Obituary Announcement

Michael Bruce Okagaki

May 14, 1957 – December 18, 2023

Michael Bruce Okagaki died much as he lived: stoic and calm; caring and deeply introspective; wickedly funny yet unfailingly courteous; at peace with himself and his loved ones; and concerned most of all that his family was well cared for, meaning our decades-old cars were running, the heater thermostat was working, and our broken things were mended. He drew his last breath at UCSF Hospital on December 18, 2023 due to complications from prostate cancer. At age 66, his body was the one thing he could not repair.

Michael was born in San Jose, California on May 14,1957 to Thomas and Amy Okagaki. Michael and his sister Karen were often cared for by their unflappable issei grandmother, Okiyo Okagaki, whom they would send sprinting down the street after passing ice cream trucks. In the era of Shirley Temple, Amy enrolled her young children in tap dancing classes, sparking Michael’s first instance of community activism. At age six, he staged a sit-in with Karen, refusing to tap another step, giving him an early inkling that he would never again do something against his inner nature.

Growing up near San Jose’s Japantown, Michael was surrounded by dozens of uncles and aunts, and 34 Okagaki and Saito first cousins. His Auntie Janet taught Michael how to fish; his Uncles Calvin and Warren, who ran a TV and radio repair shop, taught him about tubes and electronics. With his cousins, Gregg Nakanishi and Ron Okagaki, he undertook his earliest chemistry experiments, cooking up gunpowder from potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur, hidden from parental view behind the shed in Ron’s backyard. But in elementary school, Michael fell very ill with nephritis, an infection of the kidneys, that kept him bedridden for a year. To stave off boredom, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, thus explaining his many deep reservoirs of arcane knowledge. In bed, he built a remote control that turned the television on and off by clicking two pennies together.

Graduating in 1974 from Bellarmine College Preparatory, an all-boys Jesuit high school, Michael was one of only a handful of Asian Americans. As a Japanese American at Bellarmine, December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day) was a living nightmare. He’d find himself surrounded, pelted with racial slurs. But Michael found a small group of other misfits to befriend and took refuge in music: the Eagles, Beatles, Neil Young, Cream. In 1971, his father bought him a Martin D-18 guitar, and Michael spent countless hours lying on his bed, teaching himself to fingerpick like James Taylor. 

By the early 70s, Michael found his tribe. He blossomed in the Wesley United Methodist Church’s Youth Fellowship program, where they explored their faith and identity as Japanese Americans, whose families were incarcerated by the US government during WWII. At Wesley, he met Peter Horikoshi, Keith Inouye, and Sandra Takimoto, who along with Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo, would form the nucleus of the band Yokohama, California, singing songs of Asian identity and protest. In 1977, a budding impresario, Steve Yamaguma, proposed cutting their first (and only) LP. The night before the album was completed, Michael realized he had something to say, so he dashed off a song on binder paper called Tomorrow. It became the final track on the record.

In 1972, Michael started attending Lake Sequoia Retreat near Fresno, a once venerable Christian camp for Japanese American youth that had become a magnet for long-haired, guitar-strumming 60s flower children. Michael fit right in. Then in 1977, he was randomly assigned to the same work, interest, and discussion groups as a high school junior from Oakland named Wendy Hanamura. He amused her with clever Mad Libs and enchanted her with his sweet folk songs. Soon they were exchanging long letters between San Jose and Oakland.

Michael asked his deepening crush, Wendy, to go to Leopold’s in Berkeley to pick up a rare LP he’d seen there: Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus. Their first outing was to a Japanese sword store in San Francisco’s J-Town where he plunked down $200 for his first rusty Edo-period blade. Their first “date” was to see Dexter Gordon at the Keystone Korner, where Michael was sorely disappointed when Wendy couldn’t stay for the second set. At 16, she had a strict curfew. Their next date was to see Sonny Rollins play with Donald Byrd at the Great American Music Hall. Vinyl, jazz and Japan would become golden threads woven through Michael’s life.

At Santa Clara University, Michael majored in Fine Art, painting enormous abstract canvases that he stretched himself. However, at his parents’ insistence, he switched majors to Chemistry and would go on to earn a Masters in Chemistry at San Francisco State University, investigating the properties of Laurencia algae. In 1981, in order to be closer to Wendy who was studying at Harvard, Michael drove cross country in the family Buick LeSabre with his patient father to enter a PhD program at Boston University. As a graduate student, Michael was so impoverished, Wendy’s roommates would sneak extra food to him in the dining hall so he could eat for free. Eventually, the cold and cockroaches proved too much for him, and he returned home the next year.

Moving together to Tokyo in 1984, Wendy studied architecture and Michael taught English to businessmen. He lived in company housing, a cinder-block one-room apartment that was so cold in winter that ice formed in the teapot. It was the beginning of Michael and Wendy’s long communion with Japan, a country they explored from the tip of the Noto Peninsula to the remote island of Sado, home to their favorite troupe of taiko drummers. 

After dating for a dozen years, in 1989 Michael and Wendy finally tied the knot, bought a house in San Francisco, and promptly packed up and moved back to Japan. While Wendy worked throughout Asia as a television correspondent, Michael studied Japanese, learned to play the shakuhachi, and happily devoted himself to the arduous task of becoming a shakuhachi maker. He led an artist’s life, immersed in classical Japanese music in the school of Yamaguchi Goro, a National Living Treasure, and making instruments by painstakingly applying thin coats of lacquer to the inner bore of bamboo.

By 1992, their first son Jonathan was born and Michael became a stay-at-home dad. In patriarchal Japanese society, people openly stared everytime he got on a Tokyo subway with infant Jonathan on his chest. An avid collector, he never missed the weekly antique flea markets, amassing countless tansu, instruments, and lacquerware. Gomi Days, when people put their large refuse on the curb, were his favorite days of the year. In many ways, these were the healthiest and most carefree days of his life.

Michael, Wendy and the precociously curious Jonathan returned home to San Francisco, and in 1995, they were joined by baby Kenny, a good-natured soul with his dad’s sly sense of humor. After a six-year hiatus, Michael returned to work at DepoMed, a pharmaceutical start-up in Menlo Park. He would go on to work there for 17 years as a research chemist, eventually specializing in running and maintaining the intricate instruments in the lab. Together, the DepoMed team would succeed in developing the first extended-release form of Metformin, the world’s most widely prescribed diabetes medicine.

Michael’s passionate hobbies ran as deep as the sea. He studied watchmaking at San Francisco City College and became the protege of master watchmaker Ken Nihei. His record collection grew to 7,000 discs, mostly jazz but also encompassing the complete recordings of Broadway star Pat Suzuki; he amassed more than 20 guitars, ukuleles, and a mandolin, as well as ten Fender tube amps. Michael took great pride in maintaining his own cars. His first beloved car, a 1974 MGB, broke down so often his frustrated mechanic handed him the manual and said, “Here, learn to fix it yourself.” So he did.

Extending his scientific rigor to the kitchen, Michael approached each dish like a chemist, changing only one variable at a time, until he distilled each recipe to perfection. Thus his family and friends were treated to many iterations of yakitori, tri-tip, leg of lamb, homemade pizza, mabo-dofu, and chicken shawarma. Eating dinner from Michael’s kitchen was always a multi-course adventure. Tasting ojo and cabeza tacos in Santa Barbara once moved him to tears, as did David Kinch’s signature dish at Manresa, Tidal Pool.

As a partner and a parent, Michael was an empathetic listener, who always knew just what to say to make you feel better. Although a total introvert, he maintained long friendships with dozens of former co-workers, watchmakers, and technicians. He knew the life story of every clerk in our local Safeway and always greeted our postman by name. During his final illness, Michael took up the art of kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with glue and gold. But he repaired more than just broken dishes. He was a man who could sense your brokenness, who’d take time to help you heal your wounds.

Throughout his own life, Michael’s body would betray him time and again. He suffered a submacular hemorrhage in his left eye, total heart block, bilateral frozen shoulder syndrome, carpal tunnel, tinnitus, a burst appendix, long Covid, and finally prostate cancer that infiltrated the marrow of his bones. But Michael never let his illnesses define him. He was stoic in the face of great pain; utterly unafraid to die. In the hospital, he sensed his late father, Tom, tapping his foot, and as always, Tom’s presence comforted him.

Michael is survived by his wife, Wendy, his sons Jonathan and Kenny, his mother Amy and sister, Karen, along with numerous cousins, nephews, as well as Jon’s exuberant corgi, Moose. We will celebrate his life at a service on Saturday, February 24, at 2 pm at Buena Vista Methodist Church in Alameda. The service will be followed by a reception featuring Michael’s favorite dishes. Please help the family plan by RSVPing here:

In lieu of flowers, charitable donations in his memory can be made to KCSM Jazz 91, the public radio station that gave Michael so many decades of spiritual exploration through music.

We hope you will join us either in person or via Zoom to remember this thoroughly good man, husband, father, chemist, musician, mechanic, watchmaker, repairman, and ever-loyal friend.

Know honor,
Yet keep humility.
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block.

Lao Tsu, from the Tao Te Ching

Sadako (Kai) Ikeda of San Jose, CA was born on July 16, 1926 in Santa Cruz, CA and passed away peacefully on September 9, 2023. She was the second child of Tsumoru and Yaeko Kai, from Hiroshima, Japan. She is survived by husband Sus Ikeda, son Ed (Suga), grandsons Kyle, Reid and Marcus; sister Eva Iwanaga, nephew Mark, niece Donna (Brad) Beutter; brother Butch (Celeese) Kai, nephews Trevor and Spencer; along with many other relatives. She was predeceased by her eldest sister Mary Kai.

Sadako attended Santa Cruz High School, and when World War II broke out, her father was taken by the FBI. The family was separated for much of WW II. With President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, the family was incarcerated in both Crystal City, TX and Poston, AZ, Camp 3, Block 316. Poston was one of 10 U.S. incarceration camps of some 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. After WW II, the family relocated to Reedley, CA where Sadako worked on the family farm.

In the early 1950s, Sadako enrolled in sewing school in San Francisco. She met her future husband, Sus, at a picnic, were married a year later and bought a home in Santa Clara where they lived ever since. Sadako was a bookkeeper for several companies, arranged flowers in her cousin’s floral shop, but spent most of her working life with the Continuing Ed. Dept. at San Jose State University.

