For a list of 38th Anniversary Celebration sponsors, please click here.



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George Tetsuo Aratani was born in Moneta, California on May 22, 1917, the only child of Setsuo and Yoshiko Aratani. The family eventually moved up the coast of California to the small farming town of Guadalupe. George’s father, Setsuo was not only a very successful farmer, he was also a leader among the Japanese community. George would refer to this time of his life as very happy and carefree. He attended Santa Maria High School and excelled in both academics and sports, in particular, baseball, earning a batting average of 500. One of George’s most glowing moments was winning the CIF championship against Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego and their pitcher, Ted Williams. After graduating from Santa Maria High School, George was accepted to Stanford University, however, Setsuo believed his son would benefit from an education in Japan. At that time George’s mother was also in Japan residing at a hot springs due to her asthma. She passed away in 1935 while George was attending Keio University in Tokyo. Before he could graduate, he returned to California when his father became ill and was no longer able to run the family business. Setsuo passed away shortly after George’s return in April 1940.

Sakaye Inouye was born in Los Angeles on December 11, 1919 to Eijiro and Katsu Inouye. The family lived in Gardena and ran a successful poultry business. George and Sakaye met briefly in downtown Los Angeles through a friend and they made a lasting impression on each other. 

When WWII began, George was forced to sell the business and sent to Gila Relocation Center in Arizona with his stepmother, Masuko. Sakaye and her family were sent to Poston III internment camp in Arizona, which was nearby Gila Relocation Center. Both George and Sakaye were able to visit each other occasionally during that time. He proposed to her and she accepted. George enlisted in the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service and was sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota where he taught Japanese language to American GI’s. Sakaye and Masuko were able to leave camp and join George in Minneapolis.

George and Sakaye were married in 1944 in Minneapolis and had their first daughter, Donna in 1945. After the war, the family moved to Montebello, California where Linda was born. After several attempts to create a new business, Mikasa Chinaware was launched in 1957, and years later, Kenwood Electronics was established. With the success of both companies, George and Sakaye were able to fulfill George’s dream—philanthropy.

In the 1960’s, George teamed up with several prominent businessmen in the community to help launch Keiro Nursing Home in Boyle Heights. George and Sakaye continued to donate their time and efforts to raise funds for many organizations in the Los Angeles area, including the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. After a significant donation from the Aratani family for the theater’s upgrades, the venue was named The George and Sakaye Aratani Japan America Theatre, now known as the Aratani Theatre.

George and Sakaye started the Aratani Foundation in 1994. The Aratani Foundation’s mission is to support the Japanese American community primarily in Los Angeles. Their efforts were recognized by the Japanese government three times. Sakaye was the first Nisei woman to receive a Kunsho medal by the Japanese government in 1983. She received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Fourth Order for her efforts in supporting the Japanese war widows after the war. Five years later, George received his first Kunsho medal, Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette. In 2008, George was recognized again by the Japanese government with his second Kunsho medal, Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star.

Today, Donna resides in Singapore with her family and makes frequent visits to Los Angeles to spend time with the family. Linda resides in Redondo Beach and is currently busy running the Aratani Foundation with her mother and her children. 

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George K. Sugimoto was born in Parlier, California in June 1926. Living in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1920s and 30s was a hard life for the Sugimoto family and with nine children to support, the parents worked as day labors in farming communities to make ends meet. 

George discovered an interest in aviation at a very young age. That interest would be a passion for him throughout his life and motivate him to enter the field of avionic electronics. George completed one year at Fowler High School before EO 9066 forcibly incarcerated the family in the Gila Bend Relocation Center, Arizona. One of his older brothers was drafted in 1941 and served in the 442nd RCT. George, was drafted after answering, “Yes, Yes” to two loyalty questions and entered military service in March 1945. After completing basic training at Camp Fannin, Texas in August 1945, he was sent to Korea to serve with the 6th Army Occupational Forces. After his honorable discharge, he returned to California. In 1947, he attended the American Institute of Television Technology in Chicago, and in 1950, received his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Later, George completed his flight instruction and is an instrument rated pilot. His passion for flying was fulfilled with his command of a Piper Turbo Aero aircraft for 30 years from 1985 until recently.

Ruri Hirano, his wife of 64 years, was born December 1925, in El Centro, California. Like all families of Japanese descent impacted by WWII, the Hiranos were forcibly removed to Poston Relocation Center in Arizona. As the war was ending, Ruri left Poston for Los Angeles to find work and a place for the family to live. She lived by her core values and was ever so generous. She would say, “If you have nothing kind to say about someone then don’t say anything.” She always found the good in people.

