RECENT AWARD WINNERS AND HONOREES
On Wednesday, Aug. 16, (Japan time), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan announced the recipients of the Foreign Minister’s Commendations for 2023. Included in this prestigious international group is Christine Aiko Kubota of Honolulu.
This commendation acknowledges her dedication to the Japanese community in Hawai‘i. Her active community leadership roles at various Japan-related organizations include the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the United Japanese Society of Hawaii and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i.
In 2018, Kubota co-chaired the 150th Anniversary of the Gannenmono Celebration Committee; in 2019, she was selected to attend the Ceremony of Enthronement to the Throne of His Majesty the Emperor along with then-Gov. David Ige to represent the Japanese community in Hawai‘i. She continues to dedicate her time to strengthen the friendship and goodwill between Japan, Hawai‘i and the U.S.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, Consul General of Japan in Honolulu Yutaka Aoki presented a letter of appointment to Hidehito Uki, CEO and president of Sun Noodle as a Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador. This honor is selected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan to promote Japanese cuisine and culture overseas.
The Hawai‘i Herald published a story about the journey of Uki and his noodle factory, founded in 1981, in a Jan. 17, 2018, article titled “Long Life Sun Noodle.” Today, these noodles are manufactured on the U.S. mainland and will soon start operations in Europe. Uki is also a promotional ambassador for Tsuyahime rice from Yamagata, Japan, and he speaks at seminars helping companies that plan to join the Hawai‘i market and beyond.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, the Hawaii United Okinawa Association presented its Legacy Award to three honorees for their contributions to the Okinawan and larger local and global community. The awards were presented at a luncheon banquet at the Sheraton Waikiki Hawaii Ballroom.
The three honorees were State of Hawai‘i Department of Education’s Superintendent Keith Hayashi; Rainbow Drive-In’s founders, Seiju and Ayako Ifuku and family; and Steven Teruya, former president and CEO of Finance Factors and current president and CEO of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce.
All of the awardees were presented a plaque and honored with a cultural performance.
This year’s honorees were the 14th group of Legacy Award recipients.
JAMES YASUMI OMATSU
James Yasumi Omatsu was born on Oct. 5, 1921, at Watertown, one of six children of Hiyakutaro and Harue (Yamasawa) Omatsu. Watertown was near the opening of Pearl Harbor to the sea and was razed in 1935 for the construction of Hickam Air Force Base. His parents arrived in Hawai‘i in 1908 from the village of Nihoshima in Hiroshima Prefecture.
Shortly after his birth, the family moved to N. King Street in Honolulu, where they lived above the small grocery store that they operated. Omatsu graduated from Farrington High School in 1939 and began studying engineering at the University of Hawai‘i. He also enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Omatsu family was enjoying breakfast at home about five miles from Pearl Harbor. When the bombing began, Omatsu went outside and he could see the planes with the red hinomaru (circle of the sun) on the their wings and fuselage. He could even see the pilots as they flew overhead.
Immediately afterwards, Omatsu’s National Guard status was activated; he was issued a 1903 Springfield rifle with five rounds of ammunition and ordered to guard the Kodak film processing plant on Kapi‘olani Boulevard. This duty lasted about two weeks, then all National Guard members of Japanese ancestry were discharged. Rather than resume his studies, he found work with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Omatsu registered for the draft on Feb. 15, 1942. At the time he was employed by Walker-Moody, U.S. Engineers Department and worked as a surveyor at Kahuku Airfield’s Area 13.
Omatsu enlisted on March 23, 1943, when the 442nd was activated. He did not tell his mother until after he had taken this step – and when she found out, she was furious.
He was at Boomtown, the “tent city” at Schofield Barracks, and the March 28 farewell ceremony at ‘Iolani Palace. Then he shipped out with the rest of the new soldiers on April 4, 1943, on the S.S. Lurline for San Francisco. Upon arrival at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Omatsu was assigned to Regimental Headquarters Company.
While in training, Omatsu bought a service flag (blue star on a white field with a red border) and sent it home. His parents proudly displayed it in their store window. Prior to this, American soldiers passing by the Omatsu store thought nothing of going inside and helping themselves to whatever they wanted. The next time that happened, Mrs. Omatsu slapped the GI’s hand and said in her broken English, “Not only you fighting for this country!” as she pointed to the service flag in the window. The GI was so ashamed that he dropped what he was trying to take, apologized, and left. No further thefts occurred after this incident.
Upon completion of a year of training, Omatsu and the 442nd left Camp Shelby on April 22, 1944, sailing from Hampton Roads, Virginia, on May 2. They arrived at Naples, Italy, on May 28 and fought in the Rome-Arno Campaign.
While in Italy, Omatsu discovered the capricious nature of warfare. One night as he was preparing to bed down, he placed his poncho on top of some rabbit cages in a clearing near a house. He went to a nearby stream to wash up; while doing so, an artillery round landed in the clearing and destroyed everything. He realized he could have been killed had the timing been just slightly different. Omatsu retrieved pieces of the hot shrapnel and took them home to Hawai‘i as reminder of his very close call.
In late September 1944, the 442nd was sent to France where they fought in the Vosges Campaign and the Maritime Alps Campaign. They were then sent back to Italy in late March 1945 with the mission to break the western end of the Gothic Line.
On April 4-5 at the beginning of the Po Valley Campaign, Tec/5 Omatsu was engaged in an action that earned him the Bronze Star Medal. In broad daylight, he established “a regimental operations post on a forward part of a hill 800 yards from the front line,” and then “observed and directed artillery fire on numerous enemy dugouts and machine gun nests. Direct hits killed more than 20 of the enemy and caused confusion in their ranks.” The award ceremony was held during the occupation.
Also during the occupation, Omatsu managed to procure some war souvenirs to take home – two German helmets, a German bayonet, and a Radom Vis P-35 (German 9mm pistol of Polish design). He returned to Hawai‘i on the troop ship USAT Aconcagua on December 17, 1945, and was soon discharged.
In 1949, Omatsu married Doris Miyeko Sumida in Honolulu. He graduated from the University of Hawai‘i with a degree in engineering. He worked as an engineer technician for the U.S. Coast Guard. Over the years, they had four sons, all of whom served in and retired from military service.
James Omatsu died on March 20, 2011, and he was interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and may not be used without their permission.