Women of the Year will be recognized by the Downtown JACL

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The Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California have selected two outstanding Japanese American community leaders for the 2022 Woman of the Year Award: Yoko Awaya and Miyoko Nishimoto.

This year’s luncheon will be held at the Quiet Cannon, Crystal Rooms 1 & 3, 901 N. Via San Clemente, Montebello, on Sunday, May 1 at 12:30 p.m.

Yoko Awaya

Yoko Awaya was born in Tokyo in 1941. She began studying koto at age 13 and jiuta-sangen at age 18. She earned her teacher’s degree and master’s degree from Michio Miyagi School in Koto, Tokyo. She moved to the Los Angeles area in 1965 and continued her studies with Madame Kazue Kudo.

In 1974, Awaya created his own group, Awaya-kai. In 1994, she founded the Yoko Awaya Koto Music Conservatory, a non-profit organization dedicated to the Japanese musical arts of koto and jiuta-sangen.

Yoko Awaya

Over the past 50 years, members of Awaya and Awaya-kai have made many cultural contributions to the Japanese-American community and the musical arts. Their first concert was in Gardena in 1976. They performed at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Japan-America Theater, Armstrong Theater, US-Japan Expo, Los Angeles Museum, UCLA, USC , the Getty Center and Japanese Garden, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Macky Auditorium in Colorado, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Lafayette College in Philadelphia, and Jacobs Pillow in Massachusetts.

In 1994, Awaya-kai received a grant from the E. Nakamichi Foundation of Japan to produce a special “Baroque Music in Koto” concert in Torrance.

Awaya has also performed for radio, television, and film soundtracks, and made studio recordings for Walt Disney World. Awaya-kai has given numerous charity performances, such as for Keiro Senior Healthcare of Los Angeles; Makoto Takenaka Charity Jazz Concert at Marsee Auditorium and Okinawa; the annual birthday party at Kei Ai/South Bay Keiro (1994-2019); Okarina and Koto Charity Concert for Children from Fukushima to Torrance (2013); Tsunami Disaster Relief Project at the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden in Long Beach (2011); Awaya-kai benefit concert for the Kumamoto earthquake in Torrance (2017).

Awaya and Awaya-kai performed regularly at community events such as Torrance Bunka-Sai (1986-2019), Nisei Week, California State University of Long Beach, and Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. Special events include the 110th anniversary celebration of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California and the 50th anniversary celebration of the Japanese Community Pioneer Center.

Awaya-kai has actively participated in events hosted by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California such as the Jokun Recognition Banquet at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles (1997), the Jokun Recognition Luncheon at the Quiet Cannon (1999), and New Year’s Eve performances. Year in Little Tokyo.

Awaya has performed for the Consulate General of Japan on many occasions, such as parties for a Japan Kabuki group, the Emperor’s birthday at the Consul General’s residence, and the “Japan Today” event in the Huntington Library.

Awaya and Awaya-kai have received awards from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, the Japanese American Cultural Association of Orange County, the California State Assembly, and the town of Torrance.

Awaya has been involved in many music and culture related organizations including Kudo-kai (1966-1983), Koto String Society (1984-1997), Japanese American Cultural Association of Orange County (1980-2016) , Nihon Geijutsu Shudan, and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California.

Miyoko Nishimoto

Miyoko Nishimoto was born in Fukuoka and raised in Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture. Upon the death of her parents and at the request of her sister, she moved to the United States in 1970. Within six months, she obtained her driver’s license and began working at Voit Rubber Company in Santa Ana . She was the only Japanese employee and, with limited English speaking ability, she immersed herself in English for the next two years. Two years later, she quit her job to focus on raising her son, Nick, and her three daughters, Kazumi, Mayumi, and Megumi. She also helped her husband, Kazuhiko, in his business.

In 1977 Nishimoto returned to work. She worked for the United States Naval Weapons Station K2 Division for two years; again, she was the only Japanese-speaking employee. After her job at the naval station, she opened and operated a cafe.

Miyoko Nishimoto

The Orange County Japanese American Association (OCJAA) was established in 1986, and while attending one of its many events, Nishimoto decided to become more actively involved as a volunteer. In 1987, she trained for three months in Little Tokyo under Yasuko Sakamoto and after completing the course, she began volunteering at the office weekly.

Nishimoto’s volunteer activities have extended to senior citizen appreciation group, New Year’s parties, golf tournaments, green card application and renewal process assistance, cultural festivals, and more. She was also a volunteer when former President George Bush made an appearance at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley.

For two years, Nishimoto volunteered three times a week at the office of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California (JCCSC). She met many people from different backgrounds, which deepened her appreciation of volunteerism. She has volunteered at the JCCSC Golf Tournament since 1990 and the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai Golf Tournament since 2004.

Nishimoto’s volunteer work has been recognized by the OCJAA with the Community Service Award in 1993, 2012, and 2016; Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council (OCNCC) Community Service Award in 2012 and 2014; by Nisei Week Foundation as 2014 Nisei Week Pioneer; and by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce with the Nikkei Spirit Award in 2018.

In January 2009, after living in the United States for 39 years, Nishimoto proudly became an American citizen. Currently, she assists her husband in his affairs and takes the time to enjoy his family. She has seven grandchildren, ages 10 to 21. She helps with pickups and drop-offs during the week.

Nishimoto is still active with OCJAA, Southern California Amami Kai, and Southern California Saga Kenjinkai. She previously held the following positions for the Kagoshima Kenjinkai of Southern California: president from 2012 to 2014, treasurer from 1999 to 2001, president of the women’s division from 2002 to 2005, and secretary from 2007 to 2011. She is currently president of the Southern California Showa-Kai, Vice President of Southern California Kenjinkai Kyogikai and Vice President of OCJAA.

Ticket information

Tickets are $45 per adult and $25 per child (10 and under). Specify if vegetarian is requested. The reservation deadline is April 16.

Registration starts at 12 p.m. No gifts please. The seats are divided into tables of eight. Make checks payable to Downtown LA JACL. Mail check and attendee list to Amy Tambara, Women of the Year Chairperson, 526½ W. Riggin St., Monterey Park, CA 91754.

For more information, call Amy Tambara (English/Evening) at (323) 722-3897, Rodney Nakada (English/Japanese/Daytime) at (213) 628-1800, or Joyce Chinn (English/Japanese) at (818 ) 317-4541.

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