By Vivian Miezianko
Northwest Asian Weekly
He loves Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. He is also an unassuming retiree who likes to mentor young people.
He got his former long-term job “by accident” and acquired the valuable marketing and organizational planning skills needed for his current volunteer organizer position.
Yoshiaki “Yoshi” Minegishi, chair of Celebrate Asia!, a committee that brings Asian classical musicians to perform at Benaroya Hall, grew up in Tokyo. He came to California as a high school student at age 16 in the 1950s. When he first arrived in the United States, he was amazed by what he saw, a “beautiful San Francisco in September” with its “hills all brown.” At the time, Tokyo was gray and dark during its recovery from WWII.
Minegishi attended Stanford University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He was the number one player and captain of the school’s tennis team. At one of his tennis matches, he won in front of an IBM worker who then asked him to join the company.
Minegishi reminisced, “Working for IBM was by accident. … Tennis was the connection between me and IBM.”
At IBM, he worked as a systems engineer. He also worked in sales, marketing, finance, product development, and corporate planning. In 1994, he moved back to Tokyo to work for Nortel Japan. He relocated back to the States in 2000, settling in Seattle.
Minegishi has always liked classical music. He said, “I’m not talented. … It’s amazing to me when musicians play, what they can do, how much training they have. … Music can touch you deeply.”
After he retired, he wanted to support classical musicians. He had been a long-time season ticket holder for the Seattle Symphony. As a result, he has become friendly with some of its staff. About five years ago, he was approached by a staff member who asked him to become a Seattle Symphony trustee. Minegishi said, “I have some suggestions, have donated some money, and deeply appreciated the organization.” That was how he became a symphony board member.
“I have a passion for developing a new audience for the symphony. It takes lots of marketing effort [to do so]. I always think that there are new ways of attracting new audience.”
Minegishi’s concept of an organization that brings Asian musicians together began in the spring of 2008. Soon after, Celebrate Asia!’s inaugural concert was held in January 2009.
He said, “The details [arose when I talked] with Assunta [Ng] in December 2008. … She was very supportive. Through her contacts and my contacts, we formed a committee that included the Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Indian communities [in the Seattle area].”
Creating a program that encompassed Asian musicians from so many ethnic groups was one of the challenges that Minegishi initially faced. He spoke of other major challenges, “It was difficult to get an agreement from the Seattle Symphony. They had not done anything like this before. The symphony was very hesitant because they felt it would not make any money, so I guaranteed the cost [for the first event].”
Programming and finance were not the only roadblocks. Minegishi said, “To get Asians to support programs like this [was not easy], because they felt hesitant to come into another world — the world of symphony. Usually, Koreans go to Korean [events], Chinese go to Chinese [events].”
However, these difficulties did not deter Minegishi. “My purpose is to get Asians to participate in art like the symphony, to get Asians to appreciate the art,” explained Minegishi.
He spoke of another objective he has in mind for the committee, “I would like to see Seattle become an Asian-friendly city, for the Asian community … and for Seattle. There are no cities in the world, including Tokyo or Hong Kong, that can combine Asian communities like [Seattle does] — so well-balanced, congenial. … Other cities are lopsided. Hong Kong [is inhabited mostly by] Chinese and Tokyo Japanese.”
Minegishi would like to break down the barrier in each Asian ethnic community.
Since its inception, Celebrate Asia! has organized sold-out events with 2,400 attendees filling Benaroya Hall. Minegishi added, “It has grown from a Chinese- and Japanese-centric event into a more balanced event. We also have more local and world-class artists participating.”
Accumulating sufficient funds is what makes world-class artist engagements possible.
Minegishi’s vision for the future of Celebrate Asia! is for it to become a part of the regular Seattle Symphony program.
For his contributions, Minegishi is being honored as a Top Contributor by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation.
Minegishi said, “I declined [the award] initially. I didn’t want to be singled out. I organized it, but everybody contributed. Each community rose to the occasion.” He would like the communities that contributed to Celebrate Asia! to be recognized.
In addition to his organizer role, Minegishi is a member and former executive board member of the Japan-America Society, and he participates in other community projects.
In his spare time, Minegishi enjoys sports and traveling with his wife, Naomi. He has two daughters and likes mentoring young people, frequently sharing life’s wisdom with them. ♦
For more information on Celebrate Asia!, visit www.celebrateasia.org.
Vivian Miezianko can be reached at email@example.com.