By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
RAFU STAFF INTERN
The sound of taiko drumming could be heard across Dodger Stadium as fans filled the seats on Friday night for the first of a three game interleague series against the Seattle Mariners.
But it was not just the game that attracted some fans. Friday night also marked the Dodgers’ annual JA Community Night, a tradition with deep roots, said John Tamaki, coordinator of the event for the past three years.
The event was originally established to maintain a good relationship between the JA community and the Dodgers, Tamaki said.
“Sports is really big amongst the Japanese community and it’s important to keep this relationship,” he said. “Plus, baseball is big in Japan and the US.”
The Dodgers have had a long history of cooperation with Japan.
In 1962, the team invited famed Japanese sportswriter, Sotaro Suzuki, to visit the newly constructed Dodger Stadium and what began as a simple invitation became a long partnership.
After Suzuki returned to Japan, he commissioned a stone lantern to be sent to Dodger Stadium to commemorate the opening, according to the Major League Baseball Web site. This monument can still be viewed by visitors and is located in a Japanese garden on a hill close to Parking Lot 6.
Throughout the years, the Dodgers have traveled to Japan, both to play and teach baseball. The team has also invited Japanese teams to come to Dodger Stadium, as well as their spring training facilities, according to the Web site.
In December, the Dodgers-Japan relationship was further publicized with the Emperor of Japan’s bestowal of the Order of the Rising Sun upon former Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda, according to the Web site.
The Order of the Rising Sun was presented to Lasorda by Japanese Consul General Junichi Ihara and is the second-highest honor that a foreigner can receive.
In honor of the community night, Daion Taiko, a taiko group from Orange County, performed before the game.
These performers also got more than they bargained for, as they were able to shake hands and pose for photos with Pau Gasol, celebrated Lakers forward who also threw out one of the first pitches of the game.
The stadium erupted in cheers at the first sighting of the NBA champion, who practiced his pitching by playing catch with Ihara. Ihara was also part of the first-pitch ceremonies, along with LAPD Deputy Chief, Terry Hara.
Also part of the pre-game festivities was the 2008 Nisei Week Court, who waved and smiled at the crowd.
“(The court) represents our Japanese community throughout the year,” Tamaki said. “They also help to promote the Nisei Week Foundation and festival, as well as Little Tokyo.”
The national anthem was sung by Torrance native Gina Hiraizumi, who is an aspiring singer/actress. Hiraizumi’s sister, Jill, is the 2008 Nisei Week Queen.
However, this game was notable for more than just the community activities.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw was steady and consistent, as he pitched three consecutive scoreless innings, a streak that was broken in the fourth inning with a run scored by Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who scored both of the Mariners’ two runs.
Even Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu admitted that Kershaw caused problems for his team that night.
“Kershaw was tough,” Wakamatsu said after the game.
But that was not all for the Mariners, as Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier scored three home runs throughout the course of the game, propelling the Dodgers to an 8-2 victory.