2019 Inspiration Awards

The following individuals will receive the Nisei Week Inspiration Award:

Inspiration Award – Janice Y. Fukai

Janice Y. Fukai was the Alternate Public Defender (APD) and first Asian American woman to serve as a department head in Los Angeles County’s history. The Board of Supervisors praised her momentous 2002 appointment stating, “Janice Fukai has been instrumental in the development and leadership of her department. The entire Board has a lot of confidence in that office and her in particular.” For 25 years, Fukai hired and inspired more than 350 lawyers, investigators, paralegals, administrative, clerical support and IT staff. Today, the office is considered one of the finest defense agencies in the state.

As an Asian woman lawyer who has experienced racism and sexism both inside and outside the courtroom, Fukai remains sensitive to the challenges that continue to face Asian Pacific Islanders, stating, “Throughout my legal career, I was led to believe that I had to work harder and be better, just to be seen as equal to my male and Caucasian counterparts. It was not fair, but the reality. My position as the APD allowed me to provide a fairer and more supportive working environment for our younger generations.”  As the County’s first Asian woman department head, Fukai was proud of her diverse staff, which included a large percentage of API employees, far exceeding the norm for local, state or federal government agencies.

Fukai credits her successful 38-year public service and legal career to her father, the late Mas Fukai, a long time public servant for both Gardena City and Los Angeles County.  At the young age of 15, her father was interned during WWII and shared his experiences with her. She recalls her father frequently lamenting, “If in 1942 there had been more lawyers, judges, politicians, community leaders to protest the unconstitutional incarceration of more than 100,000 innocent and law-abiding Japanese Americans, that ugly chapter in history would have been avoided.” Janice took her father’s comments to heart and applied to law school.

Her decision to practice public defense was influenced by the late Honorable Robert M. Takasugi, Federal District Court Judge, for whom she served as judicial law clerk after graduating law school and awaiting bar exam results. Judge Takasugi was a champion for the poor and underserved in our society, whom he believed required good and caring defenders, to help them navigate through our criminal justice system, especially with the systemic built in biases already against them. He was a mentor and role model throughout her professional career. and followed his advice to become a public defender and found her calling.

Fukai received her bachelor’s and Juris Doctor degrees from USC. She joined the Los Angeles County Public Defenders’ Office in 1980, where she rose to the rank of special assistant to the late Public Defender, Wilbur Littlefield. Fukai’s work as trial lawyer is featured in the book Public Defender, Lawyer for the People by Joan Hewitt. In 1993, she left the Public Defender for the opportunity to help the county build the newly created Alternate Public Defender department, literally from scratch.

She continues to serve on the board of numerous professional groups and is the recipient of many professional and community service awards. The daughter of the late Mas and Yuriko Fukai, she has one brother Rick and nieces and a nephew: Stephanie, Lauren and Charles.


Inspiration Award – Alan Nishio

For the past five decades Alan Nishio has been involved in Little Tokyo and the broader Japanese American community. From his initial volunteer work with the Japanese American Community Services (JACS) organization to his present work with the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC), Nishio has served with many others in defining the history and shaping the future of the Nikkei community.

Nishio has served on the board of directors of LTSC for 35 years and was board president for over a decade. In addition, Nishio’s other community leadership roles include serving as a board member for the JACCC and an advisory council member for Kizuna.

His initial involvement in Little Tokyo was in 1969 as a board member and treasurer JACS. During this time, JACS created the JACS Asian involvement office that initiated and supported a number of community service programs that continue today. In the 1970s, Nishio served as the chair of the Little Tokyo Peoples Rights Organization (LTPRO), who advocated for the rights of residents, small businesses and cultural and community organizations during the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Project.

In the 1980s, Nishio, who was born in Manzanar, was actively involved in the successful campaign to gain redress for Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. He was a founder and co-chair of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations.

He was also a member and chair of the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council (CJACLC), a statewide organization that sought to preserve and protect California’s remaining Japantowns.

Nishio is a member of the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) and was a delegate in the inaugural Japanese American Leadership Delegation in 2000, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.  He also participated in USJC delegations advancing the work of nonprofit organizations in Japan following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In recognition of his work in the Japanese American community and advancing U.S.-Japan relations, Nishio was awarded “The Order of the Rising Sun with Gold Rays and Rosette” by the Government of Japan in 2016.

Retired, Nishio formerly served as the associate vice president for Student Services at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). He also taught in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies. His 40-year career in higher education also included serving as a founding staff member and director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA and as assistant director of the Center for Social Action at USC.

In addition to his work within the Japanese American community, Nishio was a past president and member of the board of the California Conference for Equality and Justice, a human relations organization based in Long Beach. He also was a trustee of The College Board, an educational association best known for its SAT and Advanced Placement examinations.

As a cancer survivor, Nishio is active in efforts to raise awareness and funds for research and education regarding leiomyosarcoma (LMS), a rare and aggressive cancer.

Nishio received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley and his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.