Maui News

Rep. Gabbard’s Speech Honors Maui Constituents

January 19, 2018, 11:16 AM HST
* Updated January 19, 11:17 AM
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US Representative Tulsi Gabbard delivered a speech on the House floor today honoring the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui’s 2018 Nihon Bunka Award honorees.

Recognized were: Stephanie Ohigashi, Mildred Okuda and Tom Fujita, all of whom are members of the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui.


The Nihon Bunka award recognizes individuals for their excellence and contributions to the Japanese arts and culture, and for their unselfish willingness to share their talents with the community.

Congresswoman Gabbard said the honorees have, for decades, been dedicated to preserving Japanese culture and heritage in the County of Maui.


“These three leaders have gone above and beyond, working to strengthen ties between Hawaiʻi and Japan, serving Maui’s community,” said Rep. Gabbard.

Besides being instrumental in creating a Sister Chamber relationship between the Maui Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Fukuyama Chamber ofCommerce in 1988 and eventually a formal sister city relationship between Maui County and Fukuyama City in 2008, Ohigashi has organized various high school study abroad trips to Japan and coordinated local Maui families to provide homestay activities when the Japanese students visited Maui. Ohigashi was also instrumental in coordinating a historic two-week cultural event, “Sho Chiku Bai,” in 1994, and has been involved with the eighteen year annual MauiMatsuri. Presently, Ohigashi is a member of the Maui Gannen Mono committee which will be instrumental in coordinating a series of events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.


In her professional capacity, Ohigashi is the International Student Recruiter/ Instructor working under the direction of UH Maui Chancellor Lui Hokoana and Vice-Chancellor Debra Nakama to recruit and welcome International students to the campus and also to create opportunities for our local students to study abroad at one of the more than 14 partner universities across the world.

Okuda, president of the Maui Karaoke Club, has actively promoted and perpetuated the Japanese culture through Japanese karaoke, providing monthly entertainment at Hale Makua Kahului and Wailuku, as well as Maui Adult Day Care Center, Roselani Place, Kaunoa Senior Center, and at social functions for the Nisei Veterans, Maui Kumamoto Kenjin Kai, and Yamaguchi Kenji Kai. Her goal is to work with Japanese language teachers to encourage their students who may be interested in Japanese singing to join her group, as well as introduce preschool children to Japanese children songs.

Besides having hosted a variety of Japanese students who came to Maui as part of an exchange program with Maui Community College, Fujita has held mochi pounding events for the past 32 consecutive years. While he never promoted or publicized the event, his annual mochi pounding events were open to everyone as he and his late wife had a strong desire to promote and perpetuate this aspect of the Japanese culture.

An award presentation will take place next week Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui’s annual Shinnen Enkai (New Year) dinner at the elleair Rainbow Room of the Maui Beach Hotel. The Shinnen Enkai will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the traditional otoso (sake welcome) with no-host cocktail hour to follow. Dinner is scheduled for 6 p.m.


Cost for the buffet dinner is $50, $20 for children ages 6-11, and free for kids 5 years of age and under. Tickets are available through the Maui Box Shop and Credit Associates in Wailuku, and Sanrio at Queen Kaʻahumanu Center. Deadline to purchase tickets is January 18. Tickets will not be available for purchase at the door.

The event will feature Dennis Ogawa who will speak about the Gannen Mono – 150th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants who arrived in Hawaiʻi from Yokoyama in 1868. The event will also showcase performances by professional Japanese dancer and vocalist Dazzman Toguchi.

The event will also have a silent auction with proceeds going toward the club’s various projects.

Tom Fujita (left); Mildred Okuda (top right); and Stephanie Ohigashi (bottom right).

Stephanie Ohigashi.

Mildred Okuda.

Tom Fujita.

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