NEW YORK – Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, the highest-ranking female American judoka, has been decorated with a prestigious civilian honor by Japan for her work in establishing U.S. national and Olympic judo competitions for women.
Kanokogi, a seventh-degree black belt often referred to as the “mother of women’s judo,” was given the Emperor’s Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, during a ceremony Monday at the official residence of Motoatsu Sakurai, the Japanese consul general in New York.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” Kanokogi said. “The honor bestowed upon me by the Emperor and the government of Japan, the honor of the Rising Sun, is both amazing and humbling.”
The 73-year-old New York native is credited with laying the foundation for women’s competitive judo, especially its inclusion in the Olympics, where it made its official debut in Barcelona in 1992.
Kanokogi is one of 75 non-Japanese citizens who received this year’s autumn decorations from the government. Two other Americans — Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame Coach Tommy Lasorda and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who served as ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 — were among the recipients.
“I hope you will accept this award, not just as a recognition of your achievements, but also as a symbol of the strong bonds of friendship you have forged between the people of Japan and the United States,” Sakurai said to Kanokogi.
Born in Brooklyn, Kanokogi began practicing the martial art in the late 1950s when women were prohibited from competing in judo.
She was often the lone female sparring with men in New York-area clubs.