Arts & Culture

Former director of UWF Japan House recognized with the Order of the Rising Sun award

Shigeko Honda, who was director of the University of West Florida Japan Center and Japan House for 26 years, has been awarded the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays. Honda was recognized at an event on UWF’s Pensacola campus on April 1 which celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Japan House. The Order of the Rising Sun, Japan’s first award established in 1875, is awarded to individuals in recognition of their services to the Japanese nation or public. Honorable Kazuhiro Nakai, Consul General of Japan in Miami, presented Honda with The Order of the Rising Sun award.

“I am so honored to receive this incredible award and am very appreciative to everyone who has been involved alongside me in promoting Japanese culture and programs,” Honda said. “This recognition was unexpected; however, it has renewed my energy for promoting the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. Even though I am no longer working, I want to continue to focus on practicing the tea ceremony with the time I gained as a gift of retirement.”

Honda’s achievements include the establishment of the two-year Japanese language program at UWF which was the first Japanese language course in 1987. Her efforts also led to UWF being recognized as one of the most active universities in Florida in activities related to Japan. Her dedication resulted in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan recognizing UWF for its contributions to strengthening the Japan-U.S. relationship in 2012. Honda’s influence extended to UWF joining the Florida-Japan Linkage Institute, where she later orchestrated the relocation of its head office to UWF in 2006. One of her most significant accomplishments is the conceptualization and realization of the UWF Japan House and gardens, a center for Japanese culture in the Pensacola area. 

“Ms. Honda’s remarkable dedication and contributions to promoting Japanese language, culture, and arts in the United States, particularly in Florida, are truly outstanding,” said Rachel Hendrix, director of the Office of International Affairs. “Having been affiliated with the UWF for over 25 years, Ms. Honda played an instrumental role in initiating and nurturing Japanese and US/Japan language education and cultural programs. Her accomplishments are numerous and have left an indelible mark on both UWF and the wider community.”

The Japan House was a partnership between UWF and the Jikei Group of Technical Colleges headed by Dr. Kunihiko Ukifune. The Rainwater family, State of Florida matching grants, supporters in Gero and many others helped to construct Building 71 and the Japan House. This initiative made UWF the only University in Florida with authentic Japanese rooms and gardens on its campus. Honda’s efforts led to the renaming of the Japan House tea room as “Fukutokuan” by the Urasenke Grand Master Zabosai Sen Soshitsu XVI in March 2009.

“None of this could have happened without the tireless work, talent, dedication and charisma of Shigeko Honda,” said Dr. Morris Marx, President Emeritus, University of West Florida. “She has made UWF and its Japan Center, into a statewide and nationally recognized entity for Japan studies and Japanese American relationships.”

Honda’s dedication to cross-cultural engagement led to the founding of the Japan-America Society of Northwest Florida, Inc. in 1994, creating a platform for cultural exchange. Her efforts in bringing international-level performing arts, exhibits, and speakers to Florida have enriched the local community and furthered cultural understanding. Honda’s commitment to bridging cultures has led to more than 400 local families hosting Japanese exchange students, thereby directly involving the greater Pensacola area with UWF Japan programs. As a retiree, Honda spends time at the UWF Japan House weekly teaching community members the art of tea through the UWF Chado Study Group. She continues to spearhead Japan-focused events for the campus and community with programs such as Bon Fest, Tanabata, Japanese New Year, Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Japan Culture Day.

“[Honda-san’s] unwavering dedication continues to bridge the cultural gap between Japan and Florida, leaving an enduring mark on both Pensacola and Gero City,” Consul General Nakai said. “We extend our heartfelt gratitude for her tireless commitment and hard work.”

Honda also received recognition for her efforts in October 2023 when she was awarded the NAFSA Region VII Dr. Alejandra Parra Award for International Excellence. 

For more information about the Japan House, visit