Keep Your Eye on Sakura Kokumai – A Japanese American Olympian

Caption: Sakura Kokumai (2021) – image from

The Olympic Games – an international event celebrating peace and the shared values of friendship, excellence, and respect – are back! After a year of delay, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 28, 2021. Asian American Pacific Islanders have been in the news a lot lately, too. As part of our mission, the staff at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens are dedicated to supporting and promoting the contributions of Japanese Americans who have benefited society at-large. From the original Yamato Colony farmers and family who came to South Florida in the early 20th century to athletes today like Sakura Kokumai, we can find many inspiring examples. Kokumai – an athlete with Japanese ancestry – is representing America at the 2020 Olympics in the debut of karate.

Ms. Kokumai was born in Hawai’i in 1992, and started training in karate at the age of seven at a local YMCA. By the time she was 14, she was competing in international events. She also earned a master’s degree from Waseda University, Tokyo, in international relations. Kokumai quit her job in Japan so that she could move to California and dedicate herself to training full-time. She has won the gold medal at the Pan American Games six times since 2012. She was also in the news in April 2021 because she was harassed for being of Asian descent while working out at a public park in California. When asked to give advice to younger athletes she replies, “Never, never, NEVER give up. There will be times when you want to give up, but hard work always pays off. Just stay focused, surround yourself with good people, and the results will naturally come to you.” Let’s root for Sakura Kokumai to bring a medal back home to America from karate’s debut Olympic appearance!

Learn more about past and present Japanese-American Olympic athletes, a history of the Olympics in Japan, and discover some of the country’s favorite games and pastimes with the links provided below:

Tommy Kono Summer 2021 Let the Games Begin! Online Exhibition

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