Kenji G. Taguma, President
Award-winning journalist Kenji G. Taguma, a native of Sacramento, Calif., is the founding president and board chair of the Nichi Bei Foundation.
As the Nichi Bei Times was closing in the summer of 2009, he led the movement to create the Nichi Bei Foundation, an educational and charitable nonprofit organization which launched the first nonprofit ethnic newspaper of its kind in the country, the Nichi Bei Weekly (renamed Nichi Bei News in 2023). In 2011, he helped launch the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, an annual fundraiser for the Nichi Bei Foundation that helps to educate the public on the benefits of soy and tofu with an eye on community-building and leadership development.
Currently, Kenji serves as the President of the Nichi Bei Foundation, the Editor-in-Chief of the Nichi Bei News, and the Chair of the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival. He also is the Executive Producer of the Foundation’s Films of Remembrance, an annual showcase of films related to the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. He also helped to launch pilgrimages to two historic sites relative to the Japanese American experience: the Angel Island Immigration Station and the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony.
He previously served as the English section editor of the Nichi Bei Times ? Northern California’s oldest Japanese American newspaper at the time ? from September of 1995 to September of 2009, when that publication folded. In June of 2004, he was named vice president of the Nichi Bei Times.
Prior to his work at the Nichi Bei Times, Kenji was the Community Information Officer at the Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission of the City and County of Sacramento.
While at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), Kenji also published his own Asian American newspaper, the AsiAmerican Journal. He also organized numerous forums dealing with issues such as hate crimes, affirmative action, an anti-immigrant ballot initiative and ethnic studies, as well as a series of film events.
In October of 1998, Kenji received the distinguished Alumni Honors Award from CSUS.
While working to renovate the English section of the Nichi Bei Times, the newspaper was presented the first-ever Pioneer Award from New California Media, a coalition of now more than 2,000 ethnic news organizations and supporters throughout the country.
In 1999 Kenji received the Community Service Award from New California Media for an article that documented the struggle for redress by Japanese American railroad and mine worker families, whose family heads were fired from their jobs during World War II at the hands of the U.S. government. Less than two months after the story ran, the victims were granted redress from the U.S. government.
Kenji was also recognized with an award at the 2004 annual dinner of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California for his work as a community journalist.
In 2004, Kenji helped to lead a team of Nichi Bei Times staff members who put together a joint Japanese-English series dealing with the issue of whether or not Japanese Americans had a responsibility to serve as a bridge between U.S.-Japan relations, as well as dealing with the issue of cross-cultural communications between English-speaking and Japanese-speaking members of the community. That series won the 2005 Grand Prize Award from the Overseas Japanese Press Association in Tokyo, Japan.
In May of 2013, he was awarded a Consul General Award from Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Hiroshi Inomata, for his ?distinguished achievements in contributing to mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and California.??
Nancy Ukai, Board Chair
Nancy Ukai is a Berkeley Sansei. She is director of the 50 Objects digital project which explores the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans through 50 artifacts (50objects.org). It is a National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites grant project. She helped lead protests against the auction or private sale of camp artifacts including the Rago auction of the Eaton collection (2015), the Kitaji Bibles (2017) and the eBay auction of Manzanar drawings (2021) and against eBay’s commodification of camp objects on its platform. She is an advisor to the Japanese American National Museum on the Eaton artifacts and is on the board of the Berkeley JACL. She is a cofounder of Tsuru for Solidarity.
Nancy lived in Japan for 14 years after graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 1976, with majors in anthropology and East Asian Studies. She lived for two years in Toyama Prefecture working for one year as a Fulbright English Fellow, followed by one year as a live-in weaving apprentice at a Buddhist temple. She worked as a journalist at the Tokyo bureau of Newsweek, the Asahi Evening News and others. In 2008 she received a master’s degree in media anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She has contributed articles to the Nichi Bei Weekly and has done research on the murder of James Hatsuaki Wakasa at the Topaz concentration camp, which her mother, who was incarcerated there, spoke about to the family.
