Consul General of Japan Toyoei Shigeeda recognized University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa American Studies Professor Dr. Dennis Ogawa with a special commendation in a ceremony at the Consul General’s residence on April 23. The commendation recognized Ogawa for his efforts in enhancing the understanding of Japanese American history in Hawai‘i and for promoting goodwill between Hawai‘i, the United States and Japan.
Ogawa was introduced by his former student and longtime friend Carl Okimura, who spoke about Ogawa. Dennis Ogawa was born in Manzanar Relocation Center in Owens Valley, Calif., a year after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, ordering all West Coast Japanese Americans into American-style concentration camps. Okimura said Ogawa’s father worked outside of the camp, so he was raised primarily by his grandparents, from whom he learned both Japanese and American cultures and values.
Ogawa visited Hawai‘i for the first time during a break in his undergraduate studies at UCLA. In Hawai‘i, he worked as a gardener at a dormitory to earn his room and board. “The local people he interacted with befriended him and he was so touched by the aloha spirit that he decided to return one day to live permanently,” Okimura said.
Ogawa earned his Ph.D. in intercultural communications from UCLA in 1969 and moved to Hawai‘i, where helped establish the UH Ethnic Studies Program. He subsequently transferred to the American Studies Department, where he continues to teach. Ogawa’s two early publications, “Jan Ken Po” and “Kodomo no Tame Ni,” caught the interest of then-President Gerald Ford, who invited Ogawa to speak on ethnicity in America at the White House.
Okimura lauded his sensei for his devotion to the study of Japanese Americans and how multiethnic and multicultural peoples “can get along through the study of their histories.”
Ogawa thanked Consul General Shigeeda for the commendation and for all he has done for the community in Hawai‘i, including his help with the TOMODACHI program, of which Ogawa was involved. He dedicated the commendation to the Issei and older Nisei. “They taught me about their love for Japanese values, not only in words, but in their actions,” he said. The Issei also taught him that it was possible to love Japan, but to also love Hawai‘i, their adopted home.
Ogawa, who is also president of Nippon Golden Network, a subscriber-based Japanese cable station in Hawai‘i, said his career has allowed him to embrace his love for Japanese movies, particularly samurai movies, and their “precarious window into Japan.” “I cry when I watch the samurai movies because it brings back memories,” he said.
“I’m so proud that I was involved in a company called NGN, because it made the Issei so happy.”
He said one of his proudest accomplishments was being able to bring NHK’s live sumö broadcasts to Hawai‘i so that local residents could see their homegrown sumotori in action.
Duane Kurisu, founder and chairman of aio, the parent company of several publishing companies and other creative ventures, offered the kampai toast. He said Ogawa “only knows bridges and no boundaries between America and Japan.” Ogawa has “carved so many paths between Japan and Hawai‘i,” Kurisu said.