The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California have selected five noteworthy Japanese American community leaders for the 2019 Women of the Year Award: Linda Aratani, Elizabeth Doomey, Norie Morita, Joan Sumiko Kaneshiro Oshiro, and Margaret Shimada.
This year’s luncheon event will be held at the Quiet Cannon, Rooms Crystal 1 and 3, 901 N. Via San Clemente, Montebello, on Sunday, May 5, at 12:30 pm.
• Linda Aratani was born in Boyle Heights in 1947 to George and Sakaye Aratani. Her older sister, Donna, was two years older and was born in Minneapolis while their father taught Japanese to military personnel at Fort Snelling. The family eventually moved to Montebello.
Aratani’s father was a businessman, and together with other associates, started American Commercial Incorporated, which launched a very successful dinnerware product called Mikasa. During this time, both of Aratani’s parents became involved in community service with their focus on supporting the Japanese community in Los Angeles. Her father eventually launched another successful product line called Kenwood Electronics. With the success of both products, her parents were able to pursue their long-life dream of philanthropy.
The family moved from Montebello to Hollywood in 1959. Aratani and her sister attended Le Conte Junior High and Hollywood High School, where Aratani volunteered for several organizations, including Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. She also began to develop a very strong interest in medicine through her physiology and biology classes. She became acquainted with rehabilitation — physical, occupational and speech therapy — and earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from San Jose State University.
In 1970, Aratani landed her first job at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, a nationally recognized rehabilitation center. In 1973, she married Stephen Yusa. They welcomed their first born, Jeff, in 1977, then Jann in 1979, and finally Joy in 1984. In 1992, Aratani left Rancho and took the position of rehab director at Bay Harbor Hospital and Rehab. In 1995, she started her own rehab company with a physical therapist and provided rehabilitation services at South Bay Keiro Nursing Home in Gardena.
It was during that time that Aratani became increasingly involved with the Aratani Foundation. She began to attend foundation meetings and community functions with her parents, Tets Murata, and their secretary, Betty Teves. Aratani noticed how dedicated the community was in ensuring that Japanese American culture continued to thrive for generations to come, which happens to be the mission statement of her family’s foundation.
Aratani retired from occupational therapy in 2013, the same year that her father passed away. Her mother continues to guide her in running the Aratani Foundation along with the help of Teves. Sadly, Murata passed away in December 2018. Aratani is grateful to her entire family for their support in ensuring that the important work of their family’s foundation continues.
• Elizabeth Doomey brightens up everywhere she goes with her beautiful smile. Her parents, Yone and Shigeo Frank Takimoto, surely must have felt joyful when she was born in the Manzanar concentration camp. After the war ended, the family of five moved into a Burbank trailer camp. Doomey grew up in San Fernando attending local schools. By 1959, the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center (SFVJACC) was built by the Issei and Nisei volunteers for the sake of the children.
Doomey comes from a family that believes in service. For example, her mother oversaw the San Fernando Women’s Club and her aunt Mabel Takimoto was a Woman of the Year. Doomey met her husband, John, when she was working at Gemco. They have been happily married for 43 years. Both work hard at the center to take care of anything that needs to be done.
Among her notable accomplishments was managing bond issues for Cardinal Stadium in Arizona and for Oregon. While at Bank of New York/Mello, Doomey learned American Sign Language to help two of her employees on the job.
Because of her leadership as president, the Meiji Club is the largest club in the SFVJACC, with 400 members. The health and welfare of seniors has been upmost in her mind. Currently, Doomey is on the SFVJACC Board of Directors, is the Coordinating Council secretary, and is a member of the Endowment Committee. She has also supported the Tuna Canyon Detention Station fundraisers. Due to her involvement with almost every club at the center, she is a one-woman welcoming committee.
Outside of the center, Doomey is involved with Centenary United Methodist Church and Valley Japanese Community Center in Sun Valley.
