The government of Japan announced the recipients of its Spring 2015 Decorations on April 29. From the jurisdiction of the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, the following three distinguished persons will be awarded.
• Shinkichi Koyama will be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays for his contributions to the welfare of Japanese and Japanese Americans. He is former president of the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation and former board chairman of the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle.
Koyama was born on Dec. 7, 1934 in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. After graduating from high school, he began his career helping his father’s sporting goods store. He came to the U.S. to visit his grandmother and mother, owners of a boarding house in West Los Angeles, in 1959, returning to Japan a year later to marry his wife and begin his career at a brokerage firm in Tokyo.
In May 1968, Koyama was able to immigrate to the U.S. with his family. After helping the boarding house for a few months, he decided to become a gardener and began his training, gaining independence in 1970. Ever since, he has had clients in the greater Los Angeles area and continues to work energetically four days a week.
In December 2009, Koyama was awarded the Green-White Achievement Award by the Agricultural Committee of Japan for his efforts in agricultural development and Japan-U.S. friendship over the years.
Since immigrating to the U.S. and beginning his career as a gardener at 33 years old, Koyama has overcome many hardships and obstacles, all the while participating in various Japanese American organizations and greatly contributing to the development of the local Japanese American community.
As an organization to which many who became gardeners after the war belonged, the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation provides support for members and contributes to community welfare. Koyama has served as president for three years (2006-2008) and lends his efforts to the historical preservation of the organization to this day.
In addition, he has served as president of the Nanka Fukushima Kenjinkai and as chief editor, he and his wife put much effort in information-gathering and editing of the 100th Anniversary Memorial Book in 2008, resulting in a Lifetime Achievement Award from the governor of Fukushima Prefecture at the time.
Koyama has also served as chairman of the Board of Directors at the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle and president of the Bay Cities Gardeners Association. In 2014, he served as president of the Showakai, continuing his contributions to the Japanese American community. In 2014, Koyama received the Commendation of the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles in recognition of his achievements.
• Peter O’Malley, 77, will be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, for promoting friendly relations through baseball between Japan and the U.S. and the development of Japan’s baseball world.
Born on Dec. 12, 1937, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1961 and became an employee of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Dodgertown) in 1962. He was appointed director and vice president in 1967 and president in 1970, later serving as president and owner until he sold the team in 1998.
His first trip to Japan was in October 1956. He traveled with his parents for the 1956 Dodgers Goodwill Tour to Japan. The Dodgers played 19 games throughout the country. O’Malley recalls the Japanese players’ good manners, generous attitude towards fans, and warm attitude towards everybody, welcoming all with smiles.
This strong impression made him interested in Japan, and “friendship, mutual understanding and goodwill” have become his key values in life. He says these values made the Dodgers beloved by local fans and helped him build good relationships with Japanese friends.
O’Malley contributed to promoting friendly relations between the U.S. and Japan through baseball by inviting not only many professional baseball players, coaches and managers, but also amateurs such as Little League, high school and college baseball players from Japan to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. They had the opportunity to learn the substance of Major League Baseball during his time as president and owner of the Dodgers.
He has visited Japan approximately 85 times, developing good friendships with people in the Japanese baseball world.
In considering how to develop friendly relations with people in Japanese communities in Los Angeles, he succeeded by signing pitcher Hideo Nomo, who became the first Japanese-born player from Japan in 30 years to play in the major leagues. This resulted in attracting many Japanese and Japanese Americans to the baseball field not only from throughout the U.S., but also from Japan.
His contribution to Japan continued after he sold the team. He established the Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara and Peter O’Malley Memorial Sports Management Class at Tokyo’s Waseda University in May 2003. He addressed the first class at Waseda on “The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Major League Baseball” and sponsored 11 subsequent classes held through 2009.
• Minoru Tonai, 86, will be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette for his work to promote the status of the Japanese American community. He currently serves as president of the Terminal Islanders and Amache Historical Society.
He was born on Feb. 6, 1929, on Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor, where approximately 3,000 Japanese immigrant fishermen lived, supporting businesses and their families. In 1934 he lived for eight months in Japan, and in 1936, the Tonai family moved across the channel to San Pedro. As a youth, Tonai studied kendo as well as Japanese, first at a Japanese language school on Terminal Island and later at Compton Gakuen.
At the onset of World War II, his father was jailed along with other Issei community leaders. In May 1942, like all Japanese on the West coast, Tonai and his family were incarcerated, first at the Santa Anita Racetrack. In September they were shipped to Amache War Relocation Center in Colorado.
After the war, he returned to Los Angeles, where he graduated from high school, and then entered the workforce to earn his college expenses. He eventually enrolled at UCLA, leaving after 1½ years to work again, but was drafted by the Army in 1950 with the start of the Korean War.
As a combat medic, he was first sent with his infantry division to northern Japan to protect Japan from possible invasion by Russia and North Korea. In February 1952, his division was sent to battle in Korea. They finally came home and he was discharged in November.
Tonai enrolled at Los Angeles City College under the GI Bill, then returned to UCLA, earning his B.S. in business administration in 1955. He began his work as an auditor at a local accounting firm and later went on to build his career in finance and management at high-tech companies, retiring in 1987.
Beginning with fundraising for his alma mater, UCLA, Tonai has actively participated in many Japanese American community organizations through fundraising, spreading the beauty of the Japanese arts and the empowerment of Japanese Americans. He has served as president of the Amache Historical Society since 1978 and president of the Terminal Islanders since 2012, and was chairman of the Terminal Island Memorial Monument Committee when the monument was dedicated in 2002. He is actively involved as a board member and past president of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans, an advisor to the Nanka Wakayama Kenjinkai and Esumi Sonjinkai, and a member of the Wakayama Kenjinkai Scholarship Committee.
For many years, Tonai served as president and board member of the Omotesenke Domonkai Southern California Region, and he is currently an advisor. He also served for over 30 years as board member and chairman of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and was a board member of the Japanese American National Museum, Asia America Symphony Association, UCLA Foundation, Nikkei Bruins, and other UCLA organizations.
Koyama will attend the conferment ceremony to be held in Tokyo on May 15.The conferment ceremonies for O’Malley and Tonai will be held in Los Angeles. Details will be announced separately.