Sadako enjoyed growing vegetables, was a proficient baker, kept a neat and tidy home, and worked into the late evenings before sitting down to read the newspaper. She was a good cook and baker, canned her garden tomatoes, and made various Japanese dishes. She enjoyed trout fishing, played the organ, played bridge, joined a women’s golf league, hosted many parties and gatherings, traveled to Yosemite, Japan, Singapore, Bali, Branson, Reno, Maui golf trips; co-chaired and planned numerous Poston Camp 3 & Crystal City Reunions; joined a ladies investment club; enjoyed many arts & crafts including Japanese ‘bunka’ embroidery; and was a proficient seamstress.

Sadako was a long-time member and volunteer with the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin and several affiliate organizations. Private services were held on November 11, 2023.

Wayne Shimoda

January 20, 1941 – November 1, 2023

Resident of San Jose

Wayne Shimoda passed away after a short illness on November 1, 2023. Wayne was born in Denver, Colorado to George and Ethel Shimoda on January 20, 1941, and was the middle of seven children: Wilbert, Hylam, Elwyn, Wayne, Dwight, Wesley, and Eva Lynne. Growing up, he worked on the family truck farm and was on the Adams City High School wrestling team, where his nickname was “Tiger.”
Wayne enlisted in the Army in the Vietnam War era, was stationed in Washington State, and achieved the rank of sergeant. After he was honorably discharged, he worked at PGE in the San Jose area for 40 years before retiring in 2011.
Always ready with a joke, Wayne loved to laugh. He enjoyed good food and was always generous with the wait staff and kitchen crews. He loved his family and friends, and was loyal to all. His main hobbies were reading, watching sports, and visiting casinos. His chili was a hit and always in demand. While his mother was alive, he always returned to Colorado to help her prepare the garden soil for the winter.
Wayne is survived by brother and sister-in law Dwight and Adrienne Shimoda, sister-in-law Marilyn Shimoda, brother-in-law John Konz, aunt Yuri Shimoda, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. An informal service celebrating his life will be held at Willow Glen Funeral Home in San Jose, Sunday, December 3, 2023, from 11am-1pm. Refreshments will be served. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the charity of your choice.

Roy Riichi Hatamiya, a prominent Marysville farmer of peaches, prunes, walnuts and almonds, died peacefully on Nov. 10 in Yuba City, at the age of 94. He was born in the District 10 area north of Marysville on Feb. 13, 1929, to the late Senichi and Satoki Hatamiya, pioneer immigrants from Hiroshima, Japan. He was preceded in death by three sisters: Kikue (Tad) Tomita of San Jose, Tamaki (Eiitsu) Sugaya of Sunnyvale, and Kimiko, who died in infancy. He is survived by sister Toshiko (Kenji) Minabe of Livingston and younger brothers George (Kashiwa) of Marysville and Robert (Lillian) of Gridley. Roy married Momoko Miriam Kawahara of San Lorenzo in 1961, and together they raised three children: Michael of Yuba City, Ford (Tracy) of Albany, and Leslie (Randy Schieber) of San Bruno. He had four grandchildren: Evan and Alison Schieber and Elle and Jude Hatamiya. Many nephews and nieces and their offspring fill the family tree. Roy completed elementary school in seven years at the District 10 rural grammar school in June 1942. The following month, he was incarcerated with his family at the Tule Lake concentration camp in northeastern California and later transferred to the Amache concentration camp in Colorado. He completed high school in three years, finishing at Amache High School. Upon his family’s return to Marysville at the conclusion of the war, Roy attended Yuba College and completed his education at the University of California at Davis, majoring in pomology. Roy joined his father in the management of H.B. Orchard Co., Inc., a farming enterprise founded by his father in 1919. Roy’s brothers later joined the operation. By the time the three brothers retired in 2005, H.B. Orchard Co. had grown from an 80-acre family farm into 1,100 acres of orchards. Roy had a gift for metalworking, and together with his brothers fabricated many pieces of farm equipment. Roy served as director and secretary of Reclamation District 10, director of Sunsweet Growers, director of the Federal Land Bank Association in Yuba City, member and president of the Marysville Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, member of UC Davis Alumni and Cal Bear Backers, and member of the Yuba County grand jury, as well as an appointed member to the California Cling Peach Advisory Board. Roy’s two avocations were music and fly fishing. He learned to play the French horn and trumpet in grammar school, and while incarcerated in the wartime camps, he played trumpet in dance bands. A 2012 documentary, “Searchlight Serenade,” produced by PBS station KEET of Eureka, presents the story of dance bands in the concentration camps. Roy was one of nine surviving musicians discovered and interviewed for the film. After starting to work on the ranch, Roy was persuaded to take up fly fishing by his cousin Tom Hatamiya. This led to many years of enjoyment, fishing for trophy rainbows and brown trout in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico with three longtime friends, Bob Kells, George Post and Bob Hanke, all of Yuba City. Trips to Canada and Argentina highlighted his experiences. At his request, no memorial service will be held. Donations may be made in his name to the Marysville Chapter of the JACL (P.O. Box 2253, Marysville, CA 95901, or go to or to the National Japanese American Historical Society (

Eiko Kimura, loving mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, died peacefully in her sleep on Sept. 11. Eiko was born April 3, 1924 in Tottori City, Japan to Bunichi and Kimiye Chatani. She graduated from the Tokyo Women’s Christian University in 1944, with a degree in Japanese Literature. She married Katsumi Harry Kimura in Kobe, Japan in 1947. They came to Sacramento in December of 1952 where they lived happily with their four children; Lily, Ted, Judy, and Kathy. In 1975, they suffered a devastating loss when Katsumi passed away at the age of 54, yet she persevered. Eiko wrote a daily column for the Nichi Bei Times English/Japanese newspaper for over 40 years covering local events and Sacramento Japanese American Society. She was highly involved in the community, loved to dress up and socialize, making many long-lasting friendships. Always with a book, magazine, or newspaper, she was a voracious reader and especially loved mystery novels. Eiko was also a poet, winning many first place trophies for her writings in her native Japanese language and was often a judge for a Japanese Language Contest held by Sacramento State. She was an accomplished koto and shamisen player. She received the prestigious Natori Teacher License from Grandmaster Kineya Yajuri signifying an expert level of Nagauta Shamisen and performed throughout California. Eiko loved tea ceremony, Bunka embroidery, silk folding and flower arranging. Equally important to her was spending time at home tending to her Japanese garden and koi pond surrounded by her beautiful flowers. She also found enjoyment in growing orchids, sewing, crocheting and knitting afghans as well as one-of-a-kind sweaters. She was an avid Sacramento Kings fan. Eiko was lovingly called Nana by her grandchildren Kimie and Jason, Kayla, Dylan, and great-grandchildren Alessandra and Kellan. She loved to cook. Her home was always filled with delicious smells and was a second home to her grandchildren. No one ever left hungry or empty handed. She is survived by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and numerous relatives in Sacramento as well as Japan. To honor Eiko’s final wishes, no services will be held.

Marjorie Imaizumi Fletcher passed away on July 2. She was born in February 1929 in Gardena, Calif. She attended elementary school in Gardena before being relocated to the Santa Anita Racetrack, then later settling in Utah with her family after the war. She later moved to San Francisco to work for the federal government and later the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California (The Center). She is preceded in death by her mother, Mito Imaizumi; father, Eiji Imaizumi; five siblings, Kenichi (Emiko), George (Mary), Yoneko (Shigeru Kiyomura), Hideo “Joe” and Florence (George Hamada). She is survived by her son, Stephen Oda; grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, as well as many nieces and nephews. Services were held in Kaysville, Utah, officiated by Rev. Jerry Hirano from Salt Lake Buddhist Temple.

Mae Yoshiko Nakajima

Mae Yoshiko Nakajima passed away peacefully in her sleep at The Eskaton Assisted Living in Granite Bay, CA on Aug. 1. She was born on April 14, 1928 in Loomis, CA. Mae was preceded in death by her loving husband of 71 years Michio Nakajima, her parents Takeo and Sakuyo(Uyemori), Brothers Ichiro, Ted Tetsuo, Mitsugi, and Sisters Shizuye Kawada and Frances Fusako Shibata. She is survived by her sister-in-law Nancy Nakajima, and many nieces, nephews, and friends.
Mae graduated from Penryn Elementary, Gross Point High in Michigan, and received her Associate in Arts Degree at City College of San Francisco. Mae worked as an Administrative Assistant at Aerospace for over 25 years.
Mae met the love of her life Michio on a double date. They went to see a show called South Pacific in San Francisco. Mich and Mae moved several times from Northern California to Southern California and to the East Coast and finally retired in 1987. They moved to the Monterey Peninsula in California, and finally to Granite Bay, California. Mae enjoyed reading, sewing, exercising, yoga, tai chi, and going for long walks and watching programs on the Hallmark Channel. Mae enjoyed listening to Dr. Chu’s Saturday Meditation and Sunday Acupuncture lectures on her IPAD. He emailed her weekly lessons and she would study them before the lectures. Mae also loved participating in the exercise classes, movie days, and all the various activities offered at the Eskaton. Mae loved going to the Beauty Salon to get her hair cut and styled and to have a manicure and pedicure. Before moving to the Eskaton Mae and Mich enjoyed going to Johnson Ranch Sports Club every day to work out and visit with their many friends. She loved spending time with her husband Mich and traveling all over the East Coast visiting many historical sites.
Mae was a very kind and caring person. She will be forever loved and greatly missed. The Nakagawa family would like to thank everyone for their support during this difficult time.
A Memorial Service will be on Sunday, Sept. 3, from 10 to 12 p.m. at the Lambert Funeral Home located at 400 Douglas Blvd, Roseville, CA. Relatives and Friends are welcome to attend.

