by Karleen Chinen

The numerous contributions of former United Okinawan Association President Akira Sakima and four other Hawaii residents have been recognized by the government of Japan. The five were presented Imperial Decorations on Nov. 28 in a late afternoon ceremony at the residence of Consul General of Japan Minoru Shibuya. He noted that of the total 28 foreign recipients of Imperial Decorations this fall, five were from Hawaii.

Akira Sakima, who turned 82 in October, was presented The Order of the Sacred Treasure - Gold Rays with Rosette for his contributions to strengthening the ties of friendship between Japan and the United States.

“After the war, Mr. Sakima participated in activities to send food and clothing relief from Hawaii to Japan, and he contributed to the reconstruction of Japan by dispatching agricultural specialists there,” noted Consul General Shibuya, who last month succeeded Gotaro Ogawa as Hawaii’s Consul General. “Also, as a member of the House of Representatives for the State of Hawaii and as chairman of the House Education Committee and subsequently the Higher Education Committee, he helped to reform the Hawaii state education system, and as a result of these changes, the status of many Japanese Americans was enhanced. By cooperating in the dispatching and receiving of friendship groups from Japan, he contributed toward strengthening the friendly relationship between Japan and the United States,” said Shibuya.

Imperial Decorations were also presented to:

• Ken Sumida, former East-West Center president: The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette;

• Jean Estelle Rolles, former Japan-America Society of Hawaii president: The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette;

• Paul Shunzo Honda, president of the Honda Foundation: The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays; and

• Richard Michio Kibe, former president of the Maui Japanese Community Association: The Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays.

Akira Sakima was born in 1918 in Hilo to Matsu and Kama Sakima, immigrants from Ginowan, Okinawa. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1937. Akira and his wife of 58 years, Jane, have two adult children, Ellen Higa and Dr. Howard Sakima of Sacramento, and four grown grandchildren.

A former pig farmer, Sakima was elected to the Territorial (and subsequently state) House of Representatives in 1958 and served nine terms as Kalihi Valley’s representative. He served as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention in 1978.

While in the House, Sakima chaired the education and higher education committees. He was later elected to the state Board of Education. Although his children — and Hawaii grandchildren — graduated from public school many years ago, Sakima’s commitment to education for Hawaii’s youth has not waned. Since 1996 he has served as a member of Dole Middle School’s SCBM (School Community-Based Management) team.

To Hawaii’s Okinawan community, Akira Sakima represents the quintessential Uchinanchu.

He grew up on a pig farm in Kalihi Valley, which, in the 1930s and ‘40s, was populated by largely Okinawan and Japanese farmers. In 1949, four years after the end of World War II, Sakima was asked to join a group of Hawaii Uchinanchu transporting 600 milking goats to Okinawa to provide sustaining nourishment to the Okinawan people. He was the youngest member of the group. The experience changed him forever.

In 1960, the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyus invited Sakima and five other Hawaii Uchinanchu legislators to Okinawa on a goodwill mission. Three years later the U.S. Army asked Sakima and four agriculture specialists from the University of Hawaii to help develop Okinawa’s agriculture industry.

In 1985, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Shintaro Abe presented Sakima a Certificate of Commendation for his outstanding contributions to promoting goodwill and friendship between the United States, Japan and other nations.

The Ryukyu Shimpo presented Sakima its “Ryukyu Shimpo Sho” award in 1991 for his contributions to Hawaii and Okinawa, and recognized him again in 1996 with its Ryukyu Shimpo Award of Merit for service in promoting goodwill, friendship and cultural and educational exchange between Hawaii and Okinawa. The award was presented to him in Okinawa.

In 1993 Sakima was invited to speak on Hawaii’s contributions to the growth and development of post-war Okinawa at an East-West Center Alumni Association conference in Okinawa. Then-Governor Masahide Ota recognized Sakima’s contributions to post-war Okinawa in 1998.

Sakima is an active member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and has actively supported the work of many Kalihi-based health and human service agencies, among them: Kokua Kalihi Valley, a comprehensive health provider for residents of Kalihi Valley, where he has resided for most of his life; Kalihi YMCA, Susannah Wesley Community Center and the Kalihi-Palama Community Council. Earlier this year, 600 people packed the Dole Cannery Ballroom for a testimonial dinner honoring Akira Sakima. Proceeds from the event were earmarked for the establishment of the Akira Sakima Endowment Fund to help needy families in Kalihi Valley.

In 1993, the McKinley Alumni Association recognized Sakima’s lifelong service and contributions to the community by inducting him into the school’s “Hall of Honor.”

Sakima served as president of Ginowan Shijinkai and Hui Makaala several times in the 1970s and ‘80s. In 1972, he was elected president of the United Okinawan Association of Hawaii, and in 1985 was selected its “Uchinanchu of the Year.” Additionally, the Nomura-ryu Ongaku Kyokai - Hawaii Shibu recognized his leadership and dedication to the musical style in 1991.

He served as president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation in 1954 and previously managed Island Pork Producers Co-op. Sakima also worked as a branch manager for International Savings and Loan and held other positions with the financial institution. He is a past president of the Kalihi and the Moiliili business associations.

In accepting the decoration, Sakima said he happened to be in the right place at the right time, which enabled him to accomplish so much in his life. He said the real credit for his Imperial Decoration belongs to his friends. “Without friends, you can’t do anything,” he said. Using the game of football as an analogy, he thanked HUOA President Albert Miyasato for clearing the path for the awarding of his Decoration. “Doc did the blocking and I just made the touchdown.” He also recognized the efforts on his behalf of former Consul General Gotaro Ogawa

Those Akira Sakima has quietly mentored, like state Rep. Dennis Arakaki from Kalihi Valley, see things differently. “Even after leaving office, he continued to serve the community,” Arakaki told The Hawaii Herald in May. “It’s time-consuming, and you don’t get the recognition that you get when you’re in elective office. But Akira has continued to go to these meetings and to contribute. That’s when you know the person is genuine.”



Akira Sakima flanked by his wife Jane and daughter Ellen Higa.

The Fall 2000 Imperial Decoration honorees — from left: Jean Rolles, Kenji Sumida, Consul General Minoru Shibuya, Akira Sakima and Richard Kibe.