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Two Portland Nisei Receive Imperial Awards

Doris (Tachibana) Hrubant

PORTLAND—On April 29, the Government of Japan announced that two Oregonians will be honored with the Emperor’s Commendation for the Spring of 2021, the third year of the Reiwa Era. The awards were established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji and are the highest civilian recognition.

This year the awards will be bestowed upon Henry Sakamoto and Doris Hrubant, both of Portland.

Mr. Sakamoto, 94, is receiving the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, for his contributions to preserving the history of Japanese Americans in the United States and promoting mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S.

Ms. Doris (Tachibana) Hrubant, 97, is being awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays, for her contributions to promoting Japanese arts and friendly relations between two countries.

Henry Sakamoto

Henry Sakamoto

As the first president of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment (1990-2009), Mr. Sakamoto helped establish the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center more than 30 years ago. (Nikkei refers to Japanese emigrants and their descendants.) Mr. Sakamoto also served as president (1990-2009) of the Japanese Ancestral Society of Portland, and contributed to the establishment of the Japanese American Historical Plaza, on downtown Portland’s waterfront. The Plaza is located in Old Town, which was the heart of the JA community before World War II.

The 100 cherry trees that grace the Plaza were donated to the city by several Japanese trading companies through their business relationships with Mr. Sakamoto. Each spring, thousands of visitors enjoy the beautiful brief blossoms.

After World War II, great quantities of wheat and wood were exported from Oregon across the Pacific. Since that time, Japan has been importing almost half of its wheat demand from the U.S., 100 percent of it coming from the Pacific Northwest, making wheat one of Oregon’s most important exports. Currently, many Japanese companies, from the food industry to high-tech manufacturers, are active in Oregon, and a diverse and strong economic relationship continues to grow between Oregon and Japan.

At the beginning of JA incarceration from Portland in May 1942, Mr. Sakamoto was a 15- year-old sophomore at Lincoln High School, southwest Portland. Leaving the Minidoka camp in Idaho, he started college in September 1944 at Ohio Wesleyan University. He concluded his education at the University of Oregon in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

Mr. Sakamoto’s main career was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1953-1985, in Portland. This was followed by a series of employment and leadership roles in the U.S. grain industry that focused on improving relationships with Japanese grain traders and markets.

Ms. Doris Hrubant

Doris Hrubant

Ms. Doris (Tachibana) Hrubant is a lifelong instructor and performer of traditional Japanese dance.

Ms. Hrubant was born in California and began dancing at the age of seven, performing at her grandparents’ amateur Kabuki theater. At 11, she traveled to Fukushima, Japan, to study at the Tachibana Dance School where she acquired her stage name, Sahomi Tachibana. The impending war brought her home at her grandfather’s urging, returning to California just weeks before the Pearl Harbor bombing.

Ms. Hrubant noted, “There was no teacher at camp, so I went from being the student to being the teacher.”

She was at the Tanforan Assembly Center and Tule Lake, CA, and Topaz, UT.

Since 1948, Ms. Hrubant has performed, taught classes, and given lectures throughout the U.S. She established studios in New York and Portland to teach traditional Japanese dance, and, through her hundreds of students and countless performances, has contributed to cultural exchange for over 60 years. She retired from performing professionally in 2005, but continued teaching until 2019 when she fully retired at the age of 95.