By John Sammon—SEASIDE—A celebration held on Aug. 1 at the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple honored two local residents for their efforts to better the community and to promote Japanese American cultural ties and awareness.
In presenting the awards, Consul General of Japan Hiroshi Inomata praised the work of honorees Katsumi Kinoshita and Tsuneo Larry Oda.
“Everyone here knows them,” Inomata said of the two men before a gathering of about 100 spectators, “and the time they have invested in their community.”
Kinoshita is an internationally known expert in the art of bonsai. A Japanese native who has lived in Monterey since 1955, he is renowned for teaching how to grow bonsai trees, and also adapting native species including Monterey Pine, cypress and coast live oak for the purpose.
The objective of bonsai is to grow a fully developed adult tree in miniature in a pot or tray, capturing the beauty of nature, by trimming the plant’s roots and branches over time. Home and garden displays can include a single tree, rocks or trees, or a forest of trees.
Kinoshita has been a sensei master (teacher) of bonsai for over 40 years at the Monterey Bonsai Club, one of California’s oldest bonsai organizations, as well as the Salinas Bonsai Club and the Akatsuki Bonsai Club in Fresno. He is recognized as a bonsai master by the Golden State Bonsai Federation and the Agricultural Society of Japan. He conducts bonsai demonstrations at the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai and the Watsonville Bonsai Club. In addition, he owns the Kinoshita Bonsai Shop in Pacific Grove.
“I’m very honored,” Kinoshita said. “I’d like to thank all of you and the consul general. I appreciate everyone who gave me advice and support since I came to the U.S. I love to serve my community through the love of bonsai.”
Oda is a third generation Monterey resident whose family was deeply rooted in the Japanese fish processing industry. His grandfather was the owner of Seapride Canney on Cannery Row, today the site of the Open Ocean Exhibit at the Monterey Aquarium. He served eight years on the Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL) National Board of Directors, including four years as National President. He has served as President of the Monterey Peninsula JACL Chapter, and as General Chair of the 36th Biennial JACL National Convention.
Founded in 1929, the JACL is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the U.S. and monitors current events with the goal of ensuring civil rights for all people.
Oda also served on numerous committees and boards including the Japanese American Leadership Delegation to Japan and the Japan Center Foundation for Global Partnership. He has been active in highlighting the contributions Japanese Americans made in making California prosperous, served the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple as its president, as well as co-chairman of the Obon Festival Committee.
Oda said he was unused to being on the receiving end of an award, and recognized the contributions of mentors including his wife Anne in getting him to take an active role.
“I’m not accustomed to it, there are so many people who are deserving,” he said. “My wife tells me, you didn’t do it alone, and there were people who showed us how. Giving back, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Master of Ceremonies Jeff Uchida, president of the JACL of the Monterey Peninsula, said it is vital to recognize the work of those who enrich the lives of others.
“It’s important to honor such vital people now,” he said.
Both Kinoshita and Oda were presented by Inomata with distinctive plaques that described their achievements in Japanese script. Inomata read the commemoration in Japanese and then translated it into English for the assemblage.
“We convey our deepest respects for your distinguished adherence to mutual understanding,” the award read in part.
Afterwards, refreshments and food were served for guests.
Akemi Ito, president of the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple, said the event was intended to recognize the special contributions of exceptional people in the community.
“This is the first time we’ve held this event,” she said. “Our temple represents the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism. A lot of the things we do are to promote the culture of Japan and the Japanese way of life, for example, the huge Obon festival we have each year.”
Inomata said after the ceremony the economic challenges facing Japan have been made more acute because of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 2011 that devastated the northern part of the country and resulted in explosions at the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor.
“Japan’s economy is much worse because of that,” he said. “But we have resilience and we possess a strong desire to recover, and so the economy is coming back. What happens in Europe and China also have impacts.”
Inomata is based in San Francisco and travels extensively throughout California and Nevada meeting people and promoting mutual and cultural understanding between Japan and the United States. After attending Oxford and Waseda universities, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978 and has held a series of key posts since, including service in the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok and Washington, D.C., as well as the Office of Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary.
He took his current post in 2010.
“I’m kind of like an ambassador,” he noted. “Part of my job is to visit and make friends.”
The invocation and benediction at the ceremony was led by the Reverend Jay Shinseki of the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple.
The temple has many activities including weekly services, study classes, women’s organizations and functions, children’s Sunday services and public lectures. Dinner events are often held featuring such Japanese dishes as teriyaki, udon, and barazushi.
For more information on temple activities, go to www.montereybuddhist.org