visits to the South Bay Keiro Nursing Home, interacted with the elderly people, and volunteered at their annual bazaar event. During her career, she was also a committee member in the California Japanese School Association for the preparation of credit tests.
In 1999, Goya became the president of the Majikina Honryu Majikina Aiko Ryubu Dojo. During her tenure, they received a grant from the U.S. government that funded a successful dance performance at the Aratani Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles.
In 2002, Goya was chosen by the Okinawa Association of America (OAA) to chaperone seven students of Okinawan descent traveling to Okinawa as part of the Junior Study Tour, an annual program sponsored by the Okinawa Prefecture government. Once there, they met with 24 other students from around the world to study Okinawan history, culture, and social interactions. Through these efforts, Goya strived to strengthen the bonds between one generation and the next.
In 2004, Goya was appointed by the OAA to be the Fujinbu chairperson. In that capacity, she expanded membership numbers by 200 and expanded membership involvement with Fujinbu activities by offering cooking classes, craft classes, and one-day bus trips. She also worked to strengthen ties to the mother prefecture Okinawa Women’s Association by promoting greater interactions between the two groups.
In 2011, Goya became president of the Okinawa Association of America, becoming the first elected woman president in its 103-year history. During her two-year tenure, she established computer classes, introduced Okinawan cuisine for broadcast on a Japanese television station with cooking instructor Nancy Niijima, and displayed photos of performance arts teachers in the OAA buildings as a tribute to their achievements.
Also, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck Japan, Goya oversaw the collection of material and monetary donations, which raised $24,039 to date. In addition, she participated in the Nisei Week Parade in Little Tokyo.
Also in 2011, Goya was invited by the Okinawan government to attend the fifth World Uchinanchu Taikai Festival hosted in Okinawa. Over 5,000 people from around the world attended the event. As the OAA president and board member, she visited Ryukyu University, Art University, International Exchange Bureau, and the headquarters of the Okinawan Times and Ryukyu Shimpo newspapers.
In 2012, Goya was invited by the Japanese government and Okinawa Prefecture to attend the Okinawa Reversion 40th Anniversary Ceremony, which commemorated the return of Okinawa to Japan as a part of Japan’s post-World War II recovery. At the ceremony, Goya met with former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and former Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.
Lastly, Goya was invited by the Okinawa government to lecture before sixth-graders at the elementary school she attended as a child.
Goya married her childhood friend, Shigeo Goya, in Hawaii before moving to Torrance in 1970. She has one son and three daughters. Her son, Daniel Goya, took over her husband’s auto repair business after his retirement. Her daughters, Diane Konishi and Carol Vela, are public school teachers. Her youngest daughter, Linda Daghsen, helps run her husband’s business. Goya has nine grandchildren. To this day, she continues her volunteer work.
Yoshie Hirata was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. She was in sixth grade when World War II started. Later, during her middle-school years, her school was closed because the students were volunteered for the war effort in the fields and factories.
Hirata went back to school after the war ended. After graduating the girls’ high school, she was sent to the so-called bride preparation school because her parents wished to prepare her for marriage, as was the usual custom at the time. After Hirata finished the four-year curriculum and graduated, she remained at the school to become one of the teaching staff.
In June 1957, Hirata visited the U.S. to attend the graduation ceremony of her now deceased husband, whom she met previously at church, and who was studying at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. They were married shortly after at the Georgetown church and started a new life together in America.
From 1960 to1975, Hirata worked as an accounting assistant for Trinity College in Washington, D.C. From 1977 to 1983, She worked for JFC International in Baltimore, Md., handling the military account. In1983, she moved to Los Angeles because her husband was transferred. There, she started working at JFC Los Angeles office in the import/export documentation department. She worked there for 17 years and retired in December 2000.
In January 2001, Hirata started to volunteer at Keiro Retirement Home as an assistant treasurer of Friends of Keiro Retirement Home and activity helper. She also joined the Japanese Community Pioneer Center as a volunteer and is a member of the board, treasurer, and office worker to this day.
It has now been 15 years since Hirata started volunteering for the community. As a Japanese national, she has always wished to serve the Japanese community in some capacity. During her 15 years of volunteer service, she has spent many happy days and has been fortunate to meet so many friends.
Hirata’s volunteer spirit was nurtured during her 50 years of marriage and became a reality at retirement. It is her desire to continue to volunteer and serve the community until the last days of her life. She will always try to do her best and think positively about services for the community.
Born in Quito, Ecuador, Martha Nishinaka, a teenage immigrant to the U.S., shares many of the same challenges that the Issei generation faced when they arrived in America. She is a professional health care worker, a church leader, and a community activist supporter and volunteer who has raised her three now adult Yonsei children to carry on the Japanese traditions, culture, and legacies — teaching them what it means to be Japanese American.