Laurie Shigekuni, ESQ, Board Vice Chair
Laurie Shigekuni graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989 and has been an active member of the California Bar since that time. In 1983, she received her undergraduate B.A. degrees from the University of California, Santa Cruz with honors in Sociology, while also majoring in Biology. After spending six years in the area of civil litigation at a legal services organization in Oakland, Ms. Shigekuni started her own practice. She has focused in the area of wills, trusts, estate planning, probate, trust administration, and Medi-Cal long term care planning since 1996, serving a diverse clientele in Northern and Southern California.
Her concern about access to the justice system for underrepresented people includes an interest in expanding awareness of, and access to, family wealth preservation mechanisms such as trusts, in minority communities where many older residents are homeowners but few receive expert legal or financial advice. She is working on efforts to help other low-income homeowners manage interactions among mortgage debt, public benefits, and family gifts or inheritances in ways that preserve the family home for the next generation.
Laurie is a member of the State Bar of California Estate Planning Section and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Laurie, who previously wrote a column in the Hokubei Mainichi, currently writes a column in the Nichi Bei Weekly titled “Lasting Commitments,” about estate planning and long term care issues.
Courtney Iwanaga, Board Secretary
Raised in the South Bay, Courtney Iwanaga is a fourth-generation Japanese American, with fond childhood memories of Sundays spent running around the San Jose Betsuin, summers dancing at the Obon and weekends playing CYS basketball.
Courtney spent over 10 years in marketing and promotions for media ad sales where she specialized in network partnerships and developing unique client events and experiences. More recently, Courtney has spent the last few years with PG&E where she focuses on marketing for residential energy-efficiency and clean energy programs. She most enjoys collaborating, building strong cross-functional relationships, editing copy and believes marketing can play a key role in growing a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.
Courtney holds a BA in English from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a Master of Art, Sport Management from the University of San Francisco. She’s a third-generation Niner faithful who also loves to bake.
Graig Inaba, a fourth-generation Japanese American raised in Sacramento, is a pharmacy tech at San Francisco General Hospital.
He is a leader of the Nakayoshi Young Professionals, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program, and has taught sushi-making classes in the community.
Graig has organized numerous fundraising events, including the VIP Reception for sponsors of the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, and coordinated food booths at the past two Festivals.
A graduate of University of California, San Diego with a degree in Bio Chemistry, Graig currently resides in San Francisco. He serves on the Programs and Membership committees.
? Koji Lau-Ozawa
Koji Lau-Ozawa is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University, is a multiracial Sansei (third-generation Japanese American) based in San Francisco. His research centers on the archaeology of Japanese Diaspora and in particular WWII Japanese American incarceration camps. His dissertation research focuses on the Gila River incarceration camp in southern Arizona, and he has worked extensively with the Gila River Indian Community to document the camp remains.
Before studying at Stanford, Lau-Ozawa received his undergraduate degree in archaeology and social anthropology from the University of Edinburgh and a master’s degree in anthropology from San Francisco State University. He has also worked in archaeology for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and for Stanford University Heritage Services.
In the community, he is the head instructor of the San Francisco Kendo Dojo, and previously a board member of the Northern California Kendo Federation.
Yuki Nishimura, a Shin-Issei (Japanese immigrant) who was born in Yokohama and grew up in Sendai, Japan, is a development and outreach associate at the San Francisco office of Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization which ?investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world.?
Prior to earning her master of arts degree in Human Rights Studies from Columbia University in New York, where her thesis “Human Rights or Civil Rights? The Exclusion of Japanese Latin Americans from the Civil Liberties Act of 1988? won the 2021 Human Rights Thesis Competition, Yuki earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience with a English Literature and Bioethics minors from the University of Toronto.
Yuki is currently on the board of directors of the Japantown Task Force, Inc., the Executive Committee secretary of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, a member of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program Committee, and the president of the Northern California Naginata Federation. She holds a ni dan (second degree black belt) in the martial art.
She served as the 2019 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and was granted the 2021 Klara Ma Women’s Leadership and Service Award.
Kiyomi Takeda, a fourth- / second-generation Japanese American raised in San Francisco, is an occupational therapist at the California Pacific Medical Center. At CPMC, she treats individuals recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries and specializes in hand rehabilitation.