George and Ruri were married in September 1951 in Fresno and soon after their marriage, moved to Pasadena. George continued his education and successfully received his Professional Electrical Engineer License for the State of California. He began his career working for others as an electrical engineer and at one point was elevated to chief engineer. Realizing that working for others limited his creative and financial opportunities, he decided to start his own business. 

As George started his new business, the home and garage in Pasadena were the beginnings for the design and manufacture of avionic components. KGS Electronics, has been in operation now for over 58+ years. The business grew and now occupies a 50,000 square foot space in Arcadia and a facility in Upland. KGS now provides products to civil aviation, general and military aviation to Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) customers worldwide. Cessna Aircraft, EADS Airbus, Boeing Aerospace, Learjet Inc., and Robinson Helicopter are some of the many aircraft and aerospace companies KGS serves.

Although George is semi-retired, you still see him in the office almost every day. Since his official retirement, he enjoys volunteering his time and supporting many community organizations. JACCC, GFBNEC, JANM, LTSC, AASA, the former Keiro, Rafu Shimpo Foundation, Rob Fukuzaki’s Heads-up Youth Foundation Tournament, Aurora Foundation Tournament, Suburban Optimist Tournament, ESGVJCC, and Akimatsuri Tournament are some of the organizations that benefit from his generosity.

George has two children, Lisa and Nathan. Lisa retired after serving 35 years with California community colleges. She was proud to be the President of Pasadena City College when it awarded honorary diplomas to Nisei students who were unable to complete their degrees when they were forced to evacuate during WWII. Lisa is currently a partner with a consulting firm working to support executive searches for California community colleges. She is married to Don Nose and they are parents to Garrett. Nathan is the President and Chief Financial Officer for KGS Electronics, where he has successfully expanded its customer base and managed the economic fluctuations the company has experienced over the years. Nathan and his wife, Christine, have three children, Lindsay, Alyssa, and Aaron. 

Lisa, Nathan, and their families admire their father and grandfather’s resilience, courage, entrepreneurial spirit, and his enduring love and unwavering support of family and community.

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Craig Ishii has dedicated his career to the development of the next generation of Japanese American community leaders. In his various community roles, Craig has worked with thousands of youth over the last decade. 

In 2011, he joined the founding team of Kizuna, a nonprofit with the mission of building a future for the Japanese American community through the education, empowerment, and engagement of the next generation. Now in its 8th year of operation, Kizuna is amongst the largest Japanese American youth-development organizations in Southern California, with new expansions developing nationally.

During his tenure with Kizuna, Craig has led the organization’s development of its highly effective leadership development pipeline, a strategy which is lauded for its ability to create unique age-specific experiences, and successive educational experiences for all ages of the next generation. This pipeline is responsible for the development of key new leadership within the Japanese American community. During this time, he also co-authored a children’s book entitled, Thank You Very Mochi, an engaging story about the importance of family relationships and cultural traditions. 

Craig also served on the Board and was the previous Chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council, a neighborhood council of over 90 Little Tokyo nonprofits, businesses, residents and other community stakeholders successfully coordinating community concerns on a number of critical community issues. Previous to his work at Kizuna, he served as a Regional Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, a national civil rights organization. He was the youngest to serve in both of these positions.

As a community leader, Craig believes in creating cultural & historical awareness, a passion for community service, and ethical, respectful & competent leadership abilities amongst the next generation. 

Craig earned his Masters in Public Administration with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management in 2010 and is a 2007 graduate of UCLA.

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Born and raised in a multicultural Boyle Heights and coming of age during the late 60’s were very important influences on Kathy Masaoka’s values and the direction of her life. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she became involved with the Japanese American Community Services-Asian Involvement (JACS-AI) office in Little Tokyo.

Kathy was part of the Worker Newcomers Committee which did outreach to workers in Little Tokyo explaining their rights. She worked at the Little Tokyo Service Center, coordinating the Nikkei Escort and Interpreter Program and continued to work with residents of the San Pedro Firm Building as part of the Housing Committee until the LTSC Community Development Corporation was formed.

Since 1980 she has been a part of the National Coalition for Redress & Reparations, now the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, which led a grassroots campaign to win redress for Japanese Americans. Kathy was Co-chair of NCRR during the late 80’s, helping to lead outreach and grassroots efforts, going to Washington D.C. with the 120 plus delegation in 1987. 