Nishinaka, her husband, Wesley, and their children are members of Centenary United Methodist Church, founded by Issei pioneers more than 117 years ago. Her earliest recollection of Centenary was Spanish conversations with Grandma Nakama, a Spanish-speaking Issei from Okinawa who emigrated to the Imperial Valley farm life in the late 1920s. Grandma Nakama, along with the Issei and Nisei ladies of Centenary, inspired Nishinaka to be strong in her faith and service to the church and community.
Following their legacy, Nishinaka has been the United Methodist Women president at Centenary for over 10 years. The service and fellowship group fundraises to support local, national, and global efforts to improve the lives of women, children, and youth.
Nishinaka plays a key role in making Centenary a welcoming place that shares resources and space for cultural activities and community meetings and gatherings. She founded the first and only Christian happi-clad “Obon Hoppers,” who participate at Obon festivals throughout California. She has worked collaboratively to bring together Japanese American organizations, Little Tokyo businesses and services, non-profits that focus on the care of women and their families, and Downtown residential communities with a karate dojo, musicians, taiko drummers, minyo dancers, ondo/odori enthusiasts, and people curious about the Japanese American culture.
Nishinaka has done this by leading Centenary’s Little Tokyo Community Yard Sales, Collectors Show, and Boutique; coordinating a Fun Walk for Hunger Awareness through Skid Row, the Arts District, and Little Tokyo; serving lunches to the homeless in Skid Row; being a key leader at Centenary’s annual Arigato Bazaar; coordinating Centenary’s Public Ondo Gatherings; hosting Centenary’s Open House and Open Mike events; organizing the free Little Tokyo annual Halloween Costume and Public Ondo Party at Centenary, and Centenary’s Little Tokyo Community Peace and Goodwill Fair.
In August, Centenary, along with Nishinaka and her family, go into Nisei Week mode, as they host many events, including staging for the Nisei Week Festival Grand Parade. Many years ago as the parade was finishing on First Street in Little Tokyo, she swept the entire length of Second Street of debris by herself, prior to the city sending a sweeper crew to clean up the streets. Why did Nishinaka do this? She felt it was the “Japanese” thing to do.
Her nieces, Dana Heatherton (2009 queen) and Tori Nishinaka (2014 queen), served on the Nisei Week Courts.
Nishinaka’s biggest Japanese American influence comes from her mother-in-law, Angel Nishinaka, who was born in the Imperial Valley. Angel, a divorced mother who raised her seven children on her own, made sure her kids knew their culture and understood the importance of serving the community. Nishinaka has learned from Angel’s example.
Nishinaka even does the family’s New Year’s Day (Oshogatsu) get-together with literally a hundred people visiting throughout the day at Angel’s house. Nishinaka prepares the ozoni in the morning, the osechi-ryori for the gathering, and fries tempura, as well.
She enjoys glamour camping and fishing at June Lake in the Eastern Sierra, weekends in Las Vegas at the California Club, and hanging out in Little Tokyo. She belongs to Kotobuki no Kai Minyo Dance Group, based out of Centenary led by shihan Imoto Hoshunjyu/Kazue. As a student and performer, Nishinaka is as comfortable wearing her yukata and kimono as she would be with her everyday clothes.
Nishinaka is an office manager and director of operations for Pagiel Shecter, M.D., Inc., specializing in internal medicine and nephrology. She is instrumental in making sure countless people are receiving life-saving dialysis, and kidney transplant candidates are given proper care.
Most who know Nishinaka recognize her as a person who carries on the traditions, culture, and legacies that Japanese Americans cherish — by serving God and the community and by passing along to culture, traditions, and legacies to her children.
Pearl Omiya was born and raised in West Covina and has resided there almost her entire life. She is the only daughter of West Covina residents Melvin and Teruyo Omiya, and is married to Alex Sario, an attorney with the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender’s office. Together, they are raising two sons, Daisuke (age 3) and Taiki (age 1) in their West Covina home.
Omiya serves as executive director at the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center (ESGVJCC), overseeing its operations, finances, programs, and services. Serving over 1,500 families annually, she provides leadership and oversight to over 25 different programs and classes that are offered weekly, including taiko, martial arts, Japanese language school, computer classes, senior programs, and many more.
In addition, Omiya oversees nearly a dozen annual events that serve the community, including two large festivals and the annual Family Health Fair, co-sponsored with State Sen. Dr. Ed Hernandez.
As executive director, a position she has held since 2006, Omiya provides leadership and guidance to four staff members, in addition to advising the ESGVJCC’s Board of Directors. She also supervises dozens of interns and volunteers throughout the year. She works closely with the City of West Covina to oversee its annual Cherry Blossom Festival and Sister City Student Exchange Program.
During her tenure, Omiya led a $1.5 million capital campaign, the largest in ESGVJCC’s history, to construct a new multipurpose room, which is used for senior programs, Japanese language classes, martial arts, recreational classes, and other educational programs. Due to her leadership, the construction loan was successfully retired after only four years.