Nancy Jayne Yoshimoto
8/29/1954 to 7/22/2023
Nancy Yoshimoto passed away 7/22/23 at the age of 68 after losing her battle with cancer. Nancy is survived by brother Gary Alan Yoshimoto, sisters Gayle (Richard) Povlsen and Susan Osterreicher, plus many members of the Yoshimoto, Kohaya, and Shintaku families including nieces/nephews/aunts/uncles/cousins. She was preceded in death by father Kiyoshi Kay Yoshimoto, mother Alice Kohaya Barboza and brother John Steven Shintaku and brother-in-law David Osterreicher. She was born and grew up in San Mateo, having worked for Dalmo Victor and subsequent companies including Northrup Grumman & L3 Communications. Nancy loved animals, enjoyed good food, bowling, and gambling trips. Her vibrant and caring personality will be missed by all who knew her. Per Nancy’s request, no memorial will be held.

Robert Lester Hiraoka, best known as Bobby, was born in San Francisco on April 3, 1989 to Robert and Jodi Hiraoka. He was the eldest child and only brother to his sister, Nichole Hiraoka. He resided in Daly City for most of his life and until his final days.

Bobby had a huge love for bowling, Disney, and spending quality time with his family and friends – whether it was playing games, doing puzzles, singing karaoke, or just hanging out in the living room and laughing straight from the belly.

A lifelong bowler, Bobby’s passion for bowling was felt in his mission to expand the sport for all bowlers in the Bay Area. Whether it was for juniors, adults, or seniors, he always looked forward to running the next big tournament. A few of Bobby’s greatest achievements in the sport include shooting 10+ 300 games, 5-800 series, holding the JANBA Singles Record with 868, and shooting 300 on the same day with his sister in two different states.

Bobby took pride in meshing all of his worlds into one, bringing his family and high school friends into the bowling world, introducing bowling friends into random tournaments he loved, and seeing all of his friends eventually become family with one another.

Bobby will be sorely missed but we hope his legacy lives on through all those who love him.

Edith Sasaki
Aug. 13, 1941 – May 13, 2023
Resident of San Jose

Edith Sasaki passed away on May 13 at the age of 81. She was born on Aug. 13, 1941, and is the oldest of four siblings. She graduated from Lodi High School in 1959. On May 12, 1963, she married Henry Sasaki after he completed his service in the United States Air Force. She graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies in 1988 and from the Graduate Theological Union with a Masters of Arts degree in Buddhism in 2000. In 2016, she became a lay minister after completing her coursework at the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. She was given the Buddhist name “Kiyo” which means “Joyful Sun.”

Edith is survived by her husband, Henry Sasaki; daughter, Melina (Duane) Takahashi; son, Walter (Eileen) Sasaki; son, Li (Thanatporn) Sasaki; and two grandchildren, Kevin and Samantha Sasaki.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Aug. 13, at 2 p.m. at Willow Glen Funeral Home, 1039 Lincoln Avenue in San Jose.

Gary Miyamura, 71, passed away on April 11. He is survived by his sister, Gladys (Gary); daughter, Melanie (Mike), granddaughter, Malikah, and great-grandchildren, Aiko and Ali. He is also survived by Melissa, Jenna, Jennifer (Justin), Julie, Lillian, Jordan, and many cousins; and ex-wife Maureen (Bob). Gary was a Vietnam veteran, having served in 1971 until moving to the reserves in 1973. Gary was an avid bowler and golfer. He had a unique voice and laugh that would bring a smile to your face. The viewing for Gary will be held at the George L. Klumpp Chapel of Flowers on Thursday, May 25, from 6 to 8 p.m., located at 2691 Riverside Boulevard, Sacramento. The service will be held the next day at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento on Friday, May 26, at 2 p.m. The address is 2401 Riverside Boulevard, Sacramento. Everyone who knew Gary is invited to the viewing and service.

Mae Miyamura, 96, passed away in her sleep on April 11. She was the seventh of nine children. She is survived by her younger sister, Helen; daughter, Gladys (Gary);  grandchildren, Melanie (Mike), Jennifer (Justin), and Julie; great-grandchildren, Malikah, Lillian, and Jordan, and her great-great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. When Executive Order 9066 was issued, Mae had to move to Tule Lake internment camp where she stayed the majority of the time followed by some time in Amache. She was a lifelong fan of bowling and she also loved to sing and play penny slots. She was a most kind and generous individual, who always lent a hand and opened up her home to many family members over the years. The viewing for Mae will be held at the George L. Klumpp Chapel of Flowers on Thursday, May 25, from 6 to 8 p.m., located at 2691 Riverside Boulevard, Sacramento. The service will be held the next day at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento on Friday, May 26, at 2 p.m. The address is 2401 Riverside Boulevard, Sacramento. Everyone who knew Mae is invited to the viewing and service.

Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka, Former BCA Bishop, Dies at 89

Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka, Former BCA Bishop, Dies at 89

Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka, a retired Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji-ha overseas minister, former bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America, and Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, passed away on Dec. 21 at the age of 89.
Former Bishop Rev. Dr. Seigen Haruo Yamaoka had never planned on his amazing path — which has now nearly spanned 60 years — with the Buddhist Churches of America.
He wanted to become a journalist, a newspaper reporter.
But he graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Fresno State University, a time when Japanese Americans were continuing to experience the brunt of racist backlash in America. Just a decade before, during World War II, 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry had been uprooted from their homes and sent to mass detention camps. And mainstream newspaper staffs remained exclusively white and male, off limits to minorities.
“I had journalism professors tell me that I wouldn’t be able to get a job out of college,” he said in a recent interview. “At that time, it was pretty hard to be hired as a Japanese American. I got a summer (newspaper) program, and worked on some weekly newspapers, but as far as a good position anywhere, it was difficult.”
His dreams of becoming a journalist were dashed. But whatever he might have accomplished as a journalist would have likely paled compared to his long list of accomplishments with the BCA and IBS.
Rev. Dr. Yamaoka, who began his career in 1964, is set to retire in June as IBS Vice President of Development and as IBS part-time faculty member. His fundraising leadership and expertise have been key to sustaining the BCA and IBS. Millions of dollars in donations have been raised during his pivotal role in the past 30 years.
“I’m going to be 87 in August 2021, so I figured it’s about time to kind of step aside,” he said.
Both IBS President Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto and IBS Dean of Students Dr. Scott Mitchell praised Rev. Dr. Yamaoka’s pivotal role with the IBS.
“Although many people have made important contributions to IBS over the years, IBS as we know it would not exist without Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka,” said Rev. Dr. Matsumoto. “When he was the Bishop of BCA, Rev. Yamaoka’s dream was that IBS would someday gain accreditation, become a GTU (Graduate Theological Union) member school and have a solid financial foundation. Now, 40 years later, his aspirations and tireless efforts have enabled IBS to accomplish those goals.”
Dr. Mitchell said: “None of us would be here if it wasn’t for Rev. Yamaoka. His leadership and vision for Shin Buddhism in the United States made possible everything that we’ve been able to accomplish the last few years at IBS.”
Rev. Dr. Yamaoka was the central figure behind the formation of the Campaign for Buddhism in America in February 1982 — the BCA’s first comprehensive fundraising drive and precursor to the Endowment Foundation.
The campaign set a goal of raising $15 million in five years — and ended up with about $10 million in donations by 1993, later administered by the BCA Endowment Foundation Board of Trustees.
In addition, Rev. Dr. Yamaoka served as BCA Bishop — and concurrently as IBS President — for three, five-year terms from 1981 to 1996.
Aspired to Be a Journalist
But as a youth who grew up in West Fresno, he loved writing and sports. He was a student reporter and editor at Central Union High School, Fresno Junior College (now Fresno City College) and the sports editor at Fresno State University, which was then known as Fresno State College.
But after failing to land a good mainstream newspaper job, he decided to immerse himself in the Nembutsu teachings. The BCA sent him to Ryukoku University in Kyoto to become a minister in 1958.
He came back to the United States in 1964, and was assigned first to the Buddhist Church of Oakland and then to the Buddhist Church of Stockton. He would return to Oakland, where he retired in 2008 after 44 years as a Kaikyoshi minister.
Rev. Dr. Yamaoka began learning how to run major fundraising campaigns as Bishop. He was tasked with formalizing an endowment foundation and creating a BCA fundraising campaign.
In the early 1980s, the BCA had an Endowment Committee of volunteers, but it wasn’t a professional fundraising group. The BCA had a total endowment of about $250,000 — and relied largely on assessments of members.
“I felt that there was a big, major problem because we were always going on assessments,” he said. “This was not a situation where the future would be sustainable.”
However, he realized that he didn’t have a background in fundraising. “I was at a total loss and didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Rev. Dr. Numata Advised
He sought out Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata, who founded Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK), the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. Rev. Dr. Numata had served as a Hongwanji minister in Hawaii and graduated from UC Berkleley and was a member of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple. In 1934, Rev. Dr. Numata founded Mitutoyo Corp., the Japanese multinational corporation.
Rev. Dr. Numata gave the following advice: study the entire BCA organization; select three areas to prioritize; form a committee to achieve those goals; and ask for the support from the BCA.
Rev. Dr. Yamaoka concluded that there was “no long-term planning” and chose to focus on three areas — financial stability and sustainability of BCA; Buddhist education and IBS; and ministerial concerns.
He would later use his fundraising expertise for the Buddhist Church of Oakland’s centennial in 2001. Working with BCO President Rev. Michael Endo, the church was able to refurbish the Onaijin, redo the social hall flooring, paint the temple and put in new carpet. In 2002, the elevator was installed.
In addition, Rev. Dr. Yamaoka also got involved with Campaign BCA — The 21st Century. That campaign was key to the formation of the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley.
“Rev. Yamaoka was instrumental in raising the $19.5 million for Campaign BCA — The 21st Century from 2003-2011,” said Robert Noguchi, director of Campaign BCA — The 21st Century. “With the many relationships he had formed throughout his career, his extensive experience in fundraising — in particular, leading the Campaign for Buddhism — he was a great mentor to me. I’m grateful for his guidance, friendship and support.”
Rev. Dr. Yamaoka was succeeded by Rev. Harry Bridge at BCO. “I was very fortunate to do an ‘internship’ under Rev. Yamaoka at Buddhist Church of Oakland, when I was a student at Institute of Buddhist Studies — it must have been around 1999-2000,” Rev. Bridge said. “I learned so much!”
Rev. Bridge added: “His commitment to the education of ministers continues to this day — I know that I certainly benefited from it. He wanted us to explore the Dharma through our own life experiences, so that we could help others even if their experiences were different.”
Looking forward, Rev. Dr. Yamaoka voiced strong support of the BCA’s new comprehensive campaign, Dharma Forward. “You have to continually raise funds,” he said. “So the Dharma Forward campaign is very, very crucial to sustain the BCA and IBS.”
His career spans a diverse field of duties: Minister, Oakland Buddhist Church, California, 1964-1971; registrar, Institute Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, 1969-1971; lecturer, member Curriculum committee, Institute Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, 1969-1981; president, Institute Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, 1981-1996; minister, Stockton Buddhist Temple, California, 1971-1981; treasurer, Northern California Radio Ministry, 1975-1976; consultant ethnic studies, Stockton Unified School District, 1974-1976; chairman, Buddhist Churches American Ministers Association, 1979-1981; bishop, Buddhist Churches of America, San Francisco, 1981-1997; resident minister, Oakland Buddhist Church, 1996-2008. English secretary Ministerial Association, 1972-1975. Associate in doctrinal studies Hokyo, Kyoto, 1974.
Member Board Buddhist Education, 1975. Vice chairman Northern California Ministers Association, 1976. Member research committee Buddhist Churches American, San Francisco, 1970-1979.
Trustee Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Buddhist Dharma Kyokai Society of America.
“Thank you for always believing in me and encouraging me not only in my ministry but in my further studies,” said Rev. David Fujimoto, resident minister of the Mililani Hongwanji Mission. “You were one of my advocates when it seemed like I wasn’t going to return to IBS and gave me a lot of opportunities. I’ve always put off having you sign my copy of your book, but then realized your signature on my thesis is much more precious. Thank you Rev. Yamaoka for everything! Okage Sama De!”
Rev. Yamaoka is survived by his daughters Jen Davis, Stacy Yamaoka Anderson; and numerous grandchildren. His late wife Shigeko passed away in 2018.

