The Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1949 by 45 young nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) and led by Robert Y. Sato, the first HJJCC president.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Japanese in Hawaii and throughout the United States faced the social pressure to assimilate into the mainstream American culture and lifestyle. During World War II, the internment, relocation, and evacuation of 120,000 Japanese Americans and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry created additional hardship and challenges.
With the end of the war, many nisei returned from the service or from mainland schools to find a distinct void in the Japanese community. “The issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) hesitated to regroup for fear that they might be labeled anti-American,” said Sato, “and the younger generation had no vehicle nor the desire to gather together, other than
a few veteran groups.”
The Japanese Senior Chamber was revived a few years later. Its second post-war president, Servco Pacific founder Peter Fukunaga, encouraged the formation of a junior chamber division to train future leaders who, said Sato, “could eventually take over the reigns of the (Japanese Senior) Chamber.”
On November 7, 1949, an organizational meeting was called and 45 charter members adopted bylaws and elected officers. On January 14, 1950, Sato declared in his inaugural speech: “The Junior Japanese Chamber of Commerce is being organized with the two-fold purpose of trying to build good citizenship among our young Japanese Americans and to provide them with a medium of training for participation in worthwhile community-wide projects.”
The organization, at the time only open to men, faced a more immediate problem of domestic tranquility as the many meetings met the disapproval of the members’ wives. “It finally dawned on us that the best way to keep the family happy was to have the wives join us as auxiliary members,” said Sato. “This was one of the most rewarding ideas…and proved to be a great force behind the success of many projects, including the Cherry Blossom Festival.”
In 1952, the organization became affiliated with the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce, thereby becoming a part of the Jaycees, a young person leadership training organization. In these early years, the HJJCC sponsored many community events such as nurse scholarship dances, Hawaii-Japan student conferences, and drives for the Aloha Week Festival, the Community Chest, the Red Cross, and Christmas Seals. The HJJCC organized the Cherry Blossom Festival in 1953 after first vice president Akira “Sunshine” Fukunaga experienced the Nisei Week Japanese Festival in Los Angeles.
By 1954, HJJCC membership swelled to more than 130 members, to 200 in 1958, and then to 250 members by 1963. The age range for members varied from 20 to 36, then from 18 to 35, and finally from 21 to 39 years old in 1987.
In the late 1950s, the HJJCC began admitting men from other ethnic backgrounds. Geminiano Arre became the first president of Filipino ancestry in 1969. Richard Bauske was the first Caucasian president in 1975. Kenneth Chang became the first president of Chinese ancestry in 1979. Following a move by the national organization, the HJJCC extended equal membership to women in 1984. Phyllis Yuen Fujiwara became the first woman president in 1989. Lenny Yajima Andrew, the 34th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen, became the first woman to be the general chair of the Cherry Blossom Festival in 1992.
Throughout the years, the HJJCC has reached out to the international community and has formed close bonds with other civic and Jaycee organizations worldwide. It has enjoyed a reciprocal relationship with the Nisei Week Japanese Festival in Los Angeles since the 1970s, and with the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco and Greater Seattle Japanese Queen Committee since 1996. The HJJCC continues to maintain formal “sister” chapter relationships
with the Hilo Jaycees, and with the Odawara, Kurashiki, Kojima, Tamashima, and Kobe Junior Chambers in Japan.
As the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce continues to foster young leaders through professional development, community service, and the promotion of Japanese culture and Japanese-American heritage, we recognize and value the rich history of our organization and gratefully acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of past generations.