By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
The Little Tokyo Residents Friendship Party was held last Saturday at the Little Tokyo Towers apartment. Nearly 150 senior residents of the apartment and other neighborhood elderly nearby gathered in the dining room located on the first floor of the 16-story, 300 unit-senior complex. The participants enjoyed both Korean and Japanese songs, dances and various performances. This event was held the second time the seniors gathered together to enhance friendships among the residents who have different cultural backgrounds.
In the past five years, the number of Korean immigrants increased and there were some tension, according to the community organizer, Yasue Clark of the Little Tokyo Service Center.
Two years ago, her predecessor started the Japan Korea/Korea Japan Better Relation Committee with the residents, with the support of LTSC and the Little Tokyo Towers Resident Council.
According to the chair of the Committee, Jayson Yamaguchi, the demographic of the residents has changed. When the apartment was first built in 1975, there were predominantly Japanese residents. Today, the approximate proportion of the Towers’ units is 160 Japanese or Japanese Americans, 100 Koreans and 40 other ethnicities such as residents from China, Taiwan, the Philippines and others. “It became a much more diverse, multicultural environment than ever,” Yamaguchi said.
At the party, Councilmember Jan Perr stopped by the join in the festivities. Later in the day, Perry also attended the Korean Parade held in Koreatown in the same afternoon. Consul of Japan, Toshio Odagiri also spoke at the event and made a speech in English.
The event continued on and the residents’ chorus group, “Hibari Gasshodan” (Skylark Choir) sang “Gwasuwon gil” (Kajuen no michi or Fruit Orchard Road) and “Maggie ui chueok” (Maggie no Tsuioku or Memories of Maggie) in Korean.
In addition, a total of seven groups and individuals volunteered to perform on the stage including Tadao Sakamoto, Yang Tien Fa, Coko Hosoda, Korean Mothers Volunteers, Yang Masako and Amy, and Natsuko Fukuda.
Among them, Hosoda, who performed a magic show, told the Rafu Shimpo that she grew up in Miyazaki, Japan as zainichi, or Korean-Japanese. “Both of my parents were from Korea but they never spoke to me in the Korean language and I did not know much about Korean culture when I grew up in Japan. However, today, I was able to see and feel the culture of my roots. I am very honored to be here.”
After the party, the president of the Resident Council, John T. Mochizuki thanked the organizers and said, “Everybody enjoyed the show and entertainment.”
Seung Tak Kim, 79, who is the vice president of a Korean resident group, Joeun I-ut, meaning “Good Neighbors” said, “I think that one of the reasons for the miscommunication among residents is language. I feel so embarrassed to speak my Japanese because it is like baby talk for a Japanese native speaker. The second element is the cultural differences. For example, when leaving the table; Japanese will put the chair back under the table. However, Koreans leave without putting the chair back. This may be observed as rude to Japanese residents. It is hard to change one’s habit once you reach certain age, but we need to keep learning from each other.”
Simon Yoon, a resident of the Towers and an establishment member of the Better Relations Committee and also the “Good Neighbors” who is bilingual in both Korean and Japanese said that the problems likely occur when new residents come who do not know about the apartment’s rules. As part of the effort, a year ago, he started the Korean/Japanese language classes, along with Clark, who also teaches English to the residents on regular basis. “Learning language and understand each other’s culture is important.”
Yoon is just about to start his second-year class some time in November. He was born in Taedong-gun, near Pyong-yan, under the Japanese colonial government. “My Japanese is hetakuso (not fluent),” he humbly said.
“In 2007, we had a film screenings of Japanese movies with Korean subtitles and it was very successful. We have been having our friendship events with the help of LTSC and the Residents Council in the past years. We will be discussing issues and Nakayoku shimashou (Let’s get along). Onaji yaneno shita ni sundeirunodakara (we live together under the same roof),” Yoon said.
Yamaguchi stated that many local businesses kindly donated and contributed to the drinks and snacks for the party.
“I am really thankful to all of the members of the organizations, communities and volunteers who have made this event happen,” he said.