Additional reports by Jon Kawamoto, Wheel of Dharma.

Caption: Rev. Dr. Yamaoka receiving a certificate for the H.E. Kosho Ohtani Professor of Shin Buddhist Studies from IBS in 2011.

Camp Survivor Recalls Killings at Manzanar

By John Sammon

Jim Morita a concentration camp survivor of World War II was old enough at the time to see the impact imprisonment made on the inmates. The heartbreak among the older prisoners was evident.
“I could see it on their faces the older prisoners the adults,” Morita recalled. “Like those in their 50’s. They suffered. Teenagers in the camp like me, we hadn’t lost as much. We had a ‘to hell with it attitude.’”
In 1942 the U.S. Government shamefully locked up Japanese Americans, loyal U.S. citizens, because of their race.
The older prisoners were devastated the most. They lost everything they had worked to build, their businesses, property, possessions and freedom. All they had left were their lives.
Some lost those too. Unable to deal with it some committed suicide, while other prisoners already in delicate health at the start succumbed from the brutal experience.
Though he didn’t witness it firsthand Morita was close by. His brother Don saw it, the murder of a prisoner by a camp guard who panicked and overreacted, a prisoner killed for no reason at all. The crime was never investigated and remains unpunished to this day.
In fact at the time American society hardly took notice of the incident. The Los Angeles Times appeared to blame the trouble solely on the prisoners with a mocking headline that read, “The Japanese are Celebrating Pearl Harbor.”
Morita would agree the only justice left in the case is to tell people of it so they will know, so it’s not forgotten.
Morita was a prisoner at Manzanar a camp located in a remote part of Northeastern California. Deliberately mislabeled by the government a “War Relocation Center,” it was in reality a concentration camp for prisoners including children, the elderly and pregnant women whose only crime as American citizens was—-they looked Japanese.
Manzanar was one of 10 such camps located in remote areas of the U.S. Southwest. Numerous smaller prisons for Japanese and Japanese Americans were run by the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ).
Manzanar was noted as a camp for imagined troublemakers. Those who protested their illegal imprisonment, who refused to sign a loyalty oath (they felt they were already loyal), or who offended in some way their captors.
It was apparently an example in the government’s eyes of having all the rotten apples in one barrel so to speak.
There was fear among the prisoners.
“We had thought we were going to be sent to a camp in Rohwer, Arkansas,” Morita said. “When my mother (Masano Morita) heard that we were going to Manzanar instead, she became hysterical. We had heard that people were dying there.”
How the prisoners reacted to their incarceration could differ widely. Some who appeared to disagree with their imprisonment were seen by the timid souls in the camp to be trouble makers, those who because of their defiance could get the more compliant prisoners into trouble also. The government system accomplished what any police state wants. Get some of the prisoners to act as government cronies (informers) and turn the prisoners against each other—-divide and conquer, keep the prisoners docile, submissive.
It was another step toward isolation, dehumanization.
Tensions increased at the camp. On Dec. 6, 1942, almost a year to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the situation boiled over.
A camp prisoner Fred Tayama was attacked by a group of prisoners for allegedly espousing a pro-government War Relocation Authority (WRA) viewpoint. Harry Ueno was arrested for the crime and held in the camp jail. Ueno was popular with the prisoners. They demanded his release.
A crowd formed near the camp police station where Ueno and two other prisoners were being held.
Soldiers responding to the scene formed a rank in front of the police station and carried a variety of weapons, rifles, pistols, shotguns and machine guns, two of them heavy tripod mounted weapons.
The soldiers donned gas masks.
When an MP officer ordered the crowd to disperse and they did not the soldiers threw tear-gas and vomit-gas bombs into the crowd. The crowd reacted in panic, running in all directions, some toward the soldiers. An MP sergeant yelled “Remember Pearl Harbor, hold your line!”
The soldiers opened fired without orders to do so, three bursts of submachine gun fire and three shotgun blasts. Among the prisoners 10 suffered gunshot wounds and two were killed, Henry Ito a 17-year-old from Los Angeles and James Kanegawa, 21 from Tacoma.
According to Densho Encyclopedia in its historical description of the event a few members of the crowd had taunted and threw stones at the MPs before they opened fire.
“Some in the crowd were just spectators,” Morita said. “My brother (Don Morita) saw it and ran away. He came screaming and running into the barracks. The next day the authorities declared martial law.”
Morita said he was about one mile away in the prison barracks when it happened and didn’t hear the shooting.
A rumor unproven to this day is that one of the prisoners in the camp jail was a Japanese American a former enlisted U.S. military man who had been helping the government and was being kept in the jail away from the prisoners for his own safety.
“The rumor we heard was that this Japanese American sergeant had adopted an English sounding name and had been in World War 1 with Sergeant Alvin York,” Morita said.
York was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War 1 including winning the Congressional Medal of Honor the nation’s highest award.
“We had heard that the prisoner had been York’s right-hand man,” Morita added. “I was 15 when this happened. I was in the camp from 1942 to 1945.”
Morita had been born in Fresno and moved in 1929 with his parents to Florin, today a neighborhood in Sacramento.
“I went to a segregated school,” Morita said, “all Japanese (American). My dad (Kamekichi Morita) immigrated from Japan to Hawaii and later married my mother (Masano). It was a picture wedding (marriage based on a photo, the bride at first sight unseen).”
Morita’s father made a living as a barber.
“Both my parents were born in Japan in the Hiroshima area, that’s where there were poor farmers,” Morita noted.
When the government ordered the arrest and deportation of Japanese Americans to prison camps Morita was a sophomore at Elk Grove High School.
“I couldn’t graduate,” he said.
Morita said several years ago he met Bob Matsumoto a former advertising executive and Sacramento artist who designed an iconic logo (poster) to memorialize the suffering endured by the prisoners—three strands of barbed wire colored red, white and blue against a black background.
“Bob Matsumoto, his grandfather was a friend of my dad’s,” Morita said. “His dad was my baseball coach. I didn’t know Bob until I read an article (2017) about his 9066 artwork.”
Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the arrest and imprisonment of 115,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans living along the west coast. Matsumoto’s artwork including the barbed wire poster has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and copies of the symbol adorn posters and tee shirts sold at the Japanese American National Museum (100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles).
Matsumoto and his family like Morita had been imprisoned at Manzanar.
Morita said to pass time in the camp the prisoners formed their own baseball teams. They played on a diamond carved out on bare ground originally created as a fire break.
“I used to pitch,” Morita said. “I was on a team the Red Sox, and the Solons. They were named after the Sacramento Solons (a minor league team that moved to Hawaii in 1961 and became the Hawaii Islanders).”
Morita said the camp had 17 teams. Some were named for the communities from which the player-prisoners had come, for example the San Pedro Yogore (means dirt in Japanese) and the San Fernando Aces.
“They were a good team,” Morita said of the Aces.
Morita said he was old enough to be well aware that what the government was doing to the prisoners was a great wrong. He recalled that in one case a Caucasian man promised to take care of property owned by a Japanese American so the man could take back possession of his property when he returned from the camp. Instead he forced the man to sell his property at an outrageously low price.
“There was another case,” Morita said. “A man promised to hold a prisoner’s property for him, but this time when the man returned from the camp there was money in the bank for him, the place was kept up, the property returned. So there were honest people out there.”
During his imprisonment in 1944 Morita was briefly released from Manzanar to pick sugar beets and potatoes on a farm in Pocatello Idaho because of a shortage of farm labor workers. One day Morita was walking when he came upon two white service men who threatened him.
“One said, ‘you’re a Jap!’” Morita said. “He took off his jacket as if to fight. I thought if you come at me I’m going to give you a kick. Just then a police patrol car came by and the policeman saw what was happening. That saved my butt.”
Upon release from Manzanar another incident happened.
“I was in Fresno shopping with someone and we were going home,” Morita said. “There was a crease in my vehicle. Somebody had taken a shot at it.”
After the war and freedom Morita was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953 and served doing occupation duty on the island of Okinawa. After the service he met and married his wife Dorothy and the couple had two adopted children, Dana and David. Today he has four granddaughters (Dorothy passed in 2008).
Morita’s four brothers all served in the military including Don in the U.S. Army, Eugene in the Air Force, Ken in the Army and John in the U.S. Navy.
His son David entered the U.S. Marines and also served on Okinawa.
Morita made his living after the war as a gardener and then a barber. Today he lives in the Central Valley town of Lodi. He is 97.
“I still go a couple mornings a week to cut hair at the Eucalyptus Barber Shop,” Morita said. “I still play golf. I used to play 18 holes, but now I play nine holes walking.”
His schedule was temporarily suspended recently from a hip replacement surgery.
Asked how he managed to live so long, Morita said he gave up smoking in 1966 and does not drink alcohol.
“I also love to take a hot bath,” he said. “Soaking in a hot tub, that’s what they do in Japan.”
Morita said when he and his parents were released from Manzanar they had to start again from scratch.
“We didn’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “We moved to Ivanhoe (near Visalia) and lived in a barn with a dirt floor. We were picking grapes doing farm labor. Later we could find a way to kid about it we could laugh at it. But at the time it wasn’t funny.
I was an 18-year-old. I said to myself, I don’t have a future.”
However, Morita indicated that with the history of racism, of being imprisoned, uprooted and with all the pain, some good happened. People knuckled down, achieved new careers and lives, and eventually pursued professions, many of them formerly unavailable to the Japanese Americans of the past.
“There was bad but some good came too,” Morita said.

