By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
LONG BEACH — The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center celebrated its 36th anniversary with an awards dinner — themed “Discover, Connect, Cultivate, Resonate” — on June 11 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach with a larger-than-usual crowd of 575 in attendance.
The emcee, traci kato-kiriyama of Little Tokyo’s Tuesday Night Project, noted that the backdrop created by JACCC Master Artist-in-Residence Hirokazu Kosaka — the character for “dou” (道) or “the way” — represented art forms such as kado (flower arranging), sado (tea ceremony) and shodo (calligraphy), showing “the many ways that JACCC continues its mission to promote Japanese and Japanese