By Jordan Schultz
Ontario — Janet Komoto has been selected as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s “Woman of the Year.” Komoto grew up and graduated from high school in San Francisco. After high school, Komoto received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC Davis. She then continued her education at UC Berkley, finishing her master’s degree in social work. Even after getting her master’s degree, Komoto decided to further her education even more, going back to get another bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cal State University- East Bay, formerly known as Hayward.
Komoto moved to Ontario in 1982 and has worked for over 25 years at Ontario Produce where she wears many hats. Komoto takes care of all the transportation, tax returns and is the food safety coordinator. She makes sure everything is up to standard and safe for consumption, ensuring they can pass audits and provide safe nutritional food for the community.
Komoto and her husband, Bob, started going to Chamber of Commerce meetings a little over two years ago.
“I found it very fascinating,” Janet Komoto said. “The donors and various groups that attend the meetings are very involved in the community, very in tune to what’s going on in the area.”
Komoto is also involved in the committee for the Osakasayama sister-city program. This is a cultural and friendship exchange going on with Osakasayama, Japan. This year marks the 40th anniversary for the program. To celebrate, they are going to try to host 40 friends of the program, ranging in age from 40 to 70. Komoto is helping to find activities in the community to entertain them while they are here.
On top of the Osakasayama program, Komoto also finds time to serve as president of the Japanese American Citizens League. She has been the president for 10 years.
The JACL is the oldest and largest Japanese civil rights group in the United States. The league started in 1946 by her father-in-law, Joe Komoto, right after the war had finished.
“A lot of areas weren’t very friendly toward the Japanese population after the war, but the Mayor of Ontario was extremely welcoming to the Japanese,” Komoto said. “We came to the area to farm and work and give back to them for welcoming us to the area.”
To this day, there are still many farms and businesses run by Japanese families that originally started when all of this was going on. Today, the JACL focuses heavily on raising money for scholarships to give out to local graduating students for college.
Komoto also volunteers her time to help with a taiko drumming group that she and a few friends founded back in 1999. The art of taiko drumming has been a Japanese folk art for 500 to 600 years. After a taiko group from Portland came and performed in Ontario, one of Komoto’s friends approached her and asked, “Do you think that we could start a taiko group here?” Komoto liked the idea and the started watching videos and going to conferences to learn the folk art, basically teacher herself how to play the drums, and to this day, Komoto’s taiko group is still alive and running. The group of kids the Komoto teaches meets in Caldwell every Sunday for the past five years. Right now, Komoto teaches and mentors a group of four boys, ranging in age from 9-13. “If we can keep members involved for three to four years, they will remember the work and dedication they put into it,” Komoto said. “ We will know that we played a part in their development growing up.”
Other accomplishments that Komoto has achieved over the years include being the past president of the American Business Women’s Association for 10 years. She was treasurer of the association for seven years prior to that. She conducts annual fun-days for the Nisei members in the community. She is on the board for the Ontario City Business Loan Fund Committee.
Recently, Komoto’s newest project was being asked to be on the board for the St. Luke’s Advisory Council.
“I work long hours most of the year, I try to stick with things once I decide to get involved in them.” Komoto said. “It’s been fun. In the future I would like to focus more on the taiko and the Osakasayama Sister-City Committee. It would be nice to see the community get more involved and excited about these great programs.
“I enjoy just doing the little things to contribute to the community, I’ve been volunteering since I was in Junior High,” Komoto added. “I first volunteered at the Red Cross in San Francisco when I was 15, it’s just a part of who I am.”
Komoto will receive the award at the annual Ontario Chamber of Commerce banquet which takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 11, at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario.