May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and I’ve decided to pay tribute by counting down my top Japanese-American celebrities. To narrow down the list, I focused only on those born and famous in the U.S. (Nisei and onward). While there’s fantastic Japanese-Americans in every aspect of life, I stuck to just sports, TV, film, or music. Even then it was still hard to choose eight (with four bonus figures).
Hibari’s Hi 8: Japanese-American Celebrities
8. Grant Imahara (MythBusters)
You know him best as the electronics expert on MythBusters, but Grant Imahara is also a BattleBots competitor and the guy who gave R2D2 an upgrade for the Star Wars prequels. As his photoshoot with Clockwork Couture exemplifies, he makes being a nerdy Asian guy really cool.
7. James Iha (The Smashing Pumpkins, A Perfect Circle)
James Iha first gained notoriety as The Smashing Pumpkins’ co-founder and guitarist. He then went onto play for A Perfect Circle. He has produced for both American and Japanese artists, released two solo albums, and even created a fashion line.
6. Peggy Oki (Z-Boys)
Photo by Jeff Donovan. From Peggy Oki’s official website
The lone female in the legendary Zephyr skateboarding team, Peggy Oki blazed the trail for both women in action sports just by doing what she loved. In addition to catching concrete and ocean waves, she now creates artwork that raises awareness on environmental issues.
5. Wataru Misaka (New York Knicks)
In 1947, Wataru “Kilo Wat” Misaka became the first non-white player in the NBA after getting drafted by the New York Knicks. Even though he only played three games and chose engineering over playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, he made his mark in sports history.
4. Candace Kita (Kamen Rider, Complete Savages)
Model/actress Candace Kita made her TV debut in the first attempt bringing Kamen Rider to the U.S., Masked Rider. She has had recurring roles in several shows and penned The Hottie Handbook: A Girl’s Guide to Safety. She is an advocate for anti-harassment laws and has rallied fellow celebrities for various charity events.
3. Pat Morita (Happy Days, The Karate Kid)
Beloved by many as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid movies, Pat Morita faced a rough childhood of internment and spinal tuberculosis. He began his entertainment career in stand-up comedy before starring in M*A*S*H* and Happy Days. He also voiced characters in Mulan and Sponge Bob Squarepants.
2. Kristi Yamaguchi
I know I wasn’t the only little Asian girl who idolized Kristi Yamaguchi after seeing her take the 1992 Olympic women’s figure skating gold. She was the first Asian-American woman to do so, and since then, she has created the Always Dream Foundation, written children’s books, commentated for NBC, and won Dancing with the Stars.
1. George Takei (Star Trek)
Who doesn’t like George Takei? He has paved way for future Asian-American actors in sci-fi as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek. He’s a gay rights activist, an advocate for Japanese-America relations, and the source for many amusing facebook posts and videos. More recently he starred in Allegiance, a musical inspired by his experiences in an internment camp.
+4 Part Japanese-American Celebrities
4. Carrie Ann Inaba (Dancing with the Stars)
Something you might not know about this reality TV show judge is that she found minor fame as a singer in Japan. After returning to the Stages, Carrie Ann Inaba became a Fly Girl. She has made cameos in several films and choreographed the Miss America Pageant.
3. Apolo Ohno
I didn’t mean to have this many Dancing with the Stars references here, but I had to include the most decorated Winter Olympics athlete in America. When he’s not speed skating or making TV appearances, he’s involved in various philanthropic efforts, including Nikkei Concerns which provides care of Japanese elderly living in the Pacific Northwest.
2. Ann Curry
Amidst all the Today Show drama, let’s take the time to recognize Ann Curry for the outstanding journalism she has done. Not only did she find my friend and missing JET Canon after the 2011 tsunami, she has won three Emmys for her reporting, including her story on Darfur.
1. Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park, Fort Minor)
Musician, producer, artist, and philanthropist are only some of the titles Mike Shinoda holds. He has shown art at the Japanese American National Museum, designed shoes for DC, and written for The Big Issue. Both his music and charity work reflect his pride in his Japanese heritage, and he was one of the first celebrities to create item to raise money for tsunami relief.
Listening to: “Goodbye Happiness (live)” by Hikaru Utada