Jean Kodama Biography

(submitted for Southeast Japanese School and Community Center 3/21/15 Recognition Dinner)


Jean Kodama (nee Uwate) has been a member of SEJSCC for most of her life, starting in the early 1960's with Japanese school, continuing with softball, basketball, and shuji through the 60's and 70's, and including more than 50 years at Norwalk Kendo Dojo, from the mid 60's through the present day.

Her parents, Tomio Uwate and Mary (nee Kawagishi), were Kibei Nisei, born in the United States and then sent to Japan to be raised by relatives. After the war, they came to Los Angeles, where they met, married, and raised Jean and her two brothers. As eldest, Jean had many responsibilities, including cooking, helping out with the family egg ranch, wholesale nursery, and gardening businesses, and handling any communications requiring English.

Growing up, Jean was proficient in music and sports. She played violin, with brief stints in junior symphony on cello and viola, and was concert mistress in high school her sophomore through senior years. She learned to play baseball as a young child, which she credits with giving her the skills and confidence to excel in many sports throughout her youth, including high school varsity softball, basketball, and volleyball, as well as junior varsity swimming and tennis.

From pre-school age, Jean decided her goal in life was to get straight A's, which she accomplished all through grade school and high school. This enabled her to graduate as the valedictorian of her class, receive a National Merit Scholarship, and gain acceptance to the California Institute of Technology. With other scholarship awards and many, many part-time and summer jobs, Jean was able to put herself through college and post-graduate school, culminating in a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Caltech at the age of 23.

It was at Caltech that Jean met future husband David. As classmates and fellow martial artists, they were good friends throughout their undergraduate years, started dating toward the end of senior year, and married after finishing post-graduate studies.

Jean has had a long career as an electrical engineer, eventually specializing in ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) design since the early 80's. She has been a founding engineer at several start-up companies, and holds various patents. In the early 80's, she and David formed a consulting partnership which they named "Echo Associates" (in Japanese, one meaning of "kodama" is "echo"), where they both currently work full time.

Through work, kendo, and David's astrophotography hobby, the couple has traveled extensively, visiting all seven continents before the age of 40. Especially exotic destinations include Antarctica, Libya, Mongolia, Tibet, and Easter Island. Since David was born and raised on Maui, they often travel to Hawaii, but mostly see his family in Las Vegas.

Jean and her brothers were the first new students to enroll at Norwalk Kendo Dojo when it was founded in 1964 by her uncle, the late Hara Akio sensei. Her brothers have long since quit, but Jean has persevered. In addition to winning many trophies and medals at the local, national, and international level, she has been women's national champion twice and world goodwill champion once. She was Team USA manager and women's coach for the 2003 World Kendo Championships in Scotland.

In 1986, Jean became "Kodama sensei", finally relenting after many years of her exasperated sensei's demands to take the test for 4 dan (4th degree black belt). Currently, she holds the ranks of 4 dan in iaido (sword forms) and 6 dan renshi (master) in kendo, and serves as president of Southern California Kendo Federation and as a member of the All United States Kendo Federation Board of Directors.

Kodama sensei has been head instructor of Norwalk Kendo Dojo since 2006. She works countless hours each week, both at the dojo and behind the scenes, to ensure the Norwalk students learn proper kendo and are prepared to go out into the kendo world. Kodama sensei misses the days when she could just do kendo. But she is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the art, as well as to the Center, which have each given so much to her.