Photos Preserve World War II Tragedy of Marysville Japanese Americans

By John Sammon

You look at these pictures and they haunt you.
Who were these people? What were they thinking and feeling when the photos were made?
There is no hint of their thoughts at that moment. The expressions are deadpan. But it’s clear that these are not happy photos. There are no smiles among the adult subjects. Only a grim and bureaucratic type of coldness pervades them.
“The elders show the greatest concern in these pictures,” said David Reed, executive director of the Yuba Sutter Arts & Culture organization based in Marysville in Yuba County 40 miles north of Sacramento. “The younger (teenage) kids in the photos seem a little cockier, while the children, some of them look like they’re on their way to a summer camp.
But with the adults you can feel a sense of grief and loss,” Reed added.
In 1942 during World War II the U.S. Government decided that 100,000 Japanese Americans most of them U.S. citizens living along the West Coast were guilty of treason. They were deported to over a dozen guarded, wire-enclosed concentration camps many located in remote desert regions of the Southwest. Others were allowed to flee into the center of the country.
People were stripped of everything they had except what they could carry in a suitcase, losing their jobs, property and freedom. Before being moved by train or bus to permanent camps they were often kept in temporary holding pens. These were dishonestly and hypocritically dignified by calling them the innocuous sounding title of “assembly centers.” These facilities were sometimes located at horse race tracks where the inmates slept in horse stalls.
They spent several weeks here before being shipped off to permanent imprisonment.
But first they had to be photographed.
It remains unknown if these 100 photos of inmates in the Marysville area were taken for identification purposes or merely as some kind of perverted recording of the event. Some people in the photos have been identified. Others remain lost to history. Only their photo portrait remains to show who they once were.
“The photos were taken in either March or April of 1942,” Reed said. “We’re not sure what they were taken for, if there was a purpose, or they were just nice portraits of people before they went to the camps.”
A photographer long dead named Clyde Bush a Marysville photographer took the photos and though the original prints were lost the negatives were kept by Bush’s family members after his passing.
Sue Cejner-Moyers, president of the Yuba County Historic Resources Commission was contacted about the photo negatives which had been unknown to the public. They were donated to her organization.
“I had known of the existence of the photos for about six years,” Reed recalled. “Our organization is interested in local history. Sue showed them to me.”
The photos Reed described as straight portraits taken on 35 millimeter film.
“I’ve never seen the original prints made from the negatives so we don’t know if they were four-by-fives or eight-by-tens,” he said.
Yuba Sutter Arts & Culture paid for the negatives to be digitalized by Video Lab in Sacramento. Sam’s Club a Yuba City custom film developer then enlarged the digital photos and turned them into 20-by-30 prints.
“It cost us around $4,000,” Reed said.
Reed said Cejner-Moyers had gotten to know members of the Marysville Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and told them about the existence of the photos. It was thought that the photos could be used as part of a memorial event.
“The photos were displayed in our art gallery in Marysville along with a story about how they came into being,” Reed said. “Most of the people in the photos have been identified. But we’d have someone come in, look at a photo and say, ‘That was my babysitter, or that was my neighbor.’”
Others in the photos remain unknown.
The prints were exhibited for a “Day of Remembrance” commemoration held in Marysville in February of 2018 to remember the incarceration of Japanese Americans locally and nationwide. Since then they have been stored at the Yuba Sutter Arts & Culture facility at 624 E. St. in Marysville.
“The 2018 exhibit was the first time the photos were shown and they take up a lot of space,” Reed said. “Today there is no permanent display. They are stored here. We can make them available to anyone who is interested in displaying them.”
Reed said the purpose of the Yuba Sutter Arts & Culture is to celebrate and support local art, artists and related organizations.
“We’re the only existing two-county (Yuba and Sutter) arts organization in the state and a part of the California Arts Council,” he said.
Reed started as a volunteer for the organization and has managed it for the past six years. Before that he was a marketing executive.
He indicated that the history of the Marysville area includes good stories, the not-so-good and the downright ugly including the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“Many of these people around here were rounded up and sent to Tule Lake,” Reed said.
Tule Lake was located on a barren, flat windswept plain in Modoc County about 35 miles south of the Oregon border in Northeastern California. The camp as with others was given a dishonest and innocent sounding name, the Tule Lake War Relocation Center. Instead of what it really was a concentration camp whose victims had been imprisoned because of race. They were arrested and imprisoned for no reason other than who they looked like racially and where their parents had come from.
Tule Lake was also a prison for those who were considered to be trouble makers, prisoners who protested their illegal incarceration or refused to sign a loyalty oath quiz (they felt they were already loyal). Such prisoners were called “no no boys.”
Some of the young men whose families had been imprisoned volunteered for service with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and helped the U.S. to win World War II. The 442nd became one of the most highly decorated units in the U.S. Army.
Reed said in the Marysville area Japanese Americans before they were shipped to Tule Lake were first held at the Arboga Assembly Center.
“It was about five miles south of town and had been in the early days a Swedish (immigrant) colony,” Reed said. “During the 1930’s it was a migrant worker camp (with barracks). About 2,500 local Japanese Americans were rounded up here.”
Three years ago a memorial monument was dedicated at the Arboga Assembly Center site.
“A Memorial Park has been created,” Reed said. “The Marysville School District gave a long-term MOU (Memo of Understanding) to use the property. There are three huge steel silhouettes in the shape of barracks, and murals.”
Reed said you can use your smart phone and while walking a loop walk around the Memorial Park pass monuments where you can access a Q-R code (links to an on-line video). You can hear and see President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 ordering the imprisonment with his Executive Order 9066. Another video shows the recollections of a survivor of the camps.
One of the murals four-feet-by-eight-feet in size has the 100 head-shot portrait photos.
The site is located on Broadway just east of Feather River Boulevard.
“You can see the photo portraits standing out in a field,” Reed said.
The project was funded by the California State Library at a cost of $45,000.
One of the survivors of the Tule Lake Camp is 100-year-old Jim Tanimoto who lives in Gridley, a small town of about 7,000 in Butte County. Reed said Tanimoto viewed the photos.
“He wasn’t in the pictures but he was at Tule Lake,” Reed said. “His family took a great loss during and after World War II. He’s a very positive and upbeat person. But when he saw the exhibit you could tell he was very concerned.”
Reed said the Yuba County area today is more diverse than some might imagine with whites making up 50% of the population, Hispanics with 30% and Asians 13% including those of Japanese, Chinese and Sikh (South Asian Indian) residents.
He indicated that the photos will remain a thought-provoking symbol of the World War II Japanese American imprisonment period.
“It’s powerful looking at the photos,” he said. “You have two walls of people whose faces are looking right at you. Having the photos gives these people a face and preserves them.”
Persons interested in using digital files of the photos may call Reed at (530) 742-2787.
Donations to the Yuba Sutter Arts & Culture are gratefully accepted. To donate or for more information go to organization’s website at

