Over the last 37 years, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival’s Senior Appreciation Brunch has honored more than 250 individuals. In Japanese culture, seniors hold a place of respect and reverence in one’s family and community. These seniors have made a significant impact on those around them, demonstrating the importance of leadership, education and the preservation of cultural traditions, which have strengthened the Japanese American communities.

This Festival and other Bay Area community events have provided these seniors the opportunity to share with and educate others about Japanese cultural traditions. The seniors have endured wartime oppression and racism only to emerge and be empowered by social groups such as churches, kenjinkai (prefectural associations) and other organizations. Seniors represent a piece of history from which younger generations are able to benefit. These lessons include family values, cultural integrity, historical accomplishments and their regard for higher education.

These individuals understand the depth and breadth of volunteerism in our communities. Each year, the committee asks senior centers to nominate their organizations’ leader or leaders. As volunteers, these honorees are the backbone of their community groups. They have given themselves for the sake of others, committing to the Japanese American community and to passing along Japanese culture, heritage and traditions to the younger generations, while providing leadership and support in countless other ways that keep the organizations and the community moving forward.

The following honorees will be honored on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at Hotel Kabuki:

Dorothy Yanagi

Dorothy Yanagi, nominated by Eden Japanese Senior Center, was born in Vacaville, CA and was interned at Gila River in Arizona.  Yanagi was an elementary school teacher after receiving her degree from California State University, Hayward (now East Bay), and was honored by the California Retired Teachers Association in 2010.  In 2004, she was honored by Alameda County for working to better her communities.  Yanagi has lead the Eden Japanese Senior Center for over 14 years and brings fun to activities and meetings.  She enjoys seeing the members enjoy their time together and to giving back to the older generation while maintaining a sense of community.  

Kimochi Ceramics Club

Kimochi Ceramics Club, nominated by Kimochi Inc., has been a part of the organization since the 1970’s and currently has eight active members.  The current instructor is Leona Nakagawa and the Club was originally started by her Father, Roy Abbey.  Every year, the Club makes over 100 beautiful ceramics items that are sold at local community festivals and fairs.  The members donate many hours and materials as well as donating all proceeds of their sales to Kimochi.  During the COVID-19 shutdown, the Club was not able to meet for more than one year so the first Nihonmachi Street Fair after the pandemic, there were no ceramics to be sold but many festival attendees asked about them as people look forward to seeing what new pieces have been created by the Club.  All Club members, past and present, participate to make items with the “kimochi” spirt of supporting elders and giving back.

Ikuko Sakai

Ikuko Sakai, nominated by San Mateo Japanese-American Community Center (SMJACC), was born in Fukushima, Japan and now lives in San Mateo.  She has been a regular volunteer since 2011 and is the librarian of the Japanese DVDs and videotapes collection as well as helping as the receptionist.  Sakai helps at SMJACC’s various events such as the rummage sale, clean ups and weekly volunteer potlucks.  Sakai is an active member of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s Buddhist Women’s Association and Fukushima Kenjin Kai.  She is the President of the San Mateo Kayo Club and a past Chair of the Federation of Northern California Karaoke Kayo Clubs.  Sakai loves to sing and encourages others to sing which is especially rewarding to her.

Takemi Nakagawa

Takemi Nakagawa, nominated by Yu-Ai Kai, was born in Japan and resides in San Jose.  Nakagawa was an Electrical Engineer after receiving his degree from Oregon State University.  He has helped at the senior day service program since 2008 after retiring from his stressful job.  Nakagawa also participates in the Second Harvest Food Distribution twice a month.  He gets fulfillment from his volunteer work and will continue to do so as long as he can, and Yu-Ai Kai hopes it for many more years.

Benh Nakajo

Benh Nakajo, nominated by the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (NCCBF) Executive Committee, was born in the Minidoka Concentration Camp in Idaho. Nakajo worked for Japan Airlines for 42 years and at Benkyodo, the Japanese confectionary shop in San Francisco, for 53 years on weekends and holidays. Nakajo has been involved with the NCCBF since its inception 57 years ago. He has been the coordinator of the Queen Program since 1984, handling all of the many tasks such as candidate and judge selection, leading meetings with the candidates through their orientation sessions and preparation for the “big night.” Nakajo was the co-emcee for the Senior Appreciation Brunch for over two decades. He enjoys working and living in the Japantown community which keeps him young and active.