Those We Lost in 2023

Rafu Reports


From left: Arata Isozaki, Shoji Tabuchi, Kikuko Tanamachi, Min Tonai, Amy Uyematsu

Following are some of the notable individuals who passed away over the past year, in alphabetical order:

Masago Shibuya Armstrong, 102, on July 6, 2022. She served as registrar of Pomona College from 1955 to 1985 and left a $1 million gift to the college for scholarships.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 90, on Sept. 29. As mayor of San Francisco in 1982, she approved redress for Japanese American city and county employees who lost their jobs in 1942 due to

Marjorie Imaizumi Fletcher, 94, on July 2. She served on the staff of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco for more than 30 years.

Madame Fujima Kansuma (Sumako Hamaguchi), 104, on Feb. 22. A celebrated performer and teacher of Japanese classical dance and kabuki who taught more than 2,000 dancers, 50 of whom were granted professional standing, and served as choreographer of the Nisei Week Parade. She was honored by the Japanese government and National Endowment for the Arts.

Alan Furutani, 71, on Aug. 24. A talented musician and composer, he and his wife Marsha created the bands Visions and Fujazz.

Mike Gin, 55, on Dec. 16. A community volunteer, entrepreneur, co-owner of Far Bar in Little Tokyo, co-founder of Señor Fish restaurant in South Pasadena, and Tournament of Roses committee member.

Randy Hagihara, 72, on Jan. 7. A long-time Los Angeles Times editor known for mentoring young journalists, he was also an editor at The Peninsula Times Tribune (Palo Alto), Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News.

William “Wimpy” Hiroto, 94, on June 23. He published the all-English tabloid Crossroads from 1948 to 1971 and became known for his column, “Crossroads to Somewhere,” in The Kashu Mainichi and later The Rafu Shimpo.

Mas Hongo, 102, on March 1 and Florence Makita Hongo, 94, on March 7. Florence established the Bay Area-based Japanese American Curriculum Project (later Asian American Curriculum Project), which provides books about Asian Americans to schools. After retiring as manager of the California Flower Market, Mas took charge of AACP’s mail orders and accounting.

Dr. Itsuki Charles Igawa, 83, on Dec. 4. He was a leader of Harbor District Japanese Community Center, Southern California Hiroshima Kenjinkai, California Association of Japanese Language Schools and other community groups, and was instrumental in the formation of the California Sea Urchin Commission.

Arata Isozaki, 91, on Dec. 28, 2022. An architect, urban designer, and theorist who was awarded the Royal Gold Medal and the Pritzker Architecture Prize, and taught at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale universities.

Masatoshi Ito, 98, on March 10. Honorary chairman of Seven & i Holdings Co. and founder of the Ito-Yokado supermarket and the Seven-Eleven Japan convenience store chain.

Tomio “Tom” Ito, 98, on Feb. 1. He farmed in Orange County for many years, mainly growing strawberries, was a member of the California Strawberry Advisory Board, and was an active leader of Orange County Japanese American Coordinating Council, Orange County Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and other community organizations.

From left: Fujima Kansuma, William “Wimpy” Hiroto, Tomio Ito

Ellyn Iwata, 65, on July 28. She was actively involved in many community organizations and projects, including the VFW Memorial Day planning committee, Go For Broke stamp campaign, Breast Cancer Angels, Walk the Farm, Changing Tides, Asian American Drug Abuse Program, Medallas and So-Phis.

Hank “Toto” Kagawa, 92, on March 16. From the 1950s, he and his uncle, Harry Kuruma, took over ownership of Fish King in Glendale and developed it into a successful seafood market with a popular line of products.

Mary Karasawa, 98, on June 17. A beloved volunteer and school tour docent at the Japanese American Naional Museum, where she and her husband, Richard “Babe” Karasawa, were charter members and recipients of the Family Spirit Award.

Mitsuo “Mits” Kawaguchi, 98, on Jan. 24. He and his brother George established Kawaguchi Bros. and specialized in farming asparagus and a variety of crops in Los Alamitos, Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. He was a philanthropist who supported Orange County Buddhist Church’s Project Kokoro.