Documentary Film Recounts Korean Man’s Struggle against Injustice

By John Sammon

The case of Chol Soo Lee a Korean falsely accused and then jailed for murder will no doubt take its place alongside that of Fred Korematsu and other Asians who in the past were illegally imprisoned and whom the U.S. justice system failed to fairly represent.
“This is an important film,” said Ranko Yamada, a retired attorney and one of the community activists who helped gain Lee his freedom. “This is what people can do when they work together. It’s a part of Asian-American history. It’s an immigrant story.”
A documentary film newly released titled “Free Chol Soo Lee” tells the story of a young man whose troubled past got him framed for a murder he did not commit. It’s a story of racism and the difficulties of immigrating to a country where you don’t speak English. The story has a happy ending of sorts, if losing a decade of your life behind bars to be released when new evidence proved your innocence can be called happy.
Yamada appears in the film which premiered on Public Broadcast Service (PBS) on April 24.
“I hope a lot of people see the film, those who have never been aware of this case,” Yamada said. “In this instance the Korean community came together to support a kid falsely accused of murder. But it was also Pan-Asians, and people who were not Korean who helped.”
The film portrays legalistic bungling and deliberate fabricating or withholding evidence including failure to question 30-plus Asian witnesses at the crime scene.
Lee was convicted and sentenced to life for the 1973 murder of Yip Yee Tak, a San Francisco Chinatown gang leader. Born in Seoul, Korea, Lee was the son of a woman raped and abandoned by family members. She subsequently married a U.S. soldier, immigrated to the U.S. and left her son to be cared for by an aunt and uncle. In 1964 she returned to Korea to bring Lee now 12 years old to the U.S.
Not speaking English Lee had a hard time in San Francisco and became what Yamada described as a “street kid.”
“He (Lee) started getting into trouble,” Yamada said. “There were no resources to deal with him. All the (public service help) classes were for Chinese.”
Chol Lee’s crimes were of the nonviolent variety.
In 1965 Lee was declared mentally disturbed. He underwent incarceration in several mental hospitals and youth detention facilities including the California Youth Authority.
Tak was gunned down on June 3, 1973 in San Francisco’s Chinatown during a gang war between the rival Wah Ching and Joe Boys gangs. At the time Lee was on probation after pleading guilty to a grand theft charge and serving 180 days in the County Jail.
Lee’s troubled past and his foreign-ness made him an easy and convenient suspect in the murder.
As the wheels of the justice process turned the litany of failures in Lee’s case included incompetence, stupidity and outright fraud. A lineup of suspects was to be held. Three witnesses identified Lee from mugshots but only Lee appeared in the lineup, no other suspects. A bullet found at Lee’s apartment was later determined to not match a bullet found at the murder scene. Police officials later said they had proceeded anyway because it was necessary to obtain a conviction.
Witnesses who could testify that Lee was somewhere else at the time of the killing were ignored.
Lee was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on July 10, 1974. He was imprisoned at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, California.
Yamada said the title of the jail might be laughable (it sounds like a job training camp). Instead it was a place of detention for hardened criminals.
“It was one of the most violent of prisons,” she said.
In October of 1977 Lee killed a fellow inmate claiming self-defense. This resulted in a second trial and he was sentenced to death. In 1979 Lee was transferred to San Quentin State Penitentiary.
However, during this time he had a dribble of luck.
A reporter named K.W. Lee working for the Sacramento Bee newspaper and dubious about the original conviction undertook a six-month investigation of the case. He began to submit his findings as articles in the Bee. In 1980 Leonard Weinglass, famed as the attorney who defended the Chicago Seven accused of fomenting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention was assigned the case as a defense attorney. He withdrew in 1982 and lawyers Tony Serra and Stuart Hanlon joined the defense team.
“This kid (Lee) was a friend of mine,” Yamada said. “I had met him before his arrest and it seemed highly unlikely that he did the murder. All the media said it was a gang killing.”
Support groups began to form in the community talking about the case including meetings held in Korean churches in the Bay Area. Donations from Lee supporters began to be made.
“The response was huge,” Yamada said. “Asian people could understand. They donated money, not big checks but small donations. Over $100,000 was raised to hire investigators.”
New records and documents in the case that had been unexamined or ignored were acquired.
“A lot more paper was delivered to the investigators,” Yamada said, “documents and statements from witnesses that the police had never turned over.”
In August of 1982 a retrial of the first murder case was conducted and in September a San Francisco County Superior Court acquitted Lee of the Tak killing.
Lee had spent nearly 10 years in jail. He was released in 1983 after supporters pledged more than twice the amount of his $250,000 bail. Yamada’s own parents pledged the value of their Bay Area home as bail (if Lee fled the country they could lose their house).
Lee settled on a second-degree murder charge for the jail inmate killing with a condition of immediate release (no parole).
“Why we did this was because we did not want to go through a second retrial,” Yamada said. “Chol Lee wanted it he wanted complete vindication. But we’d have some risk with a second trial. Lee agreed to settle.”
Yamada’s parents had been imprisoned during World War II because of their Japanese heritage. They were held in the Rohwer Concentration Camp (titled at the time a Relocation Center) in Arkansas and Tule Lake in Northeastern California. This was a camp for alleged troublemakers, some of whom refused to sign a questionnaire examining their loyalty or who protested their illegal imprisonment.
After the war Yamada’s dad Ren Yamada became a gardener and later ran a small retail nursery in Manteca.
“Chol Lee reminded me of my dad,” Yamada said. “He was born in Sacramento into a family of farm workers and they traveled harvesting crops (San Joaquin Valley). At the age of four he was sent back to Japan to live with relatives and then returned to the U.S. when he was 17. He hadn’t learned English.”
Her mother (maiden name Chiyo ‘Doris’ Murano) was a housekeeper who also helped her husband run the Manteca nursery and worked for the U.S. Postal Service.
Yamada grew up in Stockton, attended college in Santa Cruz in 1974 with a political science major and then enrolled at Hastings Law School where she got her Law Degree.
“I became an attorney partly due to this (Chol Lee) case,” she said.
While working with others to free Lee from imprisonment Yamada collected volumes of documents related to the case. These she made available to the documentary filmmakers. Supporters who worked on the case and helped to raise money included Yamada’s husband Bob Matsueda, and her son Ken Matsueda.
After prison Chol Lee became something of an activist himself speaking to young people about the importance of justice and engagement among the Asian American community. He never received an apology or compensation from the state and lived the remainder of his life in San Francisco. He died in 2014.
“He had a hard life. People who see the film will see the tragedy of it,” Yamada said.
There was a memorial service for Chol Lee in 2015. A journalist named Julie Ha and K.W. Lee (the Bee reporter) were moved by the loss. K.W. Lee asked Yamada, “Why is this case still underground (unknown)?”
Julie Ha teamed up with a fellow independent journalist named Eugene Yi to direct the film. Beginning in 2016 it took six years to make. The film had a showing at the Sundance Film Festival held last January at Park City, Utah. It runs 83 minutes.
“I was very impressed with it when I saw the film,” Yamada said. “The materials (documents) that we used for the community outreach to free Lee were used for the film and it includes recorded interviews of the people involved.”
Yamada said hundreds of supporters including young activists from communities in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York worked for Lee’s release.
“This is not just a Korean issue,” Yamada said, “and not just Asians. Justice is an American issue. We can never take it for granted.”
The film can be seen on Youtube by typing in, “Wrongfully Convicted of Murder Free Chol Soo Lee.”

“97 Years Young” WWII Incarceree Facing Eviction

Letters to the Editor

My name is Julie Iwamoto and I’m here to ask help for my mom, Snooks. For the latest info, please see “Urgency of Funds*” and “In Closing*” for recent updates. If you are visiting for the first time, please continue as I share my mom’s journey and the urgency of help needed.

Snooks is in serious need of help after recently receiving an eviction notice. As the primary caregiver for her husband who had Alzheimer’s for over 10 years (and she herself, later diagnosed with a milder Alzheimer’s), Snooks had to sell her home for financial stability after her husband passed away in 2011. Afterward, a conflict with her family Trust resulted in Snooks losing control of her Trust to a third-party fiduciary. With considerable losses in a long and tumultuous litigation, as well as years of legal, fiduciary and Snooks’ own costs of care, the Trust is completely exhausted and now closed. In the aftermath, Snooks is unable to provide for her housing and care and now facing eviction from her assisted living facility.
Internment Camp
The cover photo at the top of the page is from a contest in which Snooks entered and won “Miss Heart Mountain, Most Beautiful Pin-Up Girl”, back in 1945 when she was 19 years old. While this award, as well as singing in a Japanese mandolin band, were some of the highlights of her younger years, it is difficult to perceive that at just 17 years old, she was one of more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent that were evacuated in 1942 and incarcerated in U.S. internment camps.
Snooks and her family were uprooted from their home in Sunnyvale, CA, leaving behind all their belongings and the life her parents had built for their family and worked so hard for after immigrating from Japan. Not knowing where they were going or how they would survive, allowing just one suitcase per person and the clothes on their back, Snooks and her family were extradited to Arcadia, CA, where they spent three nights sleeping in the stables of the Santa Anita Race Track before boarding the train to their designated camp of Heart Mountain, WY. Weathering through the heartbreaking losses and the cold and difficult winters of Wyoming, they made the best of their rural and rustic surroundings, adjusting to this new life in internment camp barracks for the next 3 years.
Recently, Snooks saw some vintage news clips on tv in remembrance of the anniversary of the Japanese internment, and each time she watched, she broke into tears, remembering when they were taken from their homes, leaving everything behind.
A Life-Threatening Experience
In February 2021 at age 95 in the midst of the Covid lockdown, Snooks suffered a severe stroke. The right side of her body from head to toe was left partially paralyzed. Unable to walk or eat solid food, Snooks was now bedridden and fully dependent. The doctors said she may not last another 6 months and she was released into hospice. Life for Snooks changed drastically from being “fully independent” for nearly 8 years in an assisted living facility prior to this inconceivable nightmare.
The obstacles she had to overcome seemed nearly impossible. But fast forward to now, with proper care, a lot of hard work and the help of experienced and compassionate therapists, Snooks graduated from hospice and moved on from the board and care to the assisted living facility where she lives now to start anew and gain back her independence. This truly feels like a miracle!

Urgency of Funds*
Unable to meet the amount due for rent, a notice to Pay or Quit was issued. $16,100 for April through May rent (late fees waived) is due by June 29 to avoid immediate eviction and removal from the premises. However, June and July rents are also due, bringing the total amount to $32,200 needed before July 10. In addition, a recent notice for the annual rent increase arrived, raising the rent to $8,380/mo, effective August 1.

With a higher level of care and expenses since Snooks’ stroke, and as housing and care costs continue to rise, Snooks will be unable to continue in assisted living with her limited social security and pension. Ironically, it is difficult at best to find any type of housing, affordable or otherwise, with a history of eviction on file.

Bottom line:
$16,100 – due by June 29 to avoid Pay or Quit eviction; an additional
$16,100 – due for June & July rent to bring the account current
$32,200 – total rent due before July 10 to avoid eviction and fees

Now more than ever, any help in donations to meet the immediate goal of $16,100 by June 29 to prevent an eviction and forced removal, as well as the additional $16,100 June/July rent before July 10 to avoid a repeating eviction notice (while searching for future housing and care), would mean everything to Snooks.

I’ve been caregiving for both my parents for more than 20 years and assisting along mom’s side daily since her stroke. As Snooks’ daughter and primary caregiver, I will ensure all donations made will provide for Snooks’ housing and care and above all, with your help, keep Snooks safe from eviction.

In Closing*
As shown in a recent photo above, Snooks has been happily content enjoying bingo, crafting, and cheering on her Golden State Warriors while thriving in her assisted living community. These are, however, challenging times and the stress of the circumstances over the years and especially in recent months as situations evolve, has been difficult at best. The stress is definitely taking its toll over time.

As one of the last remaining survivors of Japanese internment camps, It would be devastating for Snooks to have her home taken away again. At 97 years old (almost 98), after all the losses and challenges she has overcome, she would be unable to achieve or survive another comeback.

As the eviction deadline draws near and the rent continues to climb, Snooks is in dire need of resolving her balance to be able to source other options while the account is in good standing. Although assisted living is and has been an environment promoting her best health and wellness for over the past 10 years, she now needs assistance in funding to provide a future home to benefit her safety, her health, and her well being.