Kathy continues to work with the Education Committee which conducted teacher workshops on the film, “Stand Up for Justice” and preserved testimonies (both co-produced with Visual Communications) from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians or Commission Hearings tapes from 1981. After 9/11, Kathy helped form the NCRR 9/11 Committee to build support with the Muslim and South Asian communities. 

Little Tokyo is also where she is rooted as part of the Sustainable Little Tokyo project. Kathy serves on the Board of LTSC, volunteers at Far East Lounge, enjoys yoga and tai chi, works on poetry with Amy Uyematsu, and supports FandangObon which brings the JA, Latino, and African American communities together. She has also performed with Great Leap projects, “Memories of Boyle Heights” and “Yellow Pearl: Remix.”

Kathy taught for 30 years, mainly at a continuation high school in LAUSD located at All Peoples in South Central Los Angeles. She is married to Mark Masaoka and has two children, Dan (married to Veronica) and Mayumi (married to Jibby/Tawon), and a newly born grandson, Yuma.

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Alan Miyatake was born to Archie and Takeko Miyatake in Los Angeles. Being part of a family business, he was around Little Tokyo his whole life. Every activity revolved around Little Tokyo and the JA community.

Alan has been the owner and photographer at Toyo Miyatake Studio since 1992. It feels like he’s worked here his whole life. He actually started when he was 16 years old. Alan takes pride in photographing three and four generations of families. Recently, he had the honor to photograph Fujima Kansuma. It was a very historic studio moment as Fujima Kansuma has been photographed by his grandfather, Toyo and his father, Archie. Alan and his daughter, Sydney are currently working towards celebrating the studio’s 100th anniversary in 2023.

As a youth, Alan played basketball for the Nishi Hongwanji Wanjis, only winning sportsmanship trophies and for the Nisei Athletic Union Seiji Isomoto Laker Organization. The studio sponsored many community teams back then. The Seiji Isomoto Scholarship Organization gave scholarships for 20 years in which Alan participated. 

Alan has been involved in several community activities such as the Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops from Koyasan, Nishi, and Orange County, as well as coaching and photographing many different basketball organizations. He also services numerous community cultural groups with his photography services and volunteers at the Los Angeles Buddhist Coordinating Council camp and the Saishin Dojo summer programs for kids.

Alan graduated college with a degree in photography and spent decades being mentored by his grandfather, father, and uncles. He learned his craft, and more importantly, learned the meaning of serving the community.

Being involved with JACCC, Nisei Week, Little Tokyo Historical Society, and other community groups for so many years has enriched Alan’s life. He was fortunate to grow up in Little Tokyo, spending almost every weekend around J Town.

Alan’s hobbies are hiking—he recently completed Half Dome in Yosemite, fly fishing, playing basketball, and spending time with his wife, April and daughters, Sydney and Lindsey.


Learn more about the Community Spirit Award, its recipients over the years, and more here.



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traci kato-kiriyama
master of ceremonies

traci kato-kiriyama is an award-winning artist, community organizer, and cultural producer.  In community, traci is the Director/Co-Founder of Tuesday Night Project (presenter of art+community series, Tuesday Night Cafe, now in its 20th year and the longest-running Asian American mic series in the country).  She is also a steering committee member of the VigilantLOVE Coalition, working against Islamophobia and for safety through solidarity and healing initiatives.  In career, traci is an actor and principal writer for PULLproject Ensemble, and has received recognition from several institutions and juries including two consecutive national grant awards from the Network of Ensemble Theaters.  Their current show in development, Tales of Clamor, is both a call to action and an analysis of silence and the collective clamor necessary to show up for self and other in the name of peace, understanding and justice.  Tales of Clamor will have its world premiere in February of 2019 in Downtown Los Angeles in the new black box formation under development at the JACCC.

Recently, she was the springtime Teaching Artist-in-Residence for Grand Park and Arts & Culture Consultant for NeighborWorks America.  She was the Artist-in-Residence for the AARC at Pomona College and was a guest lecturer for three years at Pitzer College - focusing on creative, counseling, and community paths in radical wellness & healing.  Throughout each year for over the last two decades, she has toured to hundreds of venues throughout the country as a performer/actor, writer, theatre deviser & collaborator, writing/storytelling and ensemble performance facilitator, educator, speech & speaking coach, cultural producer, and artist-in-residence [Presenters include The Getty Foundation (L.A.), Skirball Cultural Center (L.A.), The Smithsonian (D.C.), The Ford Amphitheater Inside The Ford (L.A.), LaMaMa Cabaret (NYC), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco), Asian Arts Initiative (Philadelphia), EnWave Theatre (Toronto)]. Her writing and commentary have been featured by numerous print and online publications including for Melissa Harris-Perry; The Hollywood Reporter; Entropy; Regent Press; The Rafu Shimpo; Heyday Books; Tia Chucha Press; Chapparal Canyon Press.  Her forthcoming book of writing & poetry will be released by Writ Large Press.


