Karleen Chinen

The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i recognized four organizations and three individuals at its annual “Sharing the Spirit of Aloha” gala dinner on June 16, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Coral Ballroom. Taiko master and previous “Sharing the Spirit” honoree Kenny Endo opened the event with an attention-catching taiko performance.

JCCH board chair Christine Kubota announced that this year’s event was a sell-out, with all 750 seats paid for and filled. Kubota, whose two-year term as JCCH board chair ended June 30, said she learned not just about JCCH’s many programs during her tenure, but also about what it takes to maintain the center’s facilities.

The “Sharing the Spirit of Aloha” event honors individuals, organizations and businesses that have helped to promote the mission of the JCCH, enhance the development of the Japanese American community, or worked to preserve and perpetuate Japanese American heritage and culture in Hawai‘i. This year’s event also recognized the Gannenmono commemoration with a moving film featuring interviews with the descendants of several Gannenmono.

Gov. David Ige commended the organizers of the Gannenmono commemoration events and said it was a pleasure to welcome Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko and members of the Association of Japanese and Nikkei Abroad to Hawai‘i.

During a private moment with the prince and princess at a dinner at Washington Place, he said they told him that they enjoyed participating in the Gannenmono events and visiting so many places in Hawai‘i. Ige said it was the first trip they had spent so much time in one place in America as a couple, and that they told him they would like to visit Hawai‘i again on a private vacation. The governor said he told them the chances of them traveling incognito were very slim.

Ige also congratulated the gala honorees for their good work and joked that his ‘ukulele “partner” Jake Shimabukuro, one of the evening’s honorees, has been busy doing gigs on the road, but has not called him to join him for those performances.

Consul General of Japan Koichi Ito offered welcome remarks and thanked everyone for making the Gannenmono commemoration a memorable one. He, too, offered his congratulations to the honorees.

Among this year’s honorees were three nonprofit organizations that work to preserve the World War II Nisei veterans’ story: the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center on Maui, represented by board chair Brian Moto and executive director Deidre Tegarden; Honolulu-based Nisei Veterans Legacy, represented by president Wesley Deguchi; and the Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles, represented by president Dr. Mitchell Maki, Ph.D. In the audience were two World War II Nisei soldiers — Jack Nakamura of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, who fought in Europe; and Herbert Yanamura, a veteran of the 442nd RCT and the Military Intelligence Service, who served in Okinawa.

The fourth nonprofit organization honored was the Onizuka Memorial Committee, whose mission is to preserve the legacy of Kona-born astronaut Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American to travel in space. Onizuka was on his second space shuttle mission when it exploded in January 1986, just seconds after lift-off, instantly killing all seven crewmembers.

The astronaut’s younger brother, Claude, represented the Onizuka Memorial Committee. He said a group of Kona business people organized the committee a few months after the Challenger tragedy because they wanted to make sure that Ellison’s dream of reaching for the stars would remain alive to inspire children to dream big and work hard to realize their dreams. Claude said his brother never forgot the people who helped him achieve his dreams.

He said the committee was grateful to former Govs. George Ariyoshi and John Waihee for their assistance in securing space at the Kona Airport for the Astronaut Ellison Onizuka Space Center. Although the museum closed in March 2016 to make way for the expansion of the Kona Airport, the committee was happy that Ellison’s memory lives on in the renaming of Kona’s airport to the Ellison Onizuka International Airport at Keahole.

Last year, Onizuka met with JCCH president and executive director Carole Hayashino about the possibility of giving Ellison Onizuka’s artifacts and memorabilia a new life at JCCH. They reached an agreement and the “Ellison Onizuka Remembrance” opened to the public in the JCCH Community Gallery in June 2017.

The last three honorees were recognized for their life and career’s work: ‘ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, banking executive Donna Tanoue; and actor and civil rights advocate George Takei.

Donna Tanoue, who retired recently as president of Bank of Hawaii Foundation and vice chair of Bank of Hawaii, was recognized for her accomplishments as a woman and for advocating for women. Tanoue served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in Washington, D.C., from 1998 until 2001 after having served as commissioner of financial institutions in Hawai‘i. She and her husband, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, are the parents of a daughter, Maya.

Tanoue said she regretted that her parents, the late Dr. Roy and Marjorie Tanoue, were not alive to see her being recognized by the JCCH. She spoke of her father dreams of becoming a doctor. After he graduated from the University of Hawai‘i, he wanted to continue on to medical school. However, his father felt his son had enough education and should begin working. It was his mother, an Issei from Yamaguchi-ken named Nobu, who stood up for her son and encouraged him to pursue his dreams. She worked hard at the family’s saimin stand in Kaimukï to send him to medical school. Dr. Tanoue graduated from the University of Chicago medical school and became Hawai‘i’s first board-certified surgeon. Donna Tanoue’s mother Marjorie was a staunch supporter of the Hawaii Youth Symphony, which affords young musical talents to pursue their passion for music, and a Kuakini Auxiliary volunteer. She was an independent soul who enjoyed traveling and discovering new lands, peoples and cultures, even after her husband passed.

‘Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro acknowledged his many family members and friends in the audience. A yonsei, Shimabukuro said he hopes to teach his two young sons lessons of humility and gratitude as symbolized by a simple back-scratcher he purchased in the JCCH gift shop. He also played two ‘ukulele songs that he had composed — one in honor of the Gannenmono, and the other his “Go For Broke” song in honor of the World War II Nisei soldiers.

Actor and civil rights advocate George Takei spoke about the treatment of Japanese Americans before, during and after World War II. Those experiences became the basis for the musical “Allegiance,” which premiered on Broadway last year. Takei, who stars in the production, treated the audience to a scene from the musical of himself and actor Lauren Hanako Kinkade. Manoa Valley Theatre will produce “Allegiance” next spring in Honolulu. Kinkade also sang two songs from the production: “Gaman,” and “Higher.”

Each honoree and honoree organization was recognized with a video that had been produced about them and that profiled their work and service to the community.

JCCH president and CEO Carole Hayashino closed the program by sharing one of astronaut Ellison Onizuka’s many inspirational quotes. She vowed that JCCH would continue to strive to reach new heights in fulfilling its mission of “Honoring our heritage. Embracing our diversity. Sharing our future.”

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