I’m asking humbly, can you please help save my mom from eviction so she may celebrate her 98th birthday in July, safe and sound and in a proper home? If you or someone you might know are able to make a donation, no matter how small, please know how much Snooks appreciates and is truly grateful for any and all donations given.

Thank you for your generosity in assistance and caring support, during this urgent and incredibly difficult time of need.

Snooks and Julie

You can donate at

Bay Area Woman Turns Love of Softball into Coaching Career

By John Sammon

Shannon Mortimer has been instrumental in helping to grow women’s softball into the major sport it always had the potential to become. As a player and today a coach of young women of Japanese ancestry, she has seen the sport rise from an obscure past to an internationally recognized event.
Women’s softball has come a long way from the formation of its first team in 1895.
At the time it was considered merely a diversion….for women. Men often thought of women’s softball as irrelevant, even described it in insulting and sexist terms (deleted here), a game appropriate for women, demure, gentle, ladylike, a “soft sport” that could be ignored.
“There are two professional softball leagues for women in this country today and women’s softball has been evolving like crazy,” Mortimer said. “The fan base for the 2022 Women’s College World Series in softball exceeded that of the Men’s College World Series.”
One of the women’s professional leagues founded in 1997 formerly called “National Pro Fastpitch” was retitled “Women’s Professional Fastpitch” in 2022. A second professional women’s league under the title “Athletes Unlimited” brings together 56 of the world’s best women softball players for five weeks of competitions held in July and August at the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois.
Professional women players from around the world are drafted and placed on teams. The salaries for the best of them have become serious. Monica Abbott, a pitcher for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers who also competed in the 2008 and 2020 Olympic Games (she recently retired), signed a contract for $1 million.
“There is plenty of money to be made in professional women’s softball,” Mortimer noted.
Softball became an Olympic sport for the first time in 1996.
In fast pitch women’s softball (thrown underhand), the ball rockets across the plate with great speed. The distances are shorter than in men’s regular hardball.
“Because of this (distances) women’s softball is just as fast a game as men’s hardball,” Mortimer said. “Regular baseball (hardball) is farther back than softball. In softball the pitcher is 43 feet from the plate.”
In men’s hardball the distance is 60 feet 6 inches from mound to plate.
“The bases in regular baseball are 90 feet apart,” Mortimer added. “In softball they are 60 feet.”
Her grandmother was born in Japan in the Kagoshima area, making Mortimer a natural for one of her present roles, coaching a softball team composed of women players (amateur non-professionals) of Japanese descent who compete with players from other countries.
Baseball in Japan has for over a century been practically a national mania.
“Our professional athletes go to Japan to play and make more money,” Mortimer said.
Born in Antioch and growing up in Pittsburg, Mortimer today lives in Oakley. She inherited the love of baseball from her father Doug Cherry. He was a standout baseball player for St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California.
“He was a hardball pitcher and now plays softball,” Mortimer recalled. “I grew up around softball fields. My dad would take me to watch tournaments as a young girl.”
Attending Central Junior High (Pittsburg), Mortimer said the school didn’t have a softball team at the time so she began playing in the Pittsburg Little League and at local youth recreation leagues in the 1990’s.
“I ended up playing just about every position,” she said, “wherever the teams needed me.”
Mortimer said she learned from her coaches to exhibit a mental toughness in playing the sport.
“You sometimes fail more than you succeed,” she explained. “But you don’t let it (adversity) get to you. You learn to forget about it and move on.”
She also learned to deal with the potential pressure caused by fans.
“You tune out the fans yelling in the stands, you don’t pay attention to them. I think those are good habits,” Mortimer said.
Attending Los Medanos Junior College (Pittsburg), Mortimer took business classes planning to attend a four-year college. However, marriage to Michael Mortimer a police officer and the birth of their daughter Mikaela changed the plans.
Mortimer’s start in coaching began when she served as a coach for her daughter’s team in tee ball. Intended for small children, age four to six, instead of pitching the ball to a batter the ball is set on a stationary upright “tee,” like a pole, and hit from there. Mortimer said it’s a good way to teach young children the basics of the game.
She also coached at her former Pittsburg High School in 2003 and at the Delta Valley Middle School.
In total Mortimer has 25 years playing softball including the positions of pitcher and infielder.
As a coach she said she is competitive but not ruthless.
“I’m not one of those, you-have-to-win-no-matter-what-the-cost coaches,” Mortimer said. “There is nothing wrong with teaching competiveness, but it’s not the only thing (includes good sportsmanship too).”
Mortimer said coaching and the game of softball have changed radically over the years.
“Today you break things down you teach the mechanics of the game and the fundamentals,” she said. “There is more athleticism and more training (for example lifting weights).”
In 2010 Mortimer took a position coaching softball for the All American Sports Academy in Tracy, California, an elite training and coaching facility for female softball players. Mortimer initially coached girls 10 years old and under.
“I was a head coach and instructor,” she said. “I also had a day job for 17 years as manager of a periodontal office where I could divide my time between the two.”
Mortimer worked her way up coaching young women 18 years old and under. She led her players against other girls’ teams in tournaments held in states like Colorado and Georgia. She eventually headed teams participating in tournaments sponsored by the sports equipment giant Nike and U.S. Softball, which began in 1999.
In addition Mortimer has become an overall fitness coach for women and men competing in a variety of sports.
“I’m not limited to one sport,” she said. “Today I teach physical fitness and conditioning.”
In 2020 Mortimer took on head coaching duties for International Team Japan, a participant in the yearly Triple Crown Fastpitch International Challenge held in June in Westminster, Colorado. The event is a tournament featuring the best women softball players from around the world representing 20 countries.
“The International Challenge started in 2020 and since then they’ve been able to bring in more players from countries in Africa and South America,” Mortimer explained. “We hold tryouts (remotely) by watching videos of the players in action and we find the best of them. For my team roster we’ve found players from all over for example Hawaii and New York.”
Mortimer’s Team Japan players are selected by her and must have some Japanese descent.
“You have to have at least a great-grandparent who was born in Japan,” she said.
Mortimer said previously there had been no team representing players of Japanese nationality or Japanese heritage, the reason she took the job as head coach of Team Japan. Given the popularity of the game in Japan, it was a need that needed to be filled.
In 2021 Team Japan made it to the finals (among 20 countries) and faced off against players from Cuba. Cuba took the Gold Medal in the final inning (games go seven innings), winning with a margin of one run on a play at home plate. Team Japan got the Silver Medal. In 2022 Team Japan made it to the Bronze Medal Championship (Cuba again won the Gold).
Mortimer said it gives her great pleasure to see the way women’s softball has progressed into a sport with international exposure.
“I think softball has gained respect and recognition finally because it’s so deserving,” she said.
For young girls who want to play softball Mortimer advised them to look for local leagues in their communities offering tryout opportunities to play.

At the 2021 games, Mortimer on the right, on the left is her assistant coach for Team Japan, Sarah Woofter.

The team photo above was taken last year in Colorado for the Triple Crown International Tournament.

Bay Area Man Recalls Career Exploring World for Energy in Exotic Places

By John Sammon

Doug Uchikura traveled the world through his job with Chevron seeking sources of energy and some of the places where he lived you may never have heard of…for example Ashgabat in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan.
“That country was isolated from the world, it was somewhat a closed society,” Uchikura recalled.
The sight of an American was so rare in such places. Uchikura agreed that in a way he and his wife Maris became ambassadors of a sort. Locals formed their opinions of America after meeting the couple.
“I think my wife was really good at that (shaping positive views of America),” Uchikura said.
His career became an interesting mix of the legal, business acumen and satisfying the world’s hunger for oil and natural gas. Retired and living in Alamo, Uchikura said his labors took him to Russia and the Ukraine, the scene of today’s bloody conflict. He said that there is nothing right about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.
“All over the world, people expect a country to respect the sovereignty of other nations,” Uchikura noted.
He is the son of a mixed marriage, a Japanese American father and a mother who is of Scotch/Irish ancestry.
“My grandmother was from Osaka and my grandfather from Kyoto, which at one time was the capital of Japan,” Uchikura said. “My father was born in 1922 in Loomis (near Sacramento). My grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900’s and my grandfather worked in a nursery.”
In 1942 during World War II the U.S. Government decided to remove and imprison 120,000 mostly American citizens of Japanese ancestry living along the West Coast including women, children and the elderly for alleged disloyalty. Uchikura’s family was sent to Tule Lake War Relocation Center in a remote area of Northeastern California. The concentration camp, one of a dozen major camps scattered throughout the desert southwest, was considered a prison for troublemakers, those who protested their illegal imprisonment or refused to sign a loyalty oath.
“At the time my father (Donald Uchikura) had just graduated from a junior college and was class valedictorian,” Uchikura said. “Before he could give his valedictorian speech he was imprisoned.”
After the war and release his father moved to Ohio where he met and married his wife Carolyn, an Anglo woman. Mixed marriages at the time were rare.
“It was something of an anachronism,” Uchikura agreed.
His father achieved a degree in biological science and became a medical lab technician while his mother served as a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Hamilton, Ohio, where Doug Uchikura was born.
“Eden Hospital (Castro Valley) offered my dad a job which brought us to California,” Uchikura said. “I was just over one year old, and my father became the head of the (hospital) lab. He was in that position for 35 years.”
The family moved to Hayward where Uchikura grew up. He said that his father rarely spoke about his experiences as a prisoner in the Tule Lake Camp during World War II, to Uchikura or his two brothers.
“He said that was his issue and not ours,” Uchikura recalled. “There were some demonstrations among people trying to get financial reparations (monetary damage payments) and he said, ‘I don’t want you involved.’ It was an injustice but it happened to him. He wanted me to go forward and concentrate on my own life and career.”
Later, Uchikura’s father visited local schools where he taught fifth graders about the history of the camps.
Uchikura attended Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward and California State University East Bay where he got an undergraduate and then a master’s degree in business. He followed that with a law degree from Santa Clara University.
“I knew a female friend working for Chevron who arranged an interview for me with the company,” Uchikura said. “This was in 1979. I was hired as a lawyer and became involved in what is called the ‘upstream’ part of the business, exploring for oil and gas. I was working on offshore California oil projects (Santa Barbara) and then out of an office in San Francisco.”
In 2000 the company sent Uchikura to Moscow, Russia.
“We had a pipeline project and there were many companies and governments involved,” Uchikura said. “They were getting ready to open a pipeline that would run from Kazakhstan (Southern Russia) to a port of Novorossiysk (Black Sea). The project was successful. Russia was one of the (pipeline) partners.”
Uchikura was joined in Russia by his wife Maris, who had retired after being a dental technician for 25 years.
“We lived in an apartment just a block from the Kremlin (seat of Russian Government),” Uchikura said.
The couple lived there for three years.
“The Russian people were decent to us,” Uchikura said. “But their government officials had their eyes on us. We had to be careful. I’m sure we were being watched.”
Chevron called Uchikura back to the U.S. where he worked in San Ramon for four years and then in 2008 the couple was sent to Turkmenistan. On its southern border were the countries of Iran and Afghanistan.
“This was a business development project and we were looking to see if we could produce a natural gas facility,” Uchikura said. “But nothing happened.”
The project failed to materialize.
Uchikura said Turkmenistan was a very different experience than Moscow. It seemed a more isolated and closed-off place. Women had a secondary status.
“It was a Muslim country, and a man’s world,” Uchikura said.
The Uchikuras were in the country for four years and then were sent to Warsaw, Poland.
“This was a project to develop natural gas from shale (oil-impregnated sediment rock),” Uchikura said. “The countries of Lithuania, Ukraine and Romania were involved. We did some exploration and sampling of wells, but it turned out to be not commercially viable.”
They spent three years in Poland.
“They were very good people in Poland, very European,” Uchikura said. “Poland had a western feel. We rented a house instead of an apartment. We saw a lot of Europe (side trips) from there.”
He added that the people of Poland use a lot of natural gas.
When the operation in Poland closed down Uchikura said he realized it was time to return to the U.S., finish his career and retire. He retired in 2016. In 2018 he received an award as a “Distinguished Alumni” in business and economics from the California State University East Bay for his career work.
The Uchikuras have six grown children (two adopted) and 13 grandchildren.
“We have plenty to do in retirement with family gatherings,” Uchikura said. “After doing so much international traveling, we travel a lot today around the U.S. We wanted to see our own country.”
Uchikura’s father has passed away but his mother Carolyn is 91 and lives in Hayward.
Uchikura said he also enjoys playing shortstop for the Islanders, a California-based softball team with a Hawaii connection.
“We play teams in Las Vegas, Phoenix and just got back from a game in St. George, Utah,” he added.
Noting that playing shortstop requires quickness, Uchikura joked, “My fielding range is about as wide as my shoulders.”
He likes to play golf as well.
Vladimir Putin had just been elected the president of Russia (2000) when Uchikura worked for Chevron in that country. He said he hopes and prays that Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine will come to an end.
Of Chevron, Uchikura said he will always have fond memories.
“It was a great company to work for,” he said.