Doomey is proud of her two children. Her angel, Audrey Eiko, takes care of Bachan Yone’s daily needs and works at Costco too. Her son, Raymond, and his wife, Glenda, live in Torrance, where he is the chief financial officer. Her granddaughter, Kristi Fukunaga, attends Arizona State University and is majoring in education. Her other granddaughter, Rachel, is a senior at West High in Torrance and wants to attend the University of Hawaii.
In her spare time, Doomey enjoys playing golf and has monthly lunches with her golf buddies.
Doomey’s life epitomizes a life of service, giving to others, not herself.
• Norie Morita was born 1940 in Itsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture. She studied architecture at Hutsukaichi High School and obtained the 2nd-Level Architectural License. She did design work at the Housing Department of Hiroshima Prefecture.
Morita came to the U.S. in 1970 based on her mother’s citizenship. She married her husband, who was a student from Hyogo, the following year. They have a daughter.
Morita and her husband started a business selling luxury items mainly to crew members of ships docked in Los Angeles Harbor. They even had a branch in Seattle at one time. In late 1993, after 22 years, they closed the business because Japan’s bubble economy was about to burst.
After her retirement from business, Morita started traveling extensively and writing essays in local magazines such as TV Fan. Her husband died of throat cancer in 2001. She became a member of the Okinawa Association based on Shingi Kuniyoshi’s recommendation. Soon, she became an overseas correspondent of the Okinawa Times and started contributing articles for the newspaper.
In 2016, Morita was appointed an Uchina Goodwill Ambassador by the governor of Okinawa and began promoting goodwill between Okinawa and the U.S. As a volunteer, she taught etegami at GIVIC church in Torrance. Etegami is a new literary genre invented by Kunio Koike, who promoted etegami with this motto: the more unskilled, the better. Etegami artists draw pictures of flowers, fruits or other objects with a few words on postcard-size paper. Etegami is very effective in reigniting friendship with someone who has been long forgotten. Morita has been teaching etegami monthly at the JA Pioneer Center since 2016.
Since 2017, Morita has been leading a senryu club called Tombo Senryu, which currently has about 45 members. They publish members’ works in Rafu Shimpo, Orange County free magazine, and many others. Morita feels very good when she receives comments from readers such as, “I haven’t laughed for a long time but today I really laughed, thank you,” or “I am bedridden from stroke, but I found encouragement to live from your senryu.”
Senryu is a simple combination of 7-5 Japanese words and easily composed by anyone. It reflects the core of Japanese culture and helps activate brain activity. Last year, Morita started a new genre “etegami senryu.” Her motto is to share the joy of living and creativity.
• Joan Sumiko Kaneshiro Oshiro remembers learning the terms “aloha” and “a ki shya mi yo” as a young child growing up in Honolulu. “Aloha” is a welcoming greeting as well as a fond farewell to loved ones. “A ki shya mi yo” was the Okinawan expression her father, Shigenobu Kaneshiro, and her mother, Kikue, used whenever Oshiro and her two older brothers were in trouble. They heard the second expression quite often.
Oshiro grew up loving the Japanese, Hawaiian, and Okinawan cultures, as do her husband, Dennis, son, Garrett, daughter, Wendy, and her grandchildren, Kenzie and Bryce. It can be hilarious when all three languages come into play, along with English and a little Pidgin.
Oshiro attended California State University at Los Angeles, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English, and her master’s degree in education. She began her teaching career at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, where she became a master training teacher of student teachers from UCLA. After 10 years, she transferred to Dominguez Elementary School, where she became a training teacher for CSU Dominguez Hills.
She also taught ESL (English as a second language) to adults at Banning High School, and became a Getty Art Museum educator who taught children how to appreciate works of art. As a member of the California Science Institute Network (CSIN) and LAUSD Mathematics Association, Oshiro helped children to discover science and math concepts through hands-on discovery and inquiry.
