Clockwise from to left: JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito; JACCC Board Chair Craig Tomiyoshi; emcee traci kato-kiriyama; Dinner Chair David Yamahata; Nancy Matsui of American Airlines; board member Henry Ota.
LONG BEACH — Two prominent families were among the honorees at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s 38th Anniversary Celebration and Awards Dinner on June 9 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach.
The event, which also marked the 35th anniversary of the JACCC’s Aratani Theatre, opened with remarks by performing artist and community organizer traci kato-kiriyama and JACCC Board Chair Craig Tomiyoshi, and a piano performance by musician/composer Mark de Clive-Lowe.
The JACCC Call to Action was delivered by Alison De La Cruz, director of performing arts and community engagement, and the 38th anniversary toast, sponsored by Mutual Trading Co., was led by David Yamahata, 2018 dinner chair.
There was an “In Memoriam” montage recognizing community leaders who had passed since the last dinner and a “Through the Years” video about the history of the theater.
Music was provided throughout the program by the 38th Anniversary Band — Scott Nagatani, Danny Yamamoto, Taiji Miyagawa and Tracy Wannomae. There was also a piano performance by young Sandino Flores.
The 38th Anniversary Band consisted of Scott Nagatani on piano, Taiji Miyagawa on bass, Danny Yamamoto on drums, and Tracy Wannomae on saxophone.
The opportunity drawing was conducted by Nancy Matsui of American Airlines, JACCC external vice chair, and Tomiyoshi. The winner of AAdvantage Miles was Michael Yanagita.
The stage featured ikebana designed by Sogetsu instructor Kaz Yokou Kitajima and calligraphy by contemporary traditional painter Wakana Kimura, who is JACCC’s cultural arts manager. Centerpieces were designed by the Ikebana Teachers Association of Southern California.
Dinner sponsors included: Presenting — Terasaki Family Foundation. Major — American Airlines, Folick family. Gold — Frank and Betty Hiji, Kawaguchi-Kihara Memorial Foundation, MUFG Union Bank, Sugimoto family, Wells Fargo. Silver — Cedars-Sinai, Doizaki and Sons, Fukui Mortuary, Glenn and Michiko Inanaga, Gonsaku and Mine Ito family, IW Group, Mitsubishi Corp. (America), Henry Ota and Hiroyo Nonoyama, Pacific Commerce Bank/Thomas Iino, Panda Restaurant Group, Suntory Holdings Ltd.
Following are profiles of the honorees.
Linda Aratani (second from left) accepted the Chairman’s Award on behalf of the Aratani family. She is pictured with JACCC Board Chair Craig Tomiyoshi, President and CEO Leslie Ito, and board member Henry Ota.
• The evening’s first Chairman’s Award was presented to the Aratani family by JACCC board member Henry Ota. Linda Aratani accepted on behalf of the family.
George Tetsuo Aratani (1917-2013) was born in Moneta, the only child of Setsuo and Yoshiko Aratani. The family eventually moved up the coast of California to the small farming town of Guadalupe. George’s father, Setsuo, was not only a very successful farmer, but was also a leader among the Japanese community.
George would refer to this time of his life as very happy and carefree. He attended Santa Maria High School and excelled in both academics and sports, in particular, baseball, earning a batting average of 500. One of George’s most glowing moments was winning the CIF championship against Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego and their pitcher, Ted Williams.
After graduating from high school, George was accepted to Stanford University. However, Setsuo believed his son would benefit from an education in Japan. At that time George’s mother was also in Japan, residing at a hot springs due to her asthma. She passed away in 1935 while George was attending Keio University in Tokyo. Before he could graduate, he returned to California when his father became ill and was no longer able to run the family business. Setsuo passed away shortly after George’s return in April 1940.
Sakaye Inouye was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 11, 1919 to Eijiro and Katsu Inouye. The family lived in Gardena and ran a successful poultry business. George and Sakaye met briefly in Downtown Los Angeles through a friend and they made a lasting impression on each other.
