An American educator and a Japanese musician were recognized on Thursday by America-Japan Society Inc. for their longtime grassroots work toward deepening ties between Japan and the United States.
The two were honored with the third Kaneko Award, which was founded in 2017 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the launch of the society and was named after its first president, Count Kentaro Kaneko.
The recipients are Helen Rindsberg, a 70-year-old arts teacher from Cincinnati, and 83-year-old country music singer Charlie Nagatani, from the city of Kumamoto.
Nagatani was honored for promoting global peace through country music. In 1961, he started a band named Charlie and Cannonball and has since toured across Japan and the U.S. In 1976, he opened a live music club in his hometown, where he still performs. He has also organized Japan’s largest country music festival, in Kumamoto.
Nagatani has received honorary citizenship from 33 American states and was even invited to the White House by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Rindsberg was recognized for familiarizing students in the United States with Japanese culture and history in her classes and through publications featuring photographs she had taken while traveling around Japan. She also has a large collection of kimonos and Japanese art works.
The committee praised her “well-prepared approach to introducing the Japanese arts and culture in a way easily accessible to the people in the U.S.”
She was also recognized for her contribution to the development of cultural exchanges between the two countries. Together with her husband, Rindsberg has hosted a number of Japanese students in their home.
She now teaches at a college and works as an art museum curator. She also directs and performs for a Cincinnati-based, Japanese-style drumming troupe.
The society also presented a special award to Sen Genshitsu, the 15th headmaster of the Urasenke tea ceremony family, for his distinguished contribution to Japan-U.S. relations.
Born in 1923 in Kyoto, Sen was trained as a naval air force kamikaze pilot in the Imperial Army, but after the war he dedicated his life to advocating for world peace and fostering international relations through tea ceremony diplomacy. He has traveled to 62 countries.
Sen has established 37 tea ceremony circles throughout the U.S. and performed a tea ceremony at the United Nations General Assembly. In 2002, he became chairman of the U.N.-Japan Association and was later appointed a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador.
The recipients were selected by members of an AJS selection committee in Tokyo.
The awards will be presented at the International House of Japan in Tokyo on Nov. 22.