Jodie Chiemi Ching
The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i held its annual “Sharing the Spirit of Aloha” gala on Saturday, June 23. Six honorees — Coach Gerald Oda and the 2018 Little League World Series Championship team, Lenn Sakata, Alan Oshima, Christine Kubota, Chef Alan Wong and Carole Hayashino — were recognized at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Coral Ballroom.
“Sharing the Spirit of Aloha” honors individuals, organizations and businesses that have helped to promote the mission of JCCH, enhance the development of the Japanese American community, or worked to preserve and perpetuate Japanese American heritage and culture in Hawai‘i.
A silent auction was set up outside the ballroom doors. Guests put their bids in for “staycations,” dinners, sports memorabilia, clothing and accessories, a bicycle, gourmet food baskets, art, spa treatments and more. One hundred “golden tickets” were sold for $100 each for a chance to win a San Francisco Giants travel package that included two owner’s seat tickets to a 2020 San Francisco Giants baseball game with access to the exclusive Gotham Club and a two-night stay at the Palace Hotel.
When the Coral Ballroom doors opened, the Taiko Center of the Pacific welcomed guests with a dynamic taiko presentation. Kahu Kornell Kekoa blessed the festivities with an oli and Ken Hayashida, chair of the JCCH board, gave opening remarks and introduced a video presentation on the progress of the Honouliuli National Historic Site. The JCCH is a key partner in establishing the site to educate people about the history of internment, martial law and the experience of the prisoners of war in Hawaii during World War II. The video included a clip of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who said that the historic site is important because it will remind us that, “This [internment due to discrimination] can happen in our democracy if we are not vigilant.”
Distinguished guests included Gov. David Ige, former Gov. George Ariyoshi, Consul General of Japan Koichi Ito, Sen. Brian Schatz and Bishop Eric Matsumoto of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.
Emcee Yunji de Nies, journalist and PBS “Insights” television host, welcomed everyone and called up the various dignitaries to deliver their messages.
Gov. Ige congratulated and thanked all the honorees for their contributions locally and internationally. He said that the 2018 Little League World Championship Team showed that it is possible to achieve at the highest level with humility. Gov. Ige credited the parents and coaches for shaping the boys into young men of good character.
Coach Gerald Oda spoke on behalf of his co-honorees, the 2018 Little League World Championship team. Oda has inspired hundreds of players to play baseball with aloha and humility. The three rules he repeatedly teaches his players are: “1) Never give up; 2) Always show love and respect; and 3) Don’t be tantaran (big-headed).” During the game, Oda reminded the players that while Hawai‘i was preparing for Hurricane Lane, they were also cheering them on.
The team beat a tough South Korean team to win the championship and was awarded the 2018 Jack Losch Little League Baseball World Series Team Sportsmanship Award. Coach Oda was also selected as GEICO’s 2018 Volunteer of the Year.
Lenn Sakata — a baseball legend from Hawai‘i — is a sansei who was the Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round pick in 1975. He played for 11 major league seasons. The highlight of his career was playing in the 1983 World Series championship of Major League Baseball. He was the first Japanese American to appear in a World Series championship game.
Sakata’s playing career was followed by a long career as a manager and coach in the U.S. and Japan. In 1999, he was honored as one of the 50 greatest sports figures from Hawai‘i by CNN Sports Illustrated; in 2001, he was elected to the Hawai‘i Sports Hall of Fame; and in 2018, inducted into the California League Hall of Fame.
Sakata’s father was a member of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, which fought alongside the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II.
The evening’s third honoree, attorney Christine Kubota, is a director with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert law firm and is also a community leader. She held leadership positions with several organizations, served as board chair of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce and JCCH, and as United Japanese Society of Hawaii president.
Kubota was a co-chair on the Gannenmono Committee to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i. Currently, she chairs the Pan Pacific Festival advisory board and is an active volunteer with many local nonprofit organizations, including Hawaii Senior Life Enrichment Association, U.S.-Japan Council, Honolulu Hiroshima Kenjin Kai and the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation.
Kubota was born in Yokohama and moved to Hawai‘i when she was in high school. She said she “hung out with a bunch of guys from Lāna‘i and learned Pidgin.” After graduating from Chaminade University, Kubota received her juris doctorate from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. She built her reputation by helping Japanese-speaking clients with business, real estate, immigration and employment matters.
Sansei Alan Oshima, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., is recognized by professional and community organizations for his leadership and his efforts to improve public education. Oshima believes that education provided opportunities to Japanese Americans and can be a great equalizer.
Under his leadership, HECO has been nationally recognized for its progress in replacing fossil fuel generation with renewable resources.
Before working at HECO, Oshima founded the law firm Oshima Chun Fong & Chung in Honolulu after practicing law with Carlsmith Ball. He has been recognized for his expertise in the field of public utilities.
Oshima said his grandfather, who bought a Ford Model T and worked as a taxi driver to get his family off of the plantation, inspired him.
Honoree Chef Alan Wong is a renowned master of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine who was named a 1996 James Beard Best Chef in America award winner. Wong made a successful career by infusing elements of various ethnic flavors inspired by Hawai‘i’s immigrant history. He was raised by a single mother from Japan and credits her for his success. Chef Wong requires his workers to tour the JCCH “Okage Sama De” exhibit and to visit Hawaii‘s Plantation Village so they become aware of the contributions and sacrifices of the Japanese immigrants.
Wong serves on the boards of Leeward Community College’s and the Culinary Institute of the Pacific’s food service programs and the Hawai‘i Agriculture Foundation. Kapi‘olani Community College and the University of Hawai‘i honored him in 2001 and in 2002, respectively.
In 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton selected Chef Wong to be a part of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative. He is a co-founder of the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival, a program of the nonprofit Hawaii Ag and Culinary Alliance. The funds from this program support local culinary colleges, grants for Hawai‘i chefs to learn in the kitchens of culinary masters, programs to help small farms and curriculum to teach children how to grow food and make healthy meals at home.
Finally, Carole Hayashino received the 2019 Spirit of JCCH Award. For six and a half years, she served as JCCH’s president and executive director until her retirement in December 2018. She brought national attention to the World War II experience of the Japanese in Hawai‘i and brought broad support to the establishment of the Honouliuli National Historic Site by working with volunteers. She even appeared in the television series “Hawai‘i Five-O” in a flashback scene of an internment camp in the 1940s.
Hayashino worked with the Onizuka Memorial Committee to bring the story of Hawai‘i’s first astronaut to JCCH. She collaborated with Honpa Hongwanji and the Hiroshima-Hawai‘i Sister State Committee to create the Sadako Sasaki paper crane exhibit at Pearl Harbor. Hayashino was involved with the Kizuna Committee for the 150th commemoration of the arrival of the Gannenmono; developed new resources through partnerships with groups such as Monsanto Hawai‘i, Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation and the Freeman Foundation. “From the White House to ‘Hawai‘i Five-O,’ it has been a journey,” said Hayashino.
Each honoree was recognized with a video produced by Ryan Kawamoto, which profiled their work and service to the community.
In closing, JCCH president and executive director Jacce Mikulanec congratulated and thanked all of the honorees for all they do to improve the community. “You exemplify the spirit of aloha and the culture and values found in our Japanese traditions. These attributes are increasingly important and relevant for the JCCH and each of us as we navigate an ever-changing and challenging world,” said Mikulanec.