When World War II began, George was forced to sell the business and sent to Gila Relocation Center in Arizona with his stepmother, Masuko. Sakaye and her family were sent to Poston III internment camp in Arizona, which was near Gila. Both George and Sakaye were able to visit each other occasionally during that time. He proposed to her and she accepted.
George enlisted in the Army’s Military Intelligence Service and was sent to Fort Snelling in Minnesota, where he taught Japanese language to American GIs. Sakaye and Masuko were able to leave camp and join George in Minneapolis. George and Sakaye were married in 1944 in Minneapolis and had their first daughter, Donna, in 1945.
After the war, the family moved to Montebello, where Linda was born. After several attempts to create a new business, Mikasa Chinaware was launched in 1957, and years later, Kenwood Electronics was established. With the success of both companies, George and Sakaye were able to fulfill George’s dream — philanthropy.
In the 1960s, George teamed up with several prominent businessmen in the community to help launch Keiro Nursing Home in Boyle Heights. George and Sakaye continued to donate their time and efforts to raise funds for many organizations in the Los Angeles area, including the JACCC. After a significant donation from the Aratani family for the theater’s upgrades, the venue was named the George and Sakaye Aratani Japan America Theatre, now known as the Aratani Theatre.
In 1994, George and Sakaye started the Aratani Foundation, whose mission is to support the Japanese American community primarily in Los Angeles. Their efforts were recognized by the Japanese government three times. Sakaye was the first Nisei woman to receive a Kunsho medal in 1983. She received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Fourth Order for her efforts in supporting the Japanese war widows after the war. Five years later, George received his first Kunsho, Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette. In 2008, George was recognized again with his second Kunsho, Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star.
Today, Donna resides in Singapore with her family and makes frequent visits to Los Angeles to spend time with the family. Linda resides in Redondo Beach and is busy running the Aratani Foundation with her mother and her children.
George Sugimoto and daughter Lisa Sugimoto (foreground, center) accepted the Chairman’s Award on behalf of the Sugimoto family. They were joined on stage by family members Don Nose and Garrett Nose (Lisa’s husband and son), Aaron Sugimoto, Nathan Sugimoto, Christine Sugimoto, Alyssa Sugimoto (George’s son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren).
• The second Chairman’s Award was presented to the Sugimoto family by JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito. Accepting on behalf of the family were George and Lisa Sugimoto.
George K. Sugimoto was born in Parlier, Fresno County in June 1926. Living in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1920s and ’30s was a hard life for the family and with nine children to support, the parents worked as day laborers in farming communities to make ends meet.
George discovered an interest in aviation at a very young age. That interest would be a passion for him throughout his life and motivate him to enter the field of avionic electronics. He completed one year at Fowler High School before Executive Order 9066 forcibly incarcerated the family in the Gila Relocation Center.
One of his older brothers was drafted in 1941 and served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. George was drafted after answering “yes, yes” to two loyalty questions and entered military service in March 1945. After completing basic training at Camp Fannin, Texas in August 1945, he was sent to Korea to serve with the 6th Army Occupational Forces. After his honorable discharge, he returned to California.
In 1947, he attended the American Institute of Television Technology in Chicago, and in 1950, received his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. Later, George completed his flight instruction and became an instrument-rated pilot. His passion for flying was fulfilled with his command of a Piper Turbo Aero aircraft for 30 years from 1985 until recently.
Ruri Hirano Sugimoto (1925-2016), his wife of 64 years, was born in El Centro, Imperial County. During World War II, the Hiranos were forcibly removed to Poston Relocation Center. As the war was ending, Ruri left Poston for Los Angeles to find work and a place for the family to live. She lived by her core values and was ever so generous. She would say, “If you have nothing kind to say about someone, then don’t say anything.” She always found the good in people.
