2017 Women of the Year Awardees Announced

Mikko Haggott-Henson, Susan Kazue Imoto, Marlene Masami Okada

The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California has selected five outstanding Japanese American community leaders for the 2017 Women of the Year Award: Mikko Haggott-Henson, Susan Kazue Imoto, Marlene Masami Okada, Irene Shigeko Sumida, and Norie Yamamoto.

Irene Shigeko Sumida, Norie Yamamoto

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 7, at 12:30 pm.

• Mikko (Arimoto) Haggott-Henson, known professionally as Katada Kikusa, was born in Tokyo. In 1962, she met Ben Haggott, who was a Metropolitan Water District Board member representing City of Torrance, and visited the U.S. at his invitation. They were married two years later.

Haggott-Henson helped to establish a sister-city relationship between Torrance and Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture. The affiliation was formalized in 1973. She then founded the Torrance Sister City Association and served as the president, translator, and cultural advisor until 1993. The association received eight awards from Sister Cities International and enjoyed the reputation of being the model sister city.

Haggott-Henson worked with the UCLA Fine Arts Department from 1980-1982 on special summer projects, bringing in notable classical dance and music masters from Japan. She took hayashi lessons taught by Grand Master Katada Kisaku. She then founded Katada Kai of USA in 1981 to revive Hayashi in the U.S. She became Hayashi Natori in 1986; it was a great honor to receive a name from the grand master, a designated National Treasure.

In 1980, Haggott-Henson received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Torrance Unified School District. She received the Torrance Fine Arts Award in 1986, the YWCA Woman of the Year Award in 1987, and the Torrance Women in History Award in 1988, and was recognized as a master artist by the California Arts Council in 1990.

In 1992, Haggott-Henson founded the Japanese Traditional Performing Arts Organization (JTPAO). She wore two hats, one as president of the JTPAO, and one as a hayashi performer and instructor. Haggott-Henson remains an Advisory Board member of the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation.

In 2001, Haggott-Henson organized Tomihiro in L.A., an art exhibit that lasted over 10 days and attracted 5,000 visitors. The proceeds were donated to Keiro Senior Health Care and Torrance-based Spinal Cord Injury Rehab Organization.

In 2007, Haggott-Henson facilitated Japanese movie showings related to orphanages and special education. The movies were shown at the Japan America (now Aratani) Theatre in Little Tokyo and at the James Armstrong Theater in Torrance. The proceeds were given to the Little Tokyo Service Center and to the special education school in Torrance. While researching this project, she discovered a moving human-interest story and engaged a writer to document this history. The book will be published in Japan by the spring of 2017.

In 2002, Haggott-Henson received the Sydney Jared Torrance Award from the City of Torrance. In 2009, she was recognized by the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce and Japanese Businessmen’s Association for her lifelong contributions towards a positive Japan-U.S. relationship.

In 2007, Haggott-Henson turned over all of her assets to establish the Arimoto Memorial Scholarship Endowment at UC Irvine to honor her father, who founded the SIT engineering college in Tokyo. Her scholarship has made it possible for 10 SIT students and six SIT staff members to study at UCI.

Haggott-Henson’s life has been dedicated to fostering Japanese culture and arts. She believes that globalization of Japanese youth is needed for Japan’s future.

• Susan Kazue Imoto was born on Oct. 28, 1944 to Michiko Kawagishi and Yoshiaki Fujinami, who was serving in the army in Shinkyo, Manchuria, China at the time. In 1946, the family returned to Kushimoto-cho, Tahara, Wakayama Prefecture where both the Fujinami and Kawagishi families were from. There, Imoto attended Tahara Elementary and Junior High School and Koza High School.

In 1960, the Fujinami family moved to the U.S. and settled in Boyle Heights. Imoto attended Roosevelt High School and graduated in 1964. Through church Bible studies and social events, she met Ted Takafumi Imoto, and in 1967, they were married. They have three children and eight grandchildren.

While raising her children, Imoto attended East Los Angeles College in the evenings and received an associate of arts degree in child development. She began working as a head teacher at the International Institute of Los Angeles. She subsequently worked at Keiro Retirement Home, where there was a high need for a Japanese bilingual social worker. Imoto retired at the age of 50 when her first grandson was born.

As a mother of Japanese descent, Imoto wanted to instill Japanese cultural values and experiences for her children. Her son took kendo lessons and is now a sensei. Her two daughters joined Fujima Kansuma Kai, a Japanese classical dance group, and they both have their natori statuses. It was with the Fujima Kansuma Kai that Imoto developed a greater passion for odori (dance). For about 25 years, she supported her girls in odori by taking them to classes and performances, making costumes and props for the group, and learning how to dress them in their kimono costumes and apply kabuki-style make up.

After her daughters married and had their own families, Imoto began her own dance lessons with Hoshun Kawamura Sensei at Nippon Minyo Kenkyu Kai from 1993 to 2009. Under Kawamura Sensei, she achieved her natori and shihan statuses as Imoto Hoshunjyu, and continued to dance until her sensei’s retirement. In the spring of 2009, Imoto opened her own minyo dance group, Kotobuki no Kai, and became the head of Los Angeles Nippon Minyo Kenkyu Kai. The group currently practices at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo.

Imoto shares her passion for minyo by volunteering to teach dance. Her students include her regular Kotobuki no Kai students, as well as Keiro Retirement Home residents, Nisei Week public dancers, members of the Taiwan Center, and some private students. Imoto and her students perform throughout Southern California at venues such as the Tanabata Festival, Cherry Blossom Festivals, Long Beach Aquarium, Kite Festival, Asian Expo, Wakayama Kenjinkai Picnic, the annual Kenjin Kyogikai Charity Show, and the Nanka Minyo Kyokai Aki no Minyo Show.

In addition to her dance, Imoto has served as trustee for Centenary United Methodist Church, treasurer of Wakayama Kenjin Kai Women’s Club, and the secretary of Nanka Minyo Kyokai. She also enjoys cooking, sewing, singing, crafts, and travel.