Former radio announcer June-ko Nakagawa receives kunsho

June-ko Nakagawa received The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays at the residence of the Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Masato Watanabe Feb. 10, in honor of decades of service to both the Japanese and Japanese American community. While the emperor normally presents the award to honorees in Japan, Nakagawa said she elected to have it presented to her in San Francisco by Watanabe.

Nakagawa, who immigrated to the United States in 1973, was honored for her “contributions to the welfare of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans in the (San Francisco) Bay Area,” said Consul Masato Suzuki, who emceed the evening. Nakagawa, who first worked for Tokyo Television in Burlingame, Calif. during the 1980s, helped found Radio Mainichi in 1990. The radio station provided Japanese-language programming for two decades, featuring programs aimed at helping Japanese-speaking people in the Bay Area.

After Radio Mainichi’s closure in 2010, Nakagawa joined the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, a nonprofit organization that promotes business relations between the United States and Japan.

Suzuki said that in order to nominate Nakagawa, he had to do “extensive research” on her. Nakagawa’s “story moved me so much that I refused to let anyone take part in this task,” he said.

Noting Nakagawa’s modest nature, Suzuki said the most challenging aspect of his research was getting her to accept the reward. “Her humility is another reason we are all so drawn to her.”

Watanabe, presenting the award, said Nakagawa is known for her personal and selfless approach to community involvement. He described her work on counseling Japanese nationals living in the United States on issues such as health, biracial marriages and child rearing. He mentioned that the Japanese writer Ryotaro Shiba once met Nakagawa while visiting the United States and mentions her in his essay on America. “He describes her as possessing an incredible knack for observation, which both stems from and exemplified by her compassion for others,” he said. “As Shiba Ryotaro writes in his essay, ‘Ms. Nakagawa is truly someone who finds joy in dedicating her life for others and to her community.’”

Following Watanabe’s remarks, the consul general read the proclamation signed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and pinned the award to Nakagawa’s jacket.

Nakagawa greeted the audience with the greeting she used to give her listeners tuning into her 6 p.m. newscast: “Rokuji ni narimashita. San Francisco Radio Mainichi no Nihongo Housou no jikan desu.” (It is now 6 o’clock. It is time for San Francisco Radio Mainichi’s Japanese Program). She said she is tempted every time she stands behind a mic to say that line.

Nakagawa said she wrote in her elementary school graduation booklet that she wanted to become an announcer when she grew up. While she said she did not become a “good announcer,” she said she worked at becoming a “good communicator.”

“I was able to connect with television viewers and radio listeners. They took me as if I were their close friend and felt close enough to ask me for my assistance for problems they were facing,” she said. Nakagawa said that the Japanese American community accepted her as a “local gal” and helped her more than she helped them. “I humbly do not think I did anything special for the community. Rather, the community did a lot for me to grow into a better person.”

She recalled starting Radio Mainichi in 1990 and the staff and contributors she worked with that made the station a success for nearly 20 years. “Through TTV, the Japanese channel on KTSF; Nippon Television Network; the Hokubei Mainichi and San Francisco Radio Mainichi, I have interviewed over 2,000 people and every single time it was a meaningful learning opportunity,” she said. “I am now with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California. I have been lucky to be able to work with many great and hardworking business leaders who taught me a great deal of what it means to represent our wonderful country Japan in the great country America.”

Nakagawa said one of her greatest supporters was her late husband Dr. Philip G. Prindle, who passed away in 2008 due to an illness. “He was the main switch that would ignite the engine … that would keep me going.” Nakagawa said he encouraged her to pursue her work, even through his final years.

Following Nakagawa, Benh Nakajo, a friend of Nakagawa and the chair of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Program, spoke about Nakagawa’s accomplishments. Nakajo said he has known Nakagawa for so long, that he does not recall when he first met her. What he did recall was first hearing of her when she volunteered at the San Mateo Police Department to assist Japanese-speaking residents, especially seniors, who were victims of crimes. Nakajo said he understood why Nakagawa told him she did nothing to deserve the award. “It comes from deep within her being a giving, caring, dedicated, devoted person, but whose humility — whose modesty — that allows her to give but not allow her to accept,” he said.

Nakajo elaborated on Nakagawa’s hardships that she faced in moving to the United States and her drive to stay in the United States to continue working for others. “She excels at what she does, and this is because she puts others first,” he said. “Radio Mainichi was another successful step for June-ko-san — successful in the term of being able to reach hundreds of Japanese-speaking people who waited to hear her voice. She created her programs to bring awareness to her audience, to educate, entertain and instruct, but most importantly was to assist them.”

Hitoshi Yamamuro, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, offered a toast at the end of the formal program. He recalled Hiroshi Tomita, the previous president of the chamber of commerce, describing Nakagawa as the pivot of a fan. “Without the pivot, every blade of the fan comes apart and it cannot work well,” he said.

Following the presentation, Watanabe hosted a buffet dinner of sea bream and lobster sashimi to signify the fortuitous occasion, along with tempura, salad and eggrolls with braised eel. The dining table was decorated with peach branches and hina-ningyo (dolls for Japanese Girl’s Day) to honor Nakagawa.

The evening also featured piano from Shota Osabe, who composed Radio Mainichi’s opening theme, with accompaniment from Tadao Terajima.

Among the dozens of friends and supporters attending that evening were former Radio Mainichi contributors, its sponsors and chamber of commerce members.

Taeko Tamura, formerly with Radio Mainichi, said she came to San Francisco because of Radio Mainichi. “I was in a different state at first, but a friend told me that there was Japanese-language radio in San Francisco, so I decided to come here,” she said in Japanese. Since joining in 1994, Tamura said she stayed at the station till its closing. “It’s because of Nakagawa-san that I came here.” Tamura added that Nakagawa is like a “mother of San Franciscans,” as listeners thought of Nakagawa as their own mother.

Rubi Kawamura, who also worked at the radio station, agreed, saying Nakagawa treated everyone like her own children. She added that Nakagawa treated Kawamura’s son like a grandson when he was born. “She really has a big heart,” she said. “And I think working for the Japanese chamber of commerce has changed her in an even better way.”

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