She is the Co-Chair of the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, an annual fundraiser for the Nichi Bei Foundation, and is the chair of vendor committees of both the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and Nihonmachi Street Fair. She is also an active member of nihonmachiROOTS, which is a group of young adults who focus on issues regarding San Francisco’s Japantown, as well as Nakayoshi Young Professionals, which is a group that offers opportunities for networking and volunteerism. A member of the 2010 Queen Court, Kiyomi also volunteers for the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program.
A graduate of Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School ? where she served as class president ? Kiyomi graduated with a B.S. in health science and a M.S. in occupational therapy from Dominican University in San Rafael.
Kiyomi serves on the Programs Committee, and was named the Nichi Bei Foundation’s second board chair in September of 2014.
Wesley Ueunten, Ph.D.
Wesley Ueunten is associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, joining the faculty in 2002. A third-generation Okinawan, he was born and raised in Hawai’i and spent a total of nine years in Okinawa and Japan learning Japanese and Okinawan languages, studying Okinawan music, and working as a translator and English teacher.
He completed a B.A. in ethnic studies and an M.A. in sociology at the University of Hawai’i, and earned his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley.
In addition to the board of directors of the Nichi Bei Foundation, Wesley serves on the board of the National Japanese American Historical Society, the Japanese American National Library, and currently serves as President of the Okinawa Kenjinkai of San Francisco. He has also served as a researcher for the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project.
On the San Francisco State University campus, he serves as the co-director of the Edison Uno Institute for Nikkei and Uchinanchu Studies (EUINUS), and as a Faculty Advisor for the Asian Student Union and The Yellow Journal.
A teacher of the Okinawan sanshin, Wesley is a founding member and instructor with Genyukai Berkeley. He serves on the board Programs Committee.
? Wendi Yamashita, Ph.D.
Wendi Yamashita is an assistant professor in Asian American Studies at California State University, Sacramento, is a fourth-generation Japanese American (Yonsei) originally from Oxnard, Southern California. She has been teaching at CSUS since the fall of 2021, where she serves on the Curriculum Committee, MA DevelopmentCommittee,AsianAmerican Studies Search Committee and Social Media Committee.
Prior to that, she was an assistant professor at Ithaca College’s Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity in New York, and at UCLA taught classes such as Power and Comparable Carceral Studies, and Contemporary Mass Incarcerations. Her research interests include Comparative Ethnic Studies, Japanese American Studies, Carceral Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Memory Studies and Oral History.
In the community, Wendi is a member of the Manzanar Committee, and co-director of its Katari and Manzanar at Dusk youth education programs. She is also on the planning committee of the Northern California Time of Remembrance and a member of the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.
In Memoriam … Wayne Maeda
Wayne Maeda retired after 40 years as a senior lecturer in the Department of Ethnic Studies, California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). He is one of the founding members of the Asian American Studies Program and Ethnic Studies Department. He taught the first Asian American course in 1970. He also taught at Sacramento City College, and periodically at UC Davis as a Senior Lecturer in Asian American Studies.
Wayne wrote a book that provides a regional overview of the Japanese American communities (Vacaville, Walnut Grove, Loomis, Penryn, Auburn, Florin, and Sacramento) from the 1860s to 1980s, “Changing Dreams, Treasured Memories: A Story of Japanese Americans in the Sacramento Region.”? He is also the co-editor of “Ethnic America: Readings in Race, Class, and Gender.”? He is a former board member of the National Japanese American Historical Society and the Gold Hill-Wakamatsu Project, dedicated to preserving the first settlement of Japanese immigrants in America. He had been a contributing writer for the Nichi Bei Times since 1995 until his passing in February 2013.
After his passing, the Nichi Bei Foundation created the Wayne Maeda Educational Fund as a means to honor his legacy and fund the Foundation’s educational initiatives.
In May of 2014, the California State University, Sacramento launched the Wayne Maeda Asian American Studies Archives.
Former Board Members
Jason Okazaki, Esq.
Tim Yamamura, Ph.D.
Mark Osaki, Ph.D.
Jeffrey T. Yamashita
Linda Harms Okazaki