By SHOKO ARAKI
Forty years is a long time to do anything these days. But that’s exactly what Orange Coast Gakuen Japanese Language School has managed to do — and do well.
Orange Coast Gakuen (OCG) celebrated its 40th anniversary as a school and fifth anniversary since becoming an independent school with over 100 guests at Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine on Sept. 20.
After a brief welcome message from the emcee, Assistant Senior Instructor Miyoko Foutch, Board Chairman Robert Uriu spoke about the history of OCG and praised and expressed gratitude to the founders. He also encouraged the current parents and students to continue to support the school and praised them for volunteerism.
The celebration began with the traditional kagami-biraki (sake barrel ceremony) as honored guests Professor Hiroko Kataoka (CSULB professor and OCG advisor), Chairman Uriu, board member Bill Tajima, Senior Instructor Hiromi Kishimizu, and Parents Association (PA) President Linda Sugiura used wooden mallets to break open the sake barrel lid. This symbolic ritual represents an opening to harmony and good fortune. It was followed by a congratulatory toast by Uriu as guests joined together in a cup of sake.
Honored guests also in attendance were: Max Zirkelbach; Kimiko Matsumoto (Southeast Gakuen principal); Mark Tanabe (Long Beach JLS); Professors Masako Douglas and Hiromi Chinen (OCG advisors); and former board members, instructors, and PA officers.
Guests enjoyed a delicious buffet that included roast beef, miso salmon, assorted grilled vegetables, mashed potatoes, a variety of salads, and bread. The children were treated to their own kid-friendly buffet of beef sliders, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and French fries. For dessert, guests were served a scrumptious three-layered Paradise Cake from King’s Bakery in Torrance.
During the reception and lunch service, an ongoing slide show feed gave guests a pictorial history of the school – past and present. It included a special tribute to the late Russell Yamaga, one of the founders of OCG, who passed away last July.
Advisor Kataoka and Senior Instructor Kishimizu made congratulatory speeches, which were followed by words of appreciation by OCG graduate Angela Strong and OCG Student Council President Rie Jessica Sugiura. Entertainment included OCG students singing “Hana wa Saku” and a professional magic show by Japanese magician Allen Oshiro (Illusions by Allen).
PA President Sugiura addressed the guests with an encouraging speech, followed my closing remarks by Foutch Sensei and a commemorative 40th anniversary photograph by OCG photographer John Chu.
OCG is one of the oldest and largest Japanese language schools in Orange County, started by a group of parents that wanted to pass on their heritage language and culture to their young children. Seeking the assistance of Yamaga, a successful businessman and entrepreneur, OCG was established as a Japanese language school.
Due to lack of funds, OCG has moved to various leased facilities ten times during its 40-year history. Currently, the school is located at Brethren Christian Junior and Senior High School in Huntington Beach.
OCG was and is still an all parent-run nonprofit organization with leadership consisting of volunteer Board of Trustees members and Parents Association officers.
OCG offers classes in Japanese language and cultural arts (calligraphy and flower arrangement) to students of all ages, including adults, and a preschool club (Mikan Club) for young learners. Depending on the school district, high school students can also receive foreign-language high school credit.
Prompted by a desire for improved teaching methods and curriculum, OCG became an independent school on July 17, 2010. Professor Kataoka and her CSULB colleagues, all nationally recognized experts in the field of Japanese-language education and pedagogy, designed OCG’s new curriculum, specially tailored to OCG students’ needs. OCG teachers and advisors have presented workshops and presentations sharing the OCG method at various teacher conferences as well as a conference at UCLA.