SF poet and activist Janice Mirikitani honored by Japanese government

The spotlight was shining on Janice Mirikitani at the Japanese Consul General's home in Pacific Heights Wednesday evening.

Mirikitani was selected by the Japanese Foreign Ministry to receive the Foreign Ministry Commendation award for her leadership as a Japanese American artist and fierce fighter for the poor, the homeless, serving as the first President of the Glide Foundation.

She is one half of the city's power couple helping the powerless, with her husband Glide Church's Reverend Cecil Williams.

"She gave a voice to Japanese American art and perspective throughout her life," said Consul General Tomochika Uyama who presented Mirikitani with the award that is given to outstanding leaders worldwide. 

"Thank you very much for your tireless work and for being a model human being. The government of Japan is proud to recognize your contributions," said Mr. Uyama.

Friends, her husband, and former Mayor Willie Brown spoke about Mirikitani's lifelong work.

"You are truly, truly a gem in this city," said Mayor Brown, noting that Mirikitani had worked with ten mayors during her fifty years as a community advocate.

"I was floored, I was really speechless," said Mirikitani. 

Mirikitani said her own background as a sansei, a third-generation Japanese American, who was incarcerated with other Japanese American citizens by the U.S. Government during World War Two for no cause or crime, shaped her sense of social justice.

"We had German and Italian neighbors who were not citizens and we were at war with Italy and Germany and none of them were arrested," said Mirikitani. 

She says in her work she has tried to remain true to Glide's principle of "radical inclusivity" and unconditional love. 

She says she remembers one Sunday service when four people entered the church wearing swastikas on headbands.

"They came to I think three services, and then the fourth time they came, they had removed their headbands and started volunteering for the meals program," said Mirikitani. 

That lifelong goal of loving others and bridging differences is one she hopes people will continue to embrace in these divisive times.

"You have to have a passion and compassion to bridge those differences and say okay, I respect you even though we disagree. Because we are all human," said Mirikitani.

As she accepted the Japanese government's honor, she parted with a gift of words from one of her poems.

"Remember the stories we write on our skin. Luminous with the light that shines from within," she said.