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Established in Los Angeles in 2001, the Grateful Crane Ensemble is a non-profit theater group that has been paying tribute to our Issei and Nisei pioneers by telling their stories and singing their songs. For 15 years, their mission has been to present educational and theatrical programs in appreciation for the unique hardships and inspiring contributions of Japanese Americans in our country’s history. Through popular shows such as “The Camp Dance: The Music & The Memories,” “Nihonmachi: The Place to Be,” “Natsukashi no Kouhaku Uta Gassen” and “Misora Hibari: A Tribute to a Legend,” Grateful Crane educates, enlightens and entertains the community about who we are and where we come from, and honors our elders for paving the way for all of us to follow.  


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Musical Direction: Grateful Crane Ensemble, LosAKAtombros, Japanese American National Museum, Children's Museum of Los Angeles, East West Players, Keiro Nursing and Retirement Homes, numerous community organizations. Composer film: Living In The Story, Kimono In France, Visas & Virtue, Pawns of the King, Day of Independence.  Discography: Shaku Horaku-Diva Collaborations 2010-2013, I Saw Baachan Kissing Santa Claus, Nihonmachi, BookSongs, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Celebrating Children's Books, East West Players Sings Sondheim.  YouTube channel: Scott Nagatani.

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Danny Yamamoto (Taiko, drums, percussion) is a drummer, percussionist, Taiko player and one of the founding members of the Asian American jazz group Hiroshima.  Hiroshima has recorded over 15 albums and continues to tour throughout the world.  Along with many others, Danny has also had the pleasure of working with East/West Players, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kinnara Taiko, composer Hans Zimmer, bassist Nedra Wheeler, and The Grateful Crane Ensemble.

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Taiji Miyagawa, bassist, studied classical and flamenco guitar as a child before discovering a connection between his experiences as a Japanese American and the music of African Americans, from the blues and eventually, jazz.  

During and after undergraduate work at the University of California at San Diego, he began playing the bass while collaborating extensively with the late composer and pianist, Glenn Horiuchi as they fused the artistic sensibilities of Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians with Japanese taiko rhythms and traditional Japanese melodic structures. Miyagawa recorded three albums with Horiuchi: “Next Step,” “Issei Spirit,” and “Manzanar Voices.”

He has also performed music within the context of small theater productions and has engaged in works with performance artists and poets such as Philip Kan Gotanda, Amy UyematsuNobuko MiyamotoLawson Fusao InadaDenise UyeharaAkilah Nayo Oliver and others.

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Tracy Wannomae was born in Hawaii, raised in Crenshaw area of Los Angeles and graduated from Dorsey High. At Los Angeles City College, he met Phil Sobel, a prominent studio musician and teacher of the henry lindeman method, whom Tracy studied with for almost 20 years.

Tracy has been fortunate to have performed/recorded with: Macy Gray, Rickie Lee Jones, Santana, George Clinton, Dr Dre, Solomon Burke, Vernon Martin, Brad Meldhau, Billy Higgins, Ziggy Marley, Ben Harper, Meshell 'Ndegeocello, Bare Naked Ladies, Irma Thomas, Howard Tate, Alton Ellis, Aster Aweke, Derrick Morgan, Leroy Sibbles, Ras Michaels, Mos Def, Judy Mowatt, Kelis, Lauryn Hill, Jason Mraz, Sam Sparrow, Quadron, Dakah Hip Hop Orchestra, David Fathead Newman, Kamasi Washington, Portugal The Man, Josef Leimberg, etc.

Tracy has also performed on the Grammy Awards, Brit Awards, BET, VH1 Fashion show, MTV Awards, SNL, Letterman Show, Tonight Show, etc. 

Highlights from our 37th Anniversary Celebration & Awards Dinner honoring Suntory Holdings Ltd., Japan Restaurant Association of America, and Community Spirit Awardees Beth Fujishige, Kanji Sahara, and Evelyn Yoshimura.


37th Anniversary Celebration photos by Toyo Miyatake Studio


For questions or additional information, please contact Helen H. Ota at or (213) 628-2725.


Click here for more information and a video about our 37th Anniversary Celebration that took place on June 17, 2017.

Click here for more information and a video about our 36th Anniversary Celebration that took place on June 11, 2016.