Cooking was a hobby of hers, so joining the LAUSD Nutrition Network as school coordinator was a natural for Oshiro. She implemented an after-school Chef’s Club where children learned culinary skills, including making inari and maki sushi. The “Reading Is Nutritious” program was developed to combine children’s literature with nutrition and involved parents and community leaders. Oshiro and a colleague coordinated parents and community volunteers to transform a school parking lot into a school garden to be used as an outdoor science classroom.
Oshiro was honored to be one of Los Angeles Country’s 2005-2006 Teachers of the Year, as a representative of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Oshiro volunteered and eventually became an Okinawa Association of America (OAA) board of member, secretary, and member of the Scholarship Selection Committee. She initiated computer classes for seniors and chaired the annual OAA Picnic, which had over 500 attendees. She coordinated the Children’s Day Festival at El Marino Elementary School, where Okinawa-style taiko was introduced. It was quite an honor to be named OAA’s 2013 Woman of the Year.
Oshiro has also served as a board member and vice president of Da’ Hawaii Seniors Club of Cerritos, where she helps to spread the aloha spirit to the community.
The Southeast Japanese School and Community Center (SEJSCC) in Norwalk has been a wonderful institution where Oshiro and her husband volunteered with the sports program (SEYO), ukulele class, and Cultural Festival. Their grandchildren are now also involved with their programs.
• Margaret Endo Shimada was born in Oakland to Hichiro and Helen Endo. She grew up in a bustling household of nine, with her parents, three brothers, three sisters, and an assorted menagerie of dogs, cats, tortoises, and hamsters. It was a busy household teeming with love, laughter, constant activity, and occasional chaos. And it was in this environment that Shimada’s passion for community service was formed and nurtured.
Shimada attended UCLA, where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her master’s in social welfare. Her first real job out of college was at the Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP), where she was hired as the director of the inpatient residential treatment program. Shimada left AADAP in 1988 to serve seniors at Keiro Services, where she provided counseling and became director of public affairs and development.
Shimada later worked at the Korean Youth & Community Center (KYCC) immediately following the Los Angeles riots or civil unrest of 1992, to provide clinical consultation and support to KYCC’s staff.
Shimada married in 1993 and moved to Rancho Palos Verdes. As a full-time mother, she was able to stay involved in the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community as a clinical consultant with the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, where she developed the individual and couple’s counseling program for API men who were HIV+.
Shimada also started her school district’s first elementary school booster club at Dapplegray Elementary School. As a parent volunteer, she created and co-chaired a capital campaign to build a library and a literacy center for science and arts on campus and was awarded the school’s inaugural President’s Award for her involvement.
In 2006, Shimada joined the Palos Verdes chapter of the National Charity League, a mother-daughter organization that engages in philanthropic work for communities and students in need. She also provided clinical consultation for the staff at the Center for Asian Pacific Families (CPAF), an organization that assists API survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
As a Japanese American social worker, Shimada’s passion has always been in working with the Asian American community. In 2015, she became the director of social services at Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC). In this capacity, she continues to work on expanding mental health services for children, youth, families, and seniors; supporting housing and services for survivors of domestic violence; and building bridges between diverse Nikkei communities. Shimada is deeply committed to LTSC’s Changing Tides, a new intergenerational initiative to reduce cultural stigma and increase awareness of mental health issues in the Japanese and Asian American communities, particularly among youths and young adults.
In 2016, Shimada joined the Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center’s Patient Advisory Council, with an interest in improving services within the Kaiser regional network for older adults and for diverse ethnic groups.
Shimada is grateful for the opportunity to volunteer with organizations that foster culture and the arts, such as the Asia America Symphony Guild, Nichi Bei Fujin Kai, and the Peninsula Committee of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
She is also grateful for the support and love of her family and friends, particularly her husband, Ken, and children, Courtlyn and Kenji.
Tickets are $45 per adult and $25 per child (ages 10 and under). Specify if vegetarian is requested. The deadline for reservations is April 22. Registration begins at 12 p.m. Attendees are asked not to bring gifts. Seating arrangements are made in tables of 10. Make checks payable to Downtown LA JACL.
Mail check and the 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.