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Nisei Week Festival to Honor Eight Pioneers

The Nisei Week Foundation has announced the 2018 Nisei Week Pioneer Spirit honorees who will be recognized during the 78th annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival (Aug, 11-19) in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.

The eight recipients make up some of the most active and dedicated leaders of the greater Los Angeles Japanese American community. They will be honored at the 2018 Pioneer Spirit Luncheon to be held at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, 120 S. Los Angeles St., on Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 12 noon. Tickets are $65 per person or $650 per table of 10 and can be obtained by calling the Nisei Week Foundation office at (213) 687-7193 or by emailing

Following are profiles of the 2018 Nisei Week Pioneer Spirit Award honorees.

• Shingo Arase was born on Jan. 5, 1929 in Los Angeles. When he was four years old, his family moved back to Yamaguchi and he did not return to California until he was 18. Arase served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1950s during the Korean War.

In 1957, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from UCLA and worked at various well-known companies until his retirement in 1988 from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Group.

Arase has dedicated himself to the Japanese and Japanese American community by being involved with numerous organizations and activities, holding various leadership positions that utilize his skills and knowledge.

He has been a director on the Japanese Community Pioneer Center (JCPC) committee board since 2014 and was vice president in 2016. Since 2013, Arase has been a volunteer instructor for beginning computer classes, teaching software programs such as Microsoft Word and Windows 10.

He continues to organize and publish the quarterly newsletter, “Oshirase,” which he created in 2014. It features many articles on health and wellness, arts and crafts, and community events.

Arase was one of the founding members of the America Miyazaki Kenjin Kai, established in 1977, and continues to be actively involved. Currently, he is vice president, treasurer, official photographer, and webmaster.

Since 1947, Arase has been actively involved with the Mission Valley Free Methodist Church in San Gabriel, including holding leadership positions and producing the monthly newsletters. He also serves as the master of ceremonies at least once a month for the morning services. He is not only involved in the local church, but has also held various positions regionally, including: Board of Administration, Ministerial Appointment, Ministerial Education Group, and Financial Board for the Pacific Coast Japanese Free Methodist Conference.

Arase remarried five years ago to his wife, Chieko.

• Kenji Fukuoka was born in 1946 and is the second son to Mitsutaro and Setsu Fukuoka of Kumamoto. At the tender age of 16, he moved to Nagoya and later to Tokyo to financially support his family. While working in Tokyo, he entered a youth program where he was selected to visit Hawaii and Los Angeles for a brief stay. During this trip, Fukuoka became determined to live in America.

In 1974, while attending Sangyo Noritsu University, he made a decision to further his education by attending school abroad in Los Angeles. Four years later, he married Hatsumi Kobayashi. Prior to retirement, he spent many years beautifying Los Angeles homes as a gardener and landscaper. He became a U.S. citizen in 2001.

For more than 40 years, from the 1970s to the present, Fukuoka has been very active in helping and volunteering with the Japanese community and nonprofit organizations. He has served as president of the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, Kumamoto Kenjinkai, and Taisho Club; and as vice president, chairperson and other important positions for many other Nikkei organizations.

In 2013, he received the Honorable Ryokuhakuji Yukousho Award from the Japanese government and the Testimonial Award from the Kumamoto prefectural government.

One of his most prominent volunteering contributions was in 2016. The Kumamoto region was hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on April 16 that year. Shortly after this tragic event, Fukuoka spearheaded the Kenjinkai Kyogikai’s Kumamoto Earthquake Relief Fund Drive.

Today, Fukuoka continues to participate and volunteer with the Japanese-speaking community and organizations. He and his wife Hatsumi have two daughters, Emi and Akiko.

• Seiji Horio was born in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1937. He studied agriculture at Tokyo University of Agriculture and graduated in 1959. After graduation, Horio came to the U.S. as an agricultural apprentice and worked in Orange County. Later, after receiving his state contractor’s license, he started his own professional landscape company.

Horio operated his successful landscape company based in the San Fernando Valley for close to 50 years. He has been a member of the San Fernando Valley Landscape Gardeners Association and the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation for more than 50 years, and was president of the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation in 1984 and 1985.

During this time, Horio helped his fellow landscapers and gardeners by being involved in running these predominantly Japanese American organizations. He helped in community activities such as the saving and relocation of the grapefruit tree to the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s Noguchi Plaza. In the Sepulveda Dam, he helped prune the pine trees, and assisted during the annual rose pruning at the Rose Bowl. He was also involved with the Keiro Home (Lincoln Heights) garden cleanup, which was done every other month for many years. These activities were all done on Sundays after a long week of work.

In 1986, the City of Los Angeles wanted to prohibit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers that were used by professional gardeners. Horio, along with many fellow gardeners, took time out of their busy work schedule and organized and attended hearings at City Hall to convince the City Council to reject this prohibition. To this day, he becomes emotional when he recalls how so many of his fellow gardeners got involved and worked together for a common cause.

Horio enjoys spending his retirement with his wife, Toshiko, whom he has been married to for 54 years, three adult children and seven grandchildren. He stays active by being an executive board member of the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation, an organizer of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California’s year-end charity drive, and a board member of the Koreisha Senior Care and Advocacy organization.

• Arthur “Art” Takashi Ishii was born in Chicago in 1944, the second child of Nisei resettlers from Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming, and grew up in the Seinan and J-Flats neighborhoods of Los Angeles. After attending Maryknoll Elementary, Virgil Junior High, and Belmont High School, Ishii entered the U.S. Air Force in 1962 during the early escalation of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

While stationed in Japan, he met and married his wife Kyoko, with whom he had two children, Russell Takashi and Christine Namiko. Upon his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Ishii returned to Los Angeles and in 1969 co-founded the Yellow Brotherhood, an Asian American activist group whose mission was to provide peer leadership and rehabilitative services to an ailing generation of Asian American youth lost in the throes of gangs and drugs.

Yellow Brotherhood provided an alternative to the streets, offering homework tutoring, sports activities, community history education not found in school textbooks of the day, and peer counseling. The group disbanded in 1975, to be resurrected by its members a decade later as an Asian American youth basketball team.

Simultaneously, Ishii began raising a family as well as beginning a career in the commercial printing business. In 1980 he founded Alliance Artforms, a commercial printing outfit that continues to this day, specializing not only in business forms but also an extensive array of printed, silk screened, and embroidered marketing products and promotional items.

A lifetime martial artist, at age 10 Ishii entered Hollywood Judo Dojo under senseis Takashi Kikuchi, Frank and Art Emi, Frank Watanuki, and Gene LeBell. He later trained in Wing Chun gung fu at the New Chinatown Gung Fu Club under Randy Williams sifu; Goju-ryu Karate at Tenri Karate Dojo under Guy Kurose sensei; and Okinawan Shorin-ryu karate under senseis Eihachi Ota and Takayoshi Nagamine.

In 1990, Ishii founded Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo, the Los Angeles branch of the World Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu Karatedo Association (WMKA) headquartered in Okinawa. He holds the 6th dan grade and renshi, or “polished teacher,” instructorship title in this system.

As a longtime member of the Nisei Week Foundation board, Ishii is the current general chairman of Nikkei Games and a co-founder of the Nikkei Karate Committee, a non-political entity consisting of Japanese American karate instructors that organizes the Nikkei Games Karate Tournament and Seminar as part of the larger Nikkei Games Budo Tournament.

He is the proud grandfather of Miya, Ami and Ryan.

• Don S. Miyada was born in Oceanside in May 1925 to immigrant parents from Japan. He attended San Joaquin Grammar School and was a senior at Newport Harbor High School the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Miyada and his family were uprooted from their home and incarcerated in the Poston, Arizona internment camp, where he received his Newport Harbor high school diploma. Even though Miyada was a U.S. citizen, he and his family were incarcerated with thousands of other Americans of Japanese ancestry who were forced to live in internment camps throughout the nation.

In April 1944, with a change in his draft status from 4C (enemy alien) to 1A (fit for service), Miyada was drafted into the U.S. Army for 17 weeks of training at Camp Blanding, Florida. After Camp Blanding, Miyada was transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training as a replacement for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was sent to Europe, where he was assigned to 100th Battalion A Company in Epinal, France just after the 442nd’s cataclysmic battle in Bruyeres to rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of Texas.

After recovery, his unit was assigned to guard the Franco-Italian border. In March 1945, at the request of Gen. Mark Clark, Miyada’s unit returned to Italy to help breach the vaunted Gothic line, which they accomplished in short order.

Miyada is one of the few remaining active veterans who served with the 100th Battalion of the 442nd RCT.

After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1946, Miyada took advantage of the G.I. Bill to graduate from UCLA in 1949, and from Michigan State University with a Ph.D. in chemistry. His career was in clinical chemistry and he retired in 1991 as an associate adjunct professor in the Department of Pathology at UC Irvine.

Miyada is a member of Orange County Buddhist Church. In retirement he is a board member of the Suburban Buena Park Optimist Club and active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3670. He plays golf, travels, and raises cymbidium orchids as a hobby. He is married to the former Setsuko Takemori, and they have four children. He and his wife reside in Westminster.

• Roy Muraoka was born on Feb. 23, 1930 to Saburo and Haruko Muraoka, the second of four children. His siblings were Lillian, Jane, and Takenori. The Muraoka family resided in San Diego County in the city of Chula Vista, where Saburo ran the local family farm growing strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and celery.

In 1942, as a result of Executive Order 9066, the family was uprooted and transferred to various internment camps. At the Crystal City, Texas camp, Muraoka met Aiko Fujii, whom he would later marry. In 1945, after the war ended, the family returned to Chula Vista and began farming again.

In 1950, Muraoka graduated from Chula Vista High School and in 1951, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was eventually stationed in Japan as a medical technician. After his discharge, Muraoka returned to Chula Vista to help the family farming business. In 1960, he married Aiko. They had their first son, Tad, in 1963, and their second, Ken, in 1967.

In 1963, Muraoka and his father Saburo created Muraoka Enterprises Inc. and broke ground for Palace Gardens, the largest mobile home park in Chula Vista. After his father passed in 1983, Muraoka expanded the business by acquiring another mobile home park, an apartment complex and a motel. Throughout this time, Muraoka was a leader and active member in the Japanese American community.

Since 1946, Muraoka has been a member of the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, where he served as president of the Adult Buddhist Association. In 1973, he was one of the founding members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Japanese American Memorial Post 4851 and was part of the group that secured land and a building that became a meeting place for European–African–Middle Eastern ikebana, shigin, Matsumai Kai (music group), and kendo.

For more than two decades, Muraoka was the chairperson for the VFW’s chicken dinner and bingo night that became a monthly gathering spot for many in the Japanese American community.

Muraoka served as the VFW post commander in 1980. For the Japanese Coordinating Council of San Diego, he served as president for five years and secretary for more than 10 years. One of his most cherished organizations is the Chula Vista-Odawara Sister City Society, for which he has been a board member since 1981.

After the City of Chula Vista claimed eminent domain over a site where a Japanese gakuen once stood, Muraoka and others succeeded in having a monument placed for its historical importance. He was also part of the committee that established and built a 100-unit apartment complex, Kiku Gardens, which was an affordable community for seniors.

Muraoka has been a dynamic and active presence in the Japanese American community for most of his life. His age may have slowed him down, but his spirit of giving to the community continues through contributions and donations to the various organizations that help promote community relations with Japanese Americans.

• Yuriko Soyu Tanaka was born, raised and educated in Miyagi-ken. After graduating from Meiwa Women’s Jr. College in Sendai, she attended various classes that included tea ceremony (cha-no-yu), ikebana, cooking, and dressmaking. In 1957, she married Fred Kiyoshi Tanaka and moved to the U.S. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1972. They have a son, Dr. Thomas Tanaka, a daughter, Mrs. Karen Uyematsu, and five grandchildren.

After moving to the U.S., Tanaka continued to study cha-no-yu under Mme. Sowa Hitomi, founder of the Omotesenke School of Tea in Los Angeles. She received her teaching credential in 1973 and began student sessions at her residence in Orange County. She also organized her own tea group, known as Yuwakai.

Soyu Tanaka received the highest professional rank from the Omotesenke headquarters in Japan in 1988. She has mentored many students in the Omotesenke Domonkai since she began her cha-no-yu teaching career, which spans more than 45 years.

Since 1973, she and her students have participated in and organized many tea ceremony demonstrations at local and community events, including the Nisei Week Festival, OC Buddhist Church’s Hanamatsuri Bazaar, OC Cultural Association and OC Japanese American Association Culture Fair, L.A. Buddhist Federation Hanamatsuri, Anime Expo, and demonstrations at schools ranging from elementary to university level (UCLA, UC Irvine, CSU Long Beach and CSU Fullerton).

As a charter member of the Omotesenke Domonkai Southern California Region, Soyu Tanaka has continuously served in important positions. She was the recording secretary from 1977-1985, executive director from 1985-1998, vice president from 1998-2010, and has been a special advisor since 2010. She has supported five generations of presidents and her devoted services have improved the development of the organization.

For almost 30 years, she has been a member of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California. She has been an advisor since 2005 and served as vice president from 1999-2004. She volunteers in Keiro/Kei-Ai home visits, the Nisei Week rummage sale, and the year-end welfare collection (Saimatsu Tasukeai Bokin).

She served on the 95th, 100th and 105th anniversary event committees. At the 95th anniversary event, she received the Tokubetsu Koro-sho (Special Award) from the organization and special commendations from the mayor of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Soyu Tanaka has been a member of OCBC since 1970 and OC Buddhist Women’s Association since 1974. She served as president of the OCBWA for two consecutive terms in 1979 and 1980. She volunteers in many church events and has been performing tea ceremony demonstrations at its Hanamatsuri Bazaar for many years.

She hopes that there can be a greater understanding and harmony between Japanese culture and the rest of the world through education in the art of cha-no-yu and other traditional Japanese customs.

• Audrey Yamagata-Noji was born in Long Beach to the late George Kazuo Yamagata and Mae Matsuko (Kunisaki) Yamagata. She graduated from Long Beach Poly High School and CSU Long Beach, where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her master’s degree in counseling. She received her Ph.D. in education from the Claremont Graduate University.

She began her career as a counseling assistant at Long Beach Poly High School, where she served as advisor to the Asian Club and then as a family therapist counseling juvenile offenders and victims of crime through various police departments in Orange County. Her career in higher education began as a faculty counselor and instructor at Long Beach City College and Saddleback College. While at Saddleback, she was both the faculty counselor and director of the EOPS Program.

For six terms, a total of 25 years, Yamagata-Noji served as an elected member, president, vice president and clerk of the Board of Education for the Santa Ana Unified School District. In this capacity, she developed many initiatives and programs focusing on enhancing the educational success of Latino and Asian students.

Her involvement in the Asian Pacific Islander American community ranges from having served on the City of Santa Ana Asian Pacific Advisory Committee to serving on the board of the Long Beach Japanese Cultural Center. She has been the youth director, Sunday school teacher, elder, and advisor for Grace First Presbyterian Church of Long Beach.

She is married to Gene Noji, a retired teacher and football coach. They have a son, Randall, who is also a graduate of CSULB.

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