George and Ruri were married in September 1951 in Fresno and soon after their marriage moved to Pasadena. George continued his education and successfully received his professional electrical engineer license for the State of California. He began his career working for others as an electrical engineer and at one point was elevated to chief engineer. Realizing that working for others limited his creative and financial opportunities, he decided to start his own business.
As George started his new business, the home and garage in Pasadena were the beginnings for the design and manufacture of avionic components. KGS Electronics has been in operation now for over 58 years. The business grew and now occupies a 50,000-square-foot space in Arcadia and a facility in Upland. KGS now provides products to civil aviation, general and military aviation to Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) customers worldwide. Cessna Aircraft, EADS Airbus, Boeing Aerospace, Learjet Inc., and Robinson Helicopter are some of the many aircraft and aerospace companies KGS serves.
Although George is semi-retired, you still see him in the office almost every day. Since his official retirement, he enjoys volunteering his time and supporting many community organizations. JACCC, Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo Service Center, the former Keiro, Rafu Shimpo Foundation, Rob Fukuzaki’s Heads-up Youth Foundation Tournament, Aurora Foundation Tournament, Suburban Optimist Tournament, East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, and Akimatsuri Tournament are some of the organizations that benefit from his generosity.
George has two children, Lisa and Nathan. Lisa retired after serving 35 years with California community colleges. She was proud to be the president of Pasadena City College when it awarded honorary diplomas to Nisei students who were unable to complete their degrees when they were forced to evacuate during the war. Lisa is currently a partner with a consulting firm working to support executive searches for California community colleges. She is married to Don Nose and they are parents to Garrett.
Nathan is the president and chief financial officer for KGS Electronics, where he has successfully expanded its customer base and managed the economic fluctuations the company has experienced over the years. Nathan and his wife, Christine, have three children, Lindsay, Alyssa, and Aaron.
Lisa, Nathan, and their families admire their father and grandfather’s resilience, courage, entrepreneurial spirit, and his enduring love and unwavering support of family and community.
Community Spirit Awards
Grateful Crane Ensemble members (from left) Darrell Kunitomi, Kurt Kuniyoshi, Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima and Jason Fong sang funny intros for each Community Spirit Award honoree.
The three Community Spirit Award recipients were introduced by the Grateful Crane Ensemble. In keeping with JACCC tradition, the singers (Jason Fong, Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima, Darrell Kunitomi and Kurt Kuniyoshi) performed a popular song with modified lyrics for each honoree — Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and The Beatles’ “In My Life,” respectively.
• Craig Ishii has dedicated his career to the development of the next generation of Japanese American community leaders. In his various community roles, he has worked with thousands of youth over the last decade.
In 2011, he joined the founding team of Kizuna, a nonprofit with the mission of building a future for the Japanese American community through the education, empowerment, and engagement of the next generation. Now in its eighth year of operation, Kizuna is amongst the largest Japanese American youth-development organizations in Southern California, with new expansions developing nationally.
During his tenure with Kizuna, Ishii has led the organization’s development of its highly effective leadership development pipeline, a strategy that is lauded for its ability to create unique age-specific experiences, and successive educational experiences for all ages of the next generation. This pipeline is responsible for the development of key new leadership within the community.
During this time, he also co-authored a children’s book entitled “Thank You Very Mochi,” an engaging story about the importance of family relationships and cultural traditions.
Ishii also served on the board and was the previous chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council, which consists of over 90 Little Tokyo nonprofits, businesses, residents and other neighborhood stakeholders successfully coordinating concerns on a number of critical issues. Previous to his work at Kizuna, he served as a regional director of the Japanese American Citizens League, a national civil rights organization. He was the youngest to serve in both of these positions.
As a community leader, Ishii believes in creating cultural and historical awareness, a passion for community service, and ethical, respectful and competent leadership abilities among the next generation.
He earned his Masters in Public Administration with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management in 2010 and is a 2007 graduate of UCLA.
