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JANM Honors Trio at Annual Gala

By June 7, 2024July 1st, 2024No Comments

Honoree David Ono, master of ceremonies Frank Buckley and honorees Duncan Ryūken Williams and Sunyoung Lee (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

Ono, Williams and Lee are feted as
Burroughs resets the fundraising goal to $85 million.

By George Toshio Johnston, Senior Editor

All in all, it was an auspicious night for the Japanese American National Museum and its annual benefit gala.

East L.A. Taiko performs at the 2024 JANM benefit gala on April 6. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

Under this year’s theme “Illuminating Paths,” the museum on April 6 recognized three individuals’ efforts to tell stories unique to Japanese American military service and foster healing for trauma unique to the nation’s Japanese American community.

“Tonight, we have the special privilege of honoring two extraordinary projects and the visionaries who brought them to life,” JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs said, referring to the awards that would be presented to David Ono, Duncan Ryūken Williams and Sunyoung Lee.

JANM’s Ann Burroughs (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

Later, Burroughs would announce a new, eye-popping fundraising goal after blowing past JANM’s already audacious $65 million target. (See June 2, 2023, Pacific Citizen, and Oct. 6, 2023, Pacific Citizen,

The event was auspicious also for eschewing JANM’s modus operandi of using a swank downtown Los Angeles hotel ballroom for a different venue, namely the Little Tokyo-adjacent 550-seat Vibiana, once known as Cathedral of Saint Vibiana or just St. Vibiana’s prior to becoming an event space following its renovation in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Frank Buckley (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

With master of ceremony duties again in the more-than-capable hands and voice of KTLA Channel 5 news anchor Frank Buckley, the evening flowed with grace, humor and music, courtesy of de rigueur taiko drumming from East L.A. Taiko and performances by musician Kishi Bashi (see Oct. 6, 2023, Pacific Citizen, and Nov. 17, 2023, Pacific Citizen,

The Emmy-award winning Ono added another trophy to his shelf with JANM’s Legacy Award for “Defining Courage,” the live and multimedia presentation about the patriotism, heroism and service of Nisei servicemen of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Team in the European Theater and the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific Theater during World War II (see Nov. 4, 2022, Pacific Citizen,

The evening’s other awardees were Williams, associate professor of religion and East Asian languages and cultures and director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at the University of Southern California, and Lee, the project’s creative director, who received the museum’s Award of Excellence for their work on “Irei: National Monument for the WWII Japanese American Incarceration” (see Oct. 7, 2022, Pacific Citizen,

On hand to help present the Legacy Award to Ono was one of the still-living but dwindling ranks of WWII veterans, Yosh Nakamura, 98, a former Gila River War Relocation Authority Center incarceree who served in the 442nd RCT’s M Co. and was awarded a Bronze Star, the French Legion of Honor, the European African Middle Eastern Ribbon with three Battle Stars and the Congressional Gold Medal. He also earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and was part of the cohort that received a Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster.

From left, honoree David Ono, Linda Nakamura Oberholtzer, Yosh Nakamura, Dan Nakamura and JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs gather onstage to support Ono upon receiving the museum’s Legacy Award on April 6. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

“David, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping the stories, the records of the Nisei soldiers in our minds and in our hearts today and for generations to come,” Nakamura told Ono and the audience. In response, Ono noted how the award was not so much for him as it was the Japanese American community, for which he gave credit for creating “Defining Courage.”

Regarding the Award of Excellence given to Williams and Lee for their work on the Ireichō, Burroughs said, “You’ve created a monument and a gift of enormous and profound consequence.” Helping to present the award were Mas Yamashita and his daughter, Tracie Yamashita Dye.

Upon receipt of the trophy, Williams said, “It’s certainly an honor for us to receive this award for the Ireichō, the book of names on display at the Japanese American National Museum. The Ireichō is not only a monument to recall the forced removal and wartime incarceration of the Japanese American community, but a monument to repair the wounds of that history.”

Duncan Ryūken Williams, Sunyoung Lee and David Ono show off their awards — and their favorite newspaper — on the evening of JANM’s benefit gala. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

In her remarks, Lee said, “This award must therefore also be dedicated to all the camp survivors and descendants.”

One of the evening’s speakers was James E. Herr, the Daniel K. Inouye Center for the Preservation of Democracy’s director. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

The evening’s other speakers included William Fujioka, chair of JANM’s board of trustees; Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles Kenko Sone; Masatoshi Komoriya, executive chairman of the board of directors for MUFG Americas Holdings Corp. and deputy regional executive for the Americas for MUFG Bank; James E. Herr, director of JANM’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy; JANM board of governors members Jennifer Hirano (Alphabet Inc. business development analyst), Jeff Maloney (Alhambra City Councilmember) and Tracey Doi (retired CFO and group vp at Toyota Motor North America); and standup comedienne Michelle MaliZaki.

Doi remarked that the drawing for the 2024 Lexus RX 500h F sport performance had raised more than $142,000 for JANM, helped with tickets sold by members of the Nisei Week Court. (The automobile was won by William Estrada from Covina, Calif.)

On the topic of fundraising, Burroughs alluded to the 2023 gala, at which she hinted of the museum’s big plans, later revealed Aug. 5, 2023, as its “Our Promise” initiative, with a fundraising goal of $65 million, which she described as “the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in JANM’s history.”

Regarding the status quo of that campaign, Burroughs said, “I’m delighted to tell you that not only have we met that goal of $65 million, but we have exceeded that goal. … And our trustees, because they’re overachievers and you all know who you are, have extended that goal to $85 million.” She noted that the timeline to raise the additional $20 million is two years.

Burroughs said that with that new financial goal for “Our Promise,” JANM would commit to four promises: one is revitalizing its campus, which will “reimagine a new permanent exhibition that will retell the Japanese American story.” She also remarked how during the renovation phase of the revitalization, “We need to close the museum pavilion to the public. We will close in January 2025 and reopen in mid- to late 2026,” with its Democracy Center remaining open for events and exhibitions.

The revitalization is, incidentally, already under way thanks to a pair of rebrandings, namely its National Center for the Preservation of Democracy becoming the Daniel K. Inouye National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and the plaza area outside the museum becoming the Norman Y. Mineta Democracy Plaza (see Feb. 9, 2024, Pacific Citizen).

The second promise, Burroughs said, will be to “amplify our national voice”; third will entail telling “stories in bold new ways and create experiences using smart tech to reach people everywhere”; and fourth “is to secure JANM’s future by growing our endowment.”

Following the event, JANM stated that the event had raised in total more than $1.1 million, including funds raised from its online auction.

Sponsors for the event included Lexus, MUFG Bank Ltd., U.S. Bank, ABC Stores, Kari Nakama and Kristine Nishiyama in partnership with Capital Group, Sycamore Tree Capital Partners and the Takeo and Miyoko Yuki Family. The exclusive local TV media partner was KTLA.

Musician Kishi Bashi entertains at the April 6 JANM gala, held at the Vibiana in Los Angeles. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)