Featured photo: Doug and Maris Uchikura.

Top photo: Doug Uchikura.

Bottom photo: Doug Uchikura in front row with his Islanders teammates.

Sacramento Man Recounts Struggle to Become Internationally Recognized Sculpture Artist

By John Sammon

Yoshio Taylor will tell you and he’s told his students that to be a sculpture artist takes a special resolve all its own.
“I used to tell my students, ‘yeah it’s great to have artworks all over the place but art is a commitment,’” Taylor said. “You have to have a passion, you have to persevere, you have to sacrifice. Even if you have talent someone might pass you up in your career unless you push it. You have to have determination.
I was known as a workaholic and I still am,” Taylor added. “My family thinks I’m crazy. Maybe I am.”
Taylor’s commitment led him to become an internationally recognized master of the art of sculpture. His works can be seen on display at locations around Northern California, in some venues appreciated by hundreds of people daily as they pass by.
One is a three-story high mural of hand-made terra cotta tiles (32 feet high by 18 feet) depicting a relaxing waterfall scene at the University of California (UC) Davis Medical Center main lobby.
“It’s a large piece that took me two years to complete, and that was while I was teaching (art),” Taylor said. “A hospital can be a frantic place, and I wanted to give the people who visit (patients, family, doctors) a feeling of calm.”
Another artwork is located in the Plaza Escuela Center in Walnut Creek (Locust Street). Two figures, a male and a female (in front of the Cheesecake Factory) tower above pedestals. Completed in 2002 and made out of bronze with terra cotta bases, the figures represent learning with books in their hands. The site is the former location of Walnut Creek’s first school.
At the feet are depicted native plants that have disappeared from the area as well as endangered wildlife, and species including frogs, foxes and birds. Grape leaves celebrate the history of Walnut Creek’s agricultural industry.
Taylor said he loves doing his art at the age of 73.
“As long as my body allows me and my mind is still there I’ll do it until the end,” he said. “It’s a passion you have.”
But it took grit to get there.
Taylor was born on the tiny island of Tarama in the Okinawa chain in 1948 just a few years after World War II and the scene of one of the most ferocious battles of the conflict.
“My mother married an American and when I was six years old we moved to Osaka (Japan),” Taylor said. ‘We came to America when I was 16 (1965) and I didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t speak to my father except in Japanese.”
Taylor said having completed ninth grade schooling in Japan he was reluctant to attend high school in this country.
“I thought I was through with school,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to school but my dad forced me. I carried two dictionaries with me (Japanese and English). I took classes that didn’t require me to speak too much, like art and architecture. I liked landscape painting and figurative portraits.”
After graduation from Hiram Johnson High School (Sacramento) Taylor attended Sacramento City College where he got an AA Degree in Art. He said it took him six years to feel comfortable communicating in English. He had developed a sense of humor.
“I saw the culture here (America) was that you should be able to joke and I was kind of a class clown in school,” Taylor said.
He got a job washing dishes at a Sacramento restaurant and learned the art of cooking Japanese cuisine, at the Rickshaw Restaurant on 10th Street and the Fuji Restaurant.
“The chef wanted to go home and have a drink and so he showed me how to prepare dishes, for example sushi, or oyakodon (rice bowl dish with chicken, egg, scallions and sweet soup over the rice).”
Taylor got married and said he took his role as a breadwinner seriously.
“I had two jobs and decided to go back to college (Sacramento State today California State University Sacramento),” he said. “I took classes in photography and commercial art. I thought, I can’t just be an artist (painter). I thought I would become a graphic or commercial artist.”
His career took a turn in 1976 when he decided to enroll in a ceramics class.
“I was fascinated by ceramics, I said I bet I can do that, but it was really a challenge,” Taylor said. “I thought, I’m not that good. But I love challenges in life.”
A big break was his meeting with Ruth Rippon, a legendary ceramics master whose career spanned seven decades as a teacher and who played a major role in lifting ceramics into the realm of fine art. Her works appeared at the Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento) and she was responsible for putting Sacramento at the world’s center of clay art.
“She was a stern and hard teacher and she became my mentor,” Taylor said. “She was teaching pottery. My style was influenced by her. She encouraged me to teach.”
Taylor got a Master’s Degree from Sacramento State in ceramics and began teaching at that institution and also at nearby Consumes River College.
Another key acquaintance was a chance meeting at a graduate seminar in Montana with Peter Voulkos, an abstract expressionist in ceramics sculpture.
“We hit it off well, he (Voulkos) liked my sense of humor,” Taylor said. “He was known for his working with large 50-pound plates of clay. He was a big name (in art) and I would visit his studio. He asked me to apply for a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) at the University of California (UC) Berkeley in sculpture. They didn’t have a (MFA) degree in ceramics, but under the sculpture category you could work in different media.
It wasn’t easy to get in,” Taylor noted. “Out of 200 applicants they would accept 12.”
Taylor was one of the few chosen and even after a year in the MFA program a panel of reviewers determined if you should be allowed to continue, if your work was worthy. Taylor succeeded. He graduated in 1982.
Unlike Voulkos and his expressionistic work in which the author portrays their inner feelings (sometimes hard for the viewer to know what it is), Taylor produces “figurative ceramics,” renderings clearly understood.
Clay figures once molded are placed in a kiln (oven) and fired twice, at temperatures from 1,800 to 2,300 degrees. Glaze is applied and care must be taken there isn’t too much moisture in the clay, which during heating can cause the piece to fracture or explode.
Taylor has exhibited his work in group and solo art shows and the works have sold being displayed in art galleries in Sacramento and San Francisco, for example the Dorothy Weiss Gallery (256 Sutter St. San Francisco).
Stylistically, Taylor said he does art pieces that combine a cross between Western and Japanese cultural imagery.
“My figures are an extension of myself,” he said. “If I’m all keyed up or stressed out I explain it that way, or it can be more relaxed. I’m reaching for a goal, to succeed in life.”
One piece was that of a circus clown. Taylor said he was impressed with Marcel Marceau the famous French mime artist.
“I was fascinated by his (Marceau’s) figurative gestures,” Taylor said. “I have also been influenced by Kabuki Theater (traditional stylized theater) in Japan and Bunraku Japanese (puppet) Theater.”
Taylor had a book on his art published in April by John Natsoulas, owner of the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts in Davis at 521 1st St.
In 1985 Taylor created a ceramic mural in honor of the 120,000 mostly Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II because of their race. The work is located in the Sacramento Administration Building at 700 H. St. (taxes are paid here).
Currently Taylor is working on an artwork to commemorate the contributions made by Chinese immigrants in the tiny community of Isleton in the Sacramento River Delta. The piece will become a part of a fountain to be installed in the new Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Memorial Park.
“Chinese immigrants after they helped build the Transcontinental Railroad were used to improve the Sacramento River wetlands,” Taylor said. “The river would flood and they (Chinese) built the dykes to control it. The result was the area became some of the richest farmland in the Delta.”
The Chinese were expelled from the area and Japanese immigrants came in and helped to improve the region’s agriculture. Then the Japanese were removed during World War II and Portuguese and Filipino immigrants moved there.
Taylor agreed the memorial to the contributions of Asian immigrants in the new park will be of special significance given the recent spate of anti-Asian violence directed at anyone who looks Asian during the Trump Administration.
Taylor retired from teaching in 2019 and is today a full-time artist.
He agreed that one of the joys of his art is creating works that will be around for long after their creation.
“It means something,” he said, “and I feel blessed I’m able to do this.”