Frank Sadao Kawana, 89, on Jan. 29. Known as the “Father of Surimi” for turning his family’s business, Yamasa Kamaboko, into a highly successful food enterprise. Founder of JSL Foods, which produces Asian foods, wrappers and cookies.

Aiko Kawaratani, 95, on Dec. 2. For 65 years she was the proprietor of Rafu Bussan, a Little Tokyo store specializing in Japanese housewares and gift items, which she and her husband, Kiyoshi “Skip” Kawaratani, took over from the original owners. They made many donations to temples, churches, Japanese language schools and nonprofit organizations.

Joan Kawase, 83, on Nov. 19. A leader in the Orange County Nikkei community, Nisei Week Pioneer Spirit honoree, former president and board member of So-Phis, SELANOCO (Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County) Chapter of the JACL and Nanka Kanagawa Kenjinkai.

Ferren “Coco” Lee, 48, on July 5. A singer/songwriter who began her career in Hong Kong and expanded to Taiwan and internationally. She released 25 albums and voiced the lead character in the Mandarin version of Disney’s “Mulan.”

Lee Sun-kyun, 48, on Dec. 27. Actor known internationally for his role as Park Dong-ik in Bong Joon-ho’s Academy Award-winning film “Parasite.” He received acclaim for several TV and film roles in South Korea.

Ronald Lew, 81, on May 19. The first Chinese American appointed to the federal bench outside of Hawaii, he served as senior district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Leiji Matsumoto, 85, on Feb. 13. A manga artist and creator of several manga and anime series, including “Space Battleship Yamato” and “Galaxy Express 999.”

Ichiro Mizuki, 74, on Dec. 6, 2022. A singer, lyricist, composer, voice actor and actor best known for his work on theme songs for anime and tokusatsu, including “Kamen Rider X,” “Ganbare! Robocon” and “Space Pirate Captain Harlock.”

Bob Moriguchi, 91, on June 24. A charter member of the Japanese American National Museum who regularly volunteered as a docent and school visits facilitator. He received JANM’s  Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award.

Martha Nakagawa, 56, on July 28. A long-time community journalist, researcher and advocate, she worked for Asian Week, Pacific Citizen and The Rafu Shimpo and contributed to many other community publications. She was a coordinator for UCLA Asian American Studies Center’s Eiji Suyama Endowment Project, which preserves the history of Japanese American resistance during WWII.

From left: Martha Nakagawa, Albert Okura, Miiko Taka

Nobuko “Cobi” Narita, 97, on Nov. 8. New York-based producer, director, philanthropist, and founder of Cobi’s Place, a gathering for jazz tap dancers, she produced concerts, helped musicians find work, and started a women’s jazz festival. Her tireless devotion to the jazz community spanned more than 40 years.

Rev. Ensei Nekoda, 103, on Oct. 3. He served as a minister for Buddhist Churches of Canada and later as national director of the Buddhist Churches of America Sunday School Department in San Francisco and resident minister of Placer Buddhist Church.

Kenzaburo Oe, 88, on March 3. A major figure in contemporary Japanese literature, his novels, short stories and essays, dealt with political, social and philosophical issues, including nuclear weapons, nuclear power, social non-conformism, and existentialism. He was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Sadako Hirano Oehler, 98, on Nov. 19. A senior professor in the Ikenobo School of Ikebana, she was founder and president of Ikenobo Chapter of San Diego and received the rank of karo, the school’s highest teaching degree. She was awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation for her efforts to further U.S.-Japan relations through ikebana. 

Albert Okura, 71, on Jan. 27. A businessman who was the founder and CEO of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain in Southern California and a philanthropist who was active in the revitalization of Historic Route 66. He purchased the town of Amboy on Route 66 in 2005.

Albert Saiki, 92, on Nov. 7, 2022. He worked for Panavision and was the recipient of mutiple Oscars in the scientific and technical category for the mechanical design of zoom lenses.

William Sakahara, 80, on May 18. A former Air Force pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam, he served the Las Vegas Sangha, where he was the first president, and Orange County Buddhist Church, where he was treasurer for the new Social Hall project.

Ryuichi Sakamoto, 71, on March 28. A composer, pianist, record producer, and actor who pursued a diverse range of styles as a solo artist and as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra. He won Oscars for the scores of “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and “The Last Emperor.”