As part of ESGVJCC’s strategic plan, Omiya is leading the development of a new infant care center to be hosted at the community center. She is currently going through the licensing process and certification training to launch the infant care center in 2016.
Prior to joining the staff at the ESGVJCC, from 2002-2004, Omiya taught English in Japan through the JET Programme, which provides English-language teachers to foreign countries. After returning from Japan, she joined the board of the JET Alumni Association and served as its president.
Omiya attended Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. She has bachelor’s degrees in economics and Japanese. She also earned a social studies teaching credential from Cal Poly Pomona.
While attending UCLA, Omiya was involved with the Nikkei Student Union and served as its president. She also worked on campus as a lifeguard in the UCLA Aquatics Department.
Omiya currently serves on the board of the Nikkei Federation and on the leadership committee for the Community Mentor Program.
Nancy Takayama lives her life with a passion for volunteering and engaging with others who serve the community. Her leadership style, no matter how people may view as big or small, takes a humble, supportive, and dedicated approach.
Takayama’s love for volunteerism began with a hearing-impaired disabilities awareness organization in Hawaii. It began when a profoundly deaf co-worker handed her a card with alphabet letters in sign language, as a gesture of wanting to communicate. Wishing to connect with the hearing-impaired community, Takayama learned sign language and soon became an advocate for disability awareness.
Through performances and public engagement, she taught K-12 students and the general public about physical disabilities to help prevent fear and bullying. This began her community service of “giving back.”
After leaving Hawaii, Takayama returned to her hometown in the San Fernando Valley in the late 1990s to spend time with her family. After the loss of many of her elder family members and friends, she realized the importance of irreplaceable family history and the historical legacy of Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley.
Takayama worked with her parents’ friends, Nisei at the local community center, and students at the Asian American Studies Department at Cal State Northridge with a mission to engage the younger generation and record oral histories. With a love for preserving the life experiences and sacrifices of Japanese and Japanese American farmers in the San Fernando Valley, she hopes to continue documenting and expanding SFV Japanese American history.
In the early 2000s, Takayama found herself recruited to serve on both the San Fernando Valley JACL and San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center boards. Working together with both organizations, she felt that “giving back” became even more rewarding. She came to understand how the organizations functioned like a village by coordinating community events, educational programs, and various preservation community activities.
In 2004, Takayama was elected to serve as president of the SFV JACL, as well as a board member of the JACL-Pacific Southwest District. Wanting to bring multiple generations of Japanese Americans together to share their stories and preserve their experiences on film or in other photographic projects, she worked with the PSW staff to help create and bring the Katarou Histories program to the San Fernando Valley.
Takayama has also engaged with promoting the historical legacy of Japanese Americans through her volunteerism as a board member for the Grateful Crane Ensemble since 2010. She supports its mission as a unique nonprofit theater group with the vision to educate the public about the JA community’s history, hardships and contributions through performances.
Takayama held the SFV JACL presidency for five years and continued on the PSW board until 2012. when she decided to work for PSWD JACL full-time. Thus her involvement grew from San Fernando Valley to working with the PSWD mission of protecting civil rights and preserving the JA heritage in the broader historical geographical preservation region of Southern California and the Southwest.
She has been a dedicated supporter of PSW programs, such as Local Leaders, a chapter-district partnership and summer leadership program, and the Nikkei LGBTQ Initiative, which helped organize the first Nikkei LGBTQ Conference, “Okaeri.” in November 2014.
Recently, Takayama joined the Little Tokyo Business Association and also became involved in the Little Tokyo Community Council to preserve the community’s strong legacy, as well as to help maintain the environment of the oldest Japantown in the region.
Takayama is also a strong community supporter in the fight to preserve the Tuna Canyon Detention Center property, which was recently designated as a historical site in Los Angeles County. With that success, the Tuna Canyon committee established a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to make the most out of the Tuna Canyon property, and transform it into an educational learning site. This was of particular interest as she subsequently learned that her maternal grandfather was held captive there before being transferred eventually to Crystal City, Texas.
Cultivating awareness of Japanese American history through preservation advocacy efforts for the Tuna Canyon Detention Center, the Tule Lake camp, and the Manzanar camp, where her parents met and married while incarcerated, is Takayama’s drive for giving back today.
Her presence and leadership in these multiple efforts helpsto preserve and promote the historical legacy and contributions of Japanese Americans not only in local communities, but the overall effort in the national landscape of the United States.
Tickets are $40 per person. The deadline for reservations is April 17. Registration begins at 12 p.m. No gifts please. Make checks payable to Downtown LA JACL. Mail check and list of attendees to Amy Tambara, Women of the Year Chairperson, 526½ W. Riggin St., Monterey Park, CA 91754. For more information, call Tambara (English/evenings) at (323) 722-3897, Rodney Nakada (English/Japanese/days) at (213) 628-1800, or Kay Inose (English/Japanese) at (310) 541-8022.