From left: JACCC Board Chair Craig Tomiyoshi, Community Spirit Award recipients Alan Miyatake and Kathy Masaoka, JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito, Community Spirit Award recipient Craig Ishii.
• Born and raised in a multicultural Boyle Heights and coming of age during the late ’60s were very important influences on Kathy Masaoka’s values and the direction of her life. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she became involved with the Japanese American Community Services-Asian Involvement (JACS-AI) office in Little Tokyo.
Masaoka was part of the Worker Newcomers Committee, which did outreach to workers in Little Tokyo and explained their rights. She worked at the Little Tokyo Service Center, coordinating the Nikkei Escort and Interpreter Program, and continued to work with residents of the San Pedro Firm Building as part of the Housing Committee until the LTSC Community Development Corporation was formed.
Since 1980 she has been a part of the National Coalition for Redress & Reparations, now the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, which led a grassroots campaign to win redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. She was co-chair of NCRR during the late ’80s, helping to lead outreach and grassroots efforts and going to Washington, D.C. with a delegation of more than 120 people in 1987.
Masaoka continues to work with the Education Committee, which conducted teacher workshops on the film “Stand Up for Justice” and preserved videotaped testimonies from the 1981 Los Angeles hearings Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Both projects were co-produced with Visual Communications. After 9/11, she helped form the NCRR 9/11 Committee to build support with the Muslim and South Asian communities.
Little Tokyo is also where she is rooted as part of the Sustainable Little Tokyo project. Masaoka serves on the board of LTSC, volunteers at Far East Lounge, enjoys yoga and tai chi, works on poetry with Amy Uyematsu, and supports FandangObon, which brings the JA, Latino, and African American communities together. She has also performed with the Great Leap projects “Memories of Boyle Heights” and “Yellow Pearl: Remix.”
Masaoka taught for 30 years, mainly at a LAUSD continuation high school located at All Peoples in South Central Los Angeles. She is married to Mark Masaoka and has two children, Dan (married to Veronica) and Mayumi (married to Jibby/Tawon), and a newly born grandson, Yuma.
• Alan Miyatake was born to Archie and Takeko Miyatake in Los Angeles. Being part of a family business, he was around Little Tokyo his whole life. Every activity revolved around Little Tokyo and the JA community.
He has been the owner and photographer at Toyo Miyatake Studio, founded by his grandfather, since 1992. It feels like he’s worked there his whole life, but he actually started when he was 16 years old. Miyatake takes pride in photographing three and four generations of families. Recently, he had the honor of photographing dance instructor Fujima Kansuma. It was a very historic studio moment as she has been photographed by his grandfather and his father. Miyatake and his daughter, Sydney, are working towards celebrating the studio’s 100th anniversary in 2023.
As a youth, Miyatake played basketball for the Nishi Hongwanji Wanjis, only winning sportsmanship trophies, and for the Nisei Athletic Union Seiji Isomoto Laker Organization. The studio sponsored many community teams back then. The Seiji Isomoto Scholarship Organization gave scholarships for 20 years.
Miyatake has been involved in several community activities such as the Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops from Koyasan, Nishi Hongwanji, and Orange County, as well as coaching and photographing many different basketball organizations. He also services numerous community cultural groups with his photography services and volunteers at the Los Angeles Buddhist Coordinating Council camp and the Saishin Dojo summer programs for kids.
He graduated college with a degree in photography and spent decades being mentored by his grandfather, father, and uncles. He learned his craft, and more importantly, learned the meaning of serving the community.
Being involved with JACCC, Nisei Week, Little Tokyo Historical Society, and other community groups for so many years has enriched his life. He was fortunate to grow up in Little Tokyo, spending almost every weekend around J-Town.
His hobbies are hiking (he recently completed Half Dome in Yosemite), fly fishing, playing basketball, and spending time with his wife, April, and daughters, Sydney and Lindsey.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo