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Downtown L.A. JACL, JWSSC Honor Four Nikkei Women

By May 19, 2023June 8th, 2023No Comments

George Kita and Joyce Chinn flank the Women of the Year honorees with their award declarations. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

Annual Women of the Year luncheon fetes Kanesaka, Sato, Stark and Takimoto.

By P.C. Staff

On a mild May Sunday in Montebello, Calif., almost 230 people gathered at the Quiet Cannon banquet hall to honor Kyūka Kanesaka, Matsutoyo Sato, Fumiyo Stark and Margaret Nitta Takimoto for their individual and collective contributions and service to the greater Southern California community.

Co-sponsored and co-produced by the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the JACL and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California (Nanka Nikkei Fujinkai), the 2023 Women of the Year luncheon honored the quartet on May 7 with the event’s signature award — a trophy with an embedded clock and metal name placard — and congratulatory certificates from County of Los Angeles Supervisor Hilda L. Solis of the First Supervisorial District, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

It was the 119th iteration of the event. The 2023 luncheon began with remarks by the leaders of the two co-sponsoring organizations, George Kita, president of the DTLA JACL chapter, who introduced the honorees and their guests, and Joyce Chin, president of the JWSSC, who told the audience that the four honorees were being recognized “for the contributions, support and service to our Japanese community associations and organizations.”

After attributing the quotation, “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can” to Hillary Clinton, Chinn said, “These women are doing just that. Ladies, omedetō, and thank you. To all of you, friends and family who are here celebrating with us, dōmo arigatō.” Kita then invited Osaka, Japan-born Pastor Jin Hyun of Crossway Church of San Fernando Valley to provide the invocation. Hyun also gave the benediction at the luncheon’s conclusion.

First among the four honorees was Kanesaka, aka Yukari Kanesaka. In 1978, she earned her kyōju degree in the art of kimekomi ningyo and in 1982, her gagō or master artist pen name, Kyūka. She was introduced by her daughter, Sheri Kanesaka.

“Despite raising three active children, Kyūka made time to teach and share the art of making Japanese kimekomi ningyo throughout the United States and Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1979, Kyuka formed Yukari Kai Kimekomi Doll Academy. One of her first regular classes was taught at Westminster Presbyterian Church.”

Next to be honored was Osaka, Japan-born Matsutoyo Sato, who was formerly known as Junko Fukuchi Ishikawa. Before moving from Japan in 1966 to San Francisco, where she formed the Matsutoyo Kai Minyo Group, and then to Los Angeles in 1976, she studied minyo (a genre of traditional Japanese folk music), shigin (a form of Japanese poetry) and biwa (a Japanese stringed musical instrument). She also excelled in minbu, nagauta, hauta and zokkyoku.

Sato was introduced by Yuriko Shikai, who noted that Matsutoyo Kai became a nonprofit organization in 2006. “Its primary mission is to pass on the traditional music of Japan by providing instruction in singing, shamisen, taiko and ka-ne and giving public performances and Japanese folk and classical music,” Shikai said. “With Madame Sato as artistic director, Matsutoyo Kai continues to expand and keep the traditional art of Japanese culture alive.”

DTLA JACL Membership Chair Kitty Sankey (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

Up next to introduce honoree Fumiyo Stark was Kitty Sankey, a former president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, a former president of the Downtown Chapter of JACL and a 2009 Woman of the Year honoree.

In her introduction, Sankey gave some biographical information about Stark, who originally hails from Kamakura, Japan. Stark graduated from the Tokyo University of Education (Kokuritsu Tokyo Kyōiku Daigaku) with a B.A. in psychology and a teacher’s certificate in English for middle and high school.

“To further improve her English, she decided to study in America,” Sankey said. “Stark attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to study teaching English as a second language, where she met her future husband, Mike.”

The Starks lived and worked in Japan and Hawaii before moving to California, where Fumi Stark began working at Huntington Memorial Hospital’s Respiratory Therapy Department, during which she earned a master’s degree in education from California State University, Los Angeles.

“She then worked at USC in the field of research regulatory administration for 27 years and received her second master’s degree at the age of 60 in health administration,” Sankey said.

Stark later worked at the University of Southern California and would spend two years as the president of the USC Japan office.

Her volunteer work includes being active with Zoe International, which works to stop human trafficking, Crossway Church of San Fernando Valley and the Japanese Community Pioneer Center, at which she become its first woman president in its 50 years.

The afternoon’s fourth and final honoree was Takimoto, who was introduced by her son, Curtis Takimoto. His mother, a Sansei, was born in San Fernando, Calif., and her Kibei Nisei parents were actively involved in helping to fundraise for and build the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, Japanese Language School and the San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Temple.

“Shortly after I was born, she actually fell very ill and needed an emergency procedure. While the procedure was successful, the virus affected her motor skills, her ability to walk and talk. So, she had to relearn how to do all that, let alone take care of a brand-new baby. I say that we actually learned how to do both of those things together,” Curtis Takimoto said.

Years before her son was born, Margaret Takimoto attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and completed a medical technology internship at Los Angeles Kaiser Hospital. In her career, she oversaw the technical operation of laboratory testing and later developed a phlebotomy training program that is now required by the State of California Field Services. She retired in 2015 after 40 years as a hematology supervisor and director of the Clinical Laboratory Scientist Internship Training Program.

During that time, Takimoto performed a 25-year-long stint volunteering as the parent for children’s basketball teams. She also served as the co-head commissioner for SFVJACC Athletics and has co-chaired the SFVJACC’s Future Planning Committee since 2015. Additionally, she is a board member of the Little Tokyo-based Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program.

JWSSC and DTLA JACL members who helped with planning and producing the luncheon were (from left) Jan Fukuhara (Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California and Little Tokyo Business Association) , Marie Tanaka, Toshie Kawaguchi, Joyce Chinn, Patricia Sookdet, Kitty Sankey, Amy Tambara, Nancy Nix and George Kita. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

The members of the luncheon planning committee were Chinn, Toshie Kawaguchi, Kita, Rodney Nakada, Carol Okuda, Miyuki Namiki, Nancy Nix, Mari Robinson, Tomoko Sakurai, Sankey, Patricia Sookdet, Amy Tambara and Marie Tanaka.