Eileen Saki, 79, on May 1. A film and TV actress, she had a recurring role as Rosie on “M*A*S*H” and appeared in the movies “Meteor,” “Splash” and Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I.”

Rev. LaVerne Sasaki, 93, on March 31. He served more than 40 years as a Buddhist Churches of America minister in Stockton, Mountain View and San Francisco.

Wilbur Sato, 93, on March 22. He practiced law and held leadership positions with JACL, Gardena Valley Democratic Club, L.A. Southwest Japanese Credit Union, political campaigns and organizations advocating for labor, immigrant rights and redress.

Kenpachiro Satsuma, 76, on Dec. 16. After the retirement of Haruo Nakajima, he took over the role of Godzilla in eight films from 1984 to 1995.

Shoji Tabuchi, 79, on Aug. 11. A country music fiddler and singer who performed at his theater, the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre in Branson, Mo., for over 30 years and was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame in 2020.

Miiko Taka, 97, on Jan. 4. An actress, known for her film and TV roles from the late 1950s until the early 1980s, she starred opposite Marlon Brando in “Sayonara” and worked with such performers as Miyoshi Umeki, James Garner, Bob Hope, Cary Grant and Toshirō Mifune.

Yukihiro Takahashi, 70, on Jan. 11. A musician, singer, record producer, and actor who was best known internationally as the drummer and lead vocalist of the Yellow Magic Orchestra and as the drummer of the Sadistic Mika Band.

Cathy Tanaka, 73, on March 1. She worked with her father and brother at Fukui Mortuary as secretary and treasurer, and was involved with community organizations including MIS Association of Southern California, National Japanese American Veterans Council, Go For Broke National Education Center, and Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council.

Kikuko Nakao Tanamachi, 102, on May 16. She worked in Terminal Island canneries before WWII and was the head of the family after her father’s death. After marrying Jiro Jerry Tanamachi, she became the matriarch of the Tanamachi family in southeast Texas.

Minoru Tonai, 94, on Sept. 3. He used his talents in management, finance and fundraising to promote the history of Japanese American incarceration, Japanese arts and culture, and U.S.-Japan relations. He was instrumental in establishing the memorial to the Terminal Island fishing village, the Japanese American War Memorial Court, and a memorial to JA Korean War veterans in South Korea.

Shoichiro Toyoda, 97, on Feb. 14. The son of Toyota Motor founder Kiichiro Toyoda, he served as chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation and the influential Japan Business Federation. Under his leadership, Toyota started manufacturing vehicles overseas and undertook development of the Lexus brand.

Rosalind Uno, 89, on July 18. The daughter of wartime JACL leader Saburo Kido and wife of early redress activist Edison Uno, she was a volunteer and employee of Frank McCoppin Elementary School in San Francisco for decades.

Amy Uyematsu, 75, on June 23. A renowned poet, she was the author of “30 Miles from J-Town,” “Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain,” “Stone Bow Prayer,” “The Yellow Door,” “Basic Vocabulary” and “That Blue Trickster Time.”

Mike Watanabe, 77, on Nov. 3. Founding leader and president emeritus of AADAP (Asian American Drug Abuse Program) in Los Angeles, where he worked for 46 years in positions from counselor to CEO. He also chaired the Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Committee for the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON).

Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka, 89, on Dec. 21. A retired Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji-ha minister at Stockton Buddhist Temple and Oakland Buddhist Church, former bishop of Buddhist Churches of America in San Francisco, and professor emeritus at Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley.

Gregory Yee, 33, on Jan. 4. A hard-charging breaking news reporter for The Los Angeles Times, he previously covered crime for The Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Yoshio Yoda, 88, on Jan. 13. A former actor best known for playing Fuji on the TV series “McHale’s Navy” in the 1960s, he later worked as a vice president for Toyota in Hawaii.

Thomas Yuki, 87, on Dec. 10, 2022. The partner of Yuki Farms and a founding board member of American Bank & Trust, he was active in San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin and was a long-time member of the Japanese American National Museum’s Board of Trustees.


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2024-01-01 21:44:52 , Rafu Shimpo

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