After a little over a half-year without its top leader, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i will have a new president and executive director, Nate Gyotoku, from Jan. 11, announced the JCCH Board of Directors on Dec. 22 of last year. Board Chair Scott Kuioka announced, “I am pleased to welcome Nate back to JCCH as president and executive director to move us forward in 2021 and the years ahead.”
Gyotoku is no newcomer to the organization, established as a “dream” project in 1986 by the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, to serve as “a vibrant resource, strengthening our diverse community by educating present and future generations on the evolving Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i” by drawing from “the values found in our … traditions and the spirit of Aloha” (see jcch.com/history and jcch.com/our-mission for more).
When Gyotoku had been JCCH’s chief operating officer and director of programs in 2015, he helped redesign and name the Tokioka Heritage Resource Center and also for two years chaired the popular Ohana Festival that celebrated the New Year, Japanese style. After his time at JCCH, he served as Director of Sustainability Initiatives at Kupu, a youth-service organization focused around environmental stewardship, and as president and executive director of Junior Achievement of Hawai‘i. He also volunteered as chair of the Honolulu Junior Japanese Chamber of Commerce and vice-chair of the Hawai‘i region of the US-Japan Council (where he had been a participant in its Emerging Leaders Program).
“Nate brings a commitment to community service, passion for the JCCH mission and experience in the non-profit sector,” assesses Kuioka. “We are confident that Nate will work collaboratively with the Board to lead the organization through these uncertain COVID and post-COVID times.”
To Japanese Americans who have missed the Center’s regular activities including its much-attended craft fairs of beautifully and artisanally made objects, its annual Spirit of Aloha Summer Gala and Auction, its martial-arts lessons, and many cultural learning opportunities since COVID-19 reduced JCCH’s ability to offer these things, Gyotoku said, “I look forward to working with the staff, Board of Directors, and our community to move the JCCH forward into a new era.”
The Herald hopes that the JCCH, our partner in publishing rich oral-history-based stories in our paper about inspiring Japanese immigrant and Japanese American community members (stories thoughtfully curated by Mel Inamasu and Violet Harada, from the Center’s considerable archives), will see this as the start of an exciting, productive phase in providing resources and events for the AJA community. Last year, as the Board reported on the JCCH website, COVID-19 hit the organization hard, as it experienced employee furloughs, temporary closing of facilities, and elimination of leaders in key positions as it restructured, including the laying off of former President and Executive Director Jacce Mikulanec on May 28, 2020, to “save the JCCH the costs associated with his monthly salary as the Board begins to evaluate its program direction, budget and staffing needs” said then-Board-Chair Ken Hayashida on June 9 (jcch.com/news-2). In the fall, longtime manager of the 5th floor ballroom, Marian’s Catering, which offered affordable local food for medium- and large-sized parties and celebrations, closed its operations in the Center’s Mänoa Ballroom after 22 years, according to a Nov. 5 announcement by Kuioka on the JCCH site.
Gyotoku seems up to the challenge, expressing feeling “humbled and grateful for this opportunity to lead the JCCH.” We expect good things from this local boy, who, according to JCCH, was raised in Hilo and received his BA in
English Literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gyotoku also spent time in the private sector at Heide & Cook and as a consultant with Century Computers, in addition to his non-profit work.