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Kazue Kitagakido, president of the Southern California Prefectural Association, who came to the United States in 1984 and is currently working on raising funds for her hometown, Noto.

There was no overseas option

She became the first female president in the 60-year history of the Southern California Prefectural Association Council.

Just after the start of 2024, a big earthquake struck Japan. The affected area was Ishikawa Prefecture. Even here in Southern California, far away, a donation campaign is underway to send to the victims of the Noto Peninsula earthquake. The person at the center of this effort is Kazue Kitagakido, the president of the Ishikawa Prefectural Association and the Southern California Prefectural Association Council, which brings together the prefectural associations in Southern California.

Kitagakido is originally from Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture. She moved to the US in 1984 after marrying a Japanese man living in Los Angeles who she had been pen pals with. "I had never even considered the option of going abroad, and came to America without knowing anything. I think not knowing anything was a factor in my decision to go to the US."

When she moved to the US exactly 40 years ago, the situation was very different from today, when you can easily connect with Japan online. "International phone calls were expensive, and there weren't as many Japanese companies operating there as there are now. I felt like I was stuck in a rut, but I was fortunate to have children and was busy raising them. My husband had become an independent dental technician and he always worked in the lab, so people around me seemed to think I was a single mother. I was in a situation that would be called a 'solo operation' situation today."

Kitagakido says, "Many people from Ishikawa Prefecture don't like to be in the public eye and have a reserved personality." With members of the Southern California Ishikawa Prefecture Association.

For Kitagakido, who had spent her time in America as a stay-at-home mother, the turning point in her life was when she took on the role of president of the Ishikawa Prefectural Association about 15 years ago. "My predecessor was also from Nanao, so I was asked to help out, and after I got involved with the association, I took on the role of president, and last year I was also appointed president of the Southern California Prefectural Association Council. The council used to be a male-dominated society, but I am the first female president in its 60-year history, and currently more than half of the prefectural associations belonging to the council are women."

Originally, each prefectural association was an organization closely tied to daily life, with the goal of helping people from the same hometown. However, in today's world where information can be accessed instantly online, the very nature and purpose of prefectural associations is being called into question. Some organizations, such as the North American Okinawan Association, are able to attract younger generations by focusing on traditional performing arts, but the reality is that most prefectural associations face major challenges in passing on their traditions to the next generation.

A place for exchange between prefectural associations

Kitagakido says that the Southern California Prefectural Association Council has been considering the idea of ​​holding a festival where the prefectural associations can come together, with a view to boosting the excitement of each prefectural association and encouraging interaction between them. "We thought it would be good to gather together and hold a festival to promote interaction between the associations. We also discussed the possibility of each prefectural association setting up a booth displaying traditional culture and other characteristics of their prefecture. This might help younger generations to become more interested in prefectural associations."

However, due to the Noto Peninsula earthquake that occurred at the beginning of the year, it became necessary to shift the focus to fundraising activities, and since the Southern California Prefectural Association Council will be holding its 60th anniversary event in 2024 at the same time as the annual entertainment event, the festival has been postponed until next year or later.

Regarding donations for the Noto Peninsula earthquake , the Southern California Prefectural Association Council has launched a website, and as the council's chairman, Kitagakido calls for support every time he attends the New Year's parties of each prefectural association and organization, and as of March 20, 2024, over $40,000 has been collected. In addition, they plan to set up a booth selling Ishikawa Prefecture specialties at the OC Japan Fair , a three-day Japanese-American festival that will be held from April 19, and ask visitors for their cooperation.

Noto Peninsula earthquake relief fundraiser underway at various event venues

"Since we began our fundraising campaign, we have received donations from other states. Someone from Kentucky contacted us saying that they would hold a bazaar at their church and send the proceeds to us, even though there is no one from Ishikawa Prefecture there. Japan has had many earthquakes in the past, such as the Kumamoto earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake, and of course I have felt sadness each time and have done what I can, but now that my hometown has been hit by the disaster, I am once again surprised and deeply grateful by the kindness of so many people who have offered their support."

Ideally, in the future, I want to live in two places: Japan and the US

So how does Kitagakido, who has lived in the US for 40 years, view Japan today? "When I went back to Japan, I felt something was off when my niece offered to let her child miss school and come to the airport to see me off. She said, 'Some people take the day off school to go on family trips, after all,' but I couldn't understand the value of casually taking the day off from school. It seems like the things that Japan has held dear -- in other words, the values ​​that I, a person of the Showa era, held dear -- don't exist in Japan today, or rather, the standards for measuring value are very different."

We also asked Kitagakido how she herself has changed since coming to America. "I've become more cheerful (laughs). I have the feeling that anything can happen. In my hometown of Ishikawa Prefecture, the sky gets dark in November, and it stays dark until around mid-April. But in Los Angeles, the weather is good, and it's a multi-ethnic society, so I've become more open-minded and realize that there are many different ways of thinking. My horizons have really broadened."

Finally, when asked where she plans to live in the future, she replied, "I'd like to live half in Japan and half in America, but my husband says it doesn't matter where we live when he quits his job and retires (laughs)." By the way, her eldest son, who grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Keio University, where he studied abroad, and got a job at a Japanese company. He and his family are currently working in Colombia, South America, while her second son and his family live in Seattle. Kitagakido says she wants to live in both Japan and America someday, but until she can make that happen, it looks like she'll continue to work hard for the Japanese community in Southern California.

* Noto Peninsula Earthquake Relief Fund >>

© 2024 Keiko Fukuda

2024 Noto earthquake disaster relief emergency management Ishikawa Prefecture Japan Japanese Prefectural Association of Southern California Noto Peninsula
About the Author

Keiko Fukuda was born in Oita, Japan. After graduating from International Christian University, she worked for a publishing company. Fukuda moved to the United States in 1992 where she became the chief editor of a Japanese community magazine. In 2003, Fukuda started working as a freelance writer. She currently writes articles for both Japanese and U.S. magazines with a focus on interviews. Fukuda is the co-author of Nihon ni umarete (“Born in Japan”) published by Hankyu Communications. Website: 

Updated July 2020

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