Under the theme, “Transformations,” the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) will celebrate its 30th anniversary at 6 p.m., on Saturday, March 26, at Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco. At the dinner, NJAHS will honor San Francisco Taiko Dojo founder Seiichi Tanaka, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, founder of Soko Joshi Judo Keiko Fukuda, Military Intelligence Service member Marvin Uratsu, and painter, activist and college professor Betty Kano. KTVU Channel 2 news reporters Robert Handa and Jana Katsuyama will emcee.
99-Year-Old Judo Teacher Keiko Fukuda
Born April 12, 1913, Fukuda is the highest-ranked female judo practitioner in history, holding the rank of 9th dan from both the Kodokan and the U.S. Judo Federation. She is also the last surviving student of Kano Jigoro, founder of judo. She is a renowned pioneer of women’s judo, being the first woman promoted to 6th dan and later 9th dan by the Kodokan. After completing her formal education in Japan, Fukuda visited the United States to teach in the 1950s and 1960s and eventually settled here. She continues to teach her art in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She began training in judo in 1935 as one of only 24 women training at the Kodokan. Standing at only four feet, eleven inches and weighing less than 100 pounds, Fukuda became a judo instructor in 1937. In 1953 she was promoted to the rank of 5th dan in judo. She traveled to the U.S. later that year at the invitation of a judo club in Oakland. She stayed for almost two years before returning to Japan. Fukuda returned to the US in 1966 giving seminars in California. At that time she was one of only four women in the world ranked at 5th dan, and was one of only two female instructors in the world. In 1966 she demonstrated her art at Mills College. The institution immediately offered her a teaching position; she accepted, and taught there from 1967 to 1978. She later held classes at the Sokoji Zen Buddhist temple in Japantown, San Francisco.
In 1990, Fukuda was awarded Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th Class and also the USJI’s Henry Stone Lifetime Contribution to American Judo Award. On Jan 8, 2006, the Kododan promoted Fukuda to the rank of 9th dan – the first time it had awarded this rank to a woman. Fukuda holds the rank of 9th dan, the second highest in judo from two organizations.
Fukuda still teaches judo three times each week. She has taught police women in San Francisco. She taught self-defense to paramedics and elderly women in San Francisco’s Japantown. She will become 99 years old on April 12, she is incredibly fit and healthy. Her doctors treat her as a living miracle, and she continues to teach 3 times a week. Fukuda’s personal motto is “Be gentle, kind, and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically.”
Oscar Winner Steve Okazaki
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Okazaki won a 1991 Oscar for his documentary, Days of Waiting: The Life & Art of Estelle Ishigo, the moving story of Ishigo, a Caucasian woman artist who accompanied her Japanese American husband when he was sent to a World War II internment camp.
A Sansei, Okazaki was born on March 12, 1952 in Venice, California. He started at Churchill films in 1976, making narrative and documentary shorts. In 1982 he produced Survivors, a documentary film about Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors.
In 1985 he received his first Academy Award nomination for Unfinished Business, about Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi and their legal challenges of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In 1987 he wrote and directed the independent film, Living on Tokyo Time, which premiered in competition at the Sundance Film festival and was theatrically released by Skouras Pictures.
In 2006 he received his third Oscar nomination for The Mushroom Club, a personal documentary about his journey to Japan to interview atomic bomb survivors on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Okazaki co-received the 2008 Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmaking Primetime Emmy Award for White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his fourth Oscar nomination in 2009, for the documentary short The Conscience of Nhem En. Okazaki’s production company, Farallon Films, is based in Berkeley, California.
Seiichi Tanaka, Father of Taiko in America
Tanaka is the founder of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and a recipient of a 2001 National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Asked why taiko has become so popular, Tanaka explained, “Taiko is so timely today because it is so therapeutic, people have an instinctive need to away from their computers, their impersonal lives - to be able to hit, scream and find human to human expression- beat out the stress that is inside, and then go home.”
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1943, Tanaka immigrated to the United States in 1967. He returned to Japan to study the art of kumidaiko with Daihachi Oguchi in Nagano prefecture, Japan with Susumu Kowase of Oedo Sukeroku Taiko in Tokyo, and Shosaku Ikeda of Gojinjo Taiko.
Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo host an annual International Taiko festival at Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley. Tanaka’s performance credits include work on the movie soundtrack for The Right Stuff, and an appearance performing his signature piece, Tsunami, in the film, Rising Sun. In April 2005, Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo were the subject of a public television segment that aired on KQED public television.
Tanaka’s former students, Kenny Endo, Russell Baba, Jeanne Mercer, and Tiffany Tamaribuchi, are prominent taiko performers, leaders of their own taiko groups, and teachers of kumidaiko in North America, prompting him to remark, when receiving the 2001 NEA Award, that he “should be known as the grandfather of taiko.”
Community Artist and Activist, Betty Kano
Betty Kano’s activist days go back to the Vietnam war and Free Speech Movement. Though semi-retired, she continues to work as an artist, curator, educator, arts administrator, organizer and activist.
She discovered her Okinawan roots through drum dancing and continues to pursue her passion for painting. Kano is known primarily as an artist of abstract paintings. She is also a lecturer at San Francisco State University and has exhibited her work in over 200 galleries and museums. She co-founded Art Against Apartheid, Asian American Women Artists Association and Women of Color Camp and served on the Board of Alliance for Cultural Democracy.
She was Executive Director of Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland. She continues as part of Medicine Warriors Dancers/All Nations Singers Powwow Committee at Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland.
At a recent meeting of the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley, Kano was named Alumna of the Year and gave a talk on her evolution from physics major to her participation in the Free Speech movement, her personal development in Japan and Cuba, and her return to UCB in the fine arts.
MIS Leader Marvin Uratsu
Uratsu was born in Loomis near Sacramento on Feb. 7, 1925, but spent much of his childhood in Japan. He was to return in Loomis in 1931, where he attended Loomis Union Grammar School, and later, Placer Union High School for nearly two years when he and his family were evacuated to Tule Lake Internment camp. As the “loyalty questionnaire” dust settled, his family was move to Amache in Colorado.
In 1943 he moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and joined the Army just before completing high school. He attended the Military Intelligence Service Language School in Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and his class was sent to Japan during the Occupation. After the war, he entered the University of California, Berkeley on the G.I. Bill of Rights.
Upon graduation, Uratsu worked for 15 years for the American President Lines where he ended up serving as the Japanese Passenger Service Manager. He has been in the investment business since then.
As president of the MIS Association of Northern California, Uratsu received on behalf of the MIS veterans the Presidential Unit Citation in June of 2000 from then Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki. Uratsu continues to serve in a leadership role in directing NJAHS’s current efforts to remodel a “First Class” MIS facility at the San Francisco Presidio Trust into the MIS Historic Learning Center.
In addition to the Awards Ceremony, the March 26 event will include an update on NJAHS’ campaign to rehabilitate for reuse Building 640 in the Presidio of San Francisco as an interpretive center that will advance the legacy of the Japanese Americans of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) as well as the 442nd/100th Battalion Nisei soldiers.
Building 640 is the site of the first MIS Language School. Thus far, $4.8 million in federal funds have been appropriate for this project, and NJAHS recently launched a capital campaign to raise additional funds that will be necessary to complete the project.
For more information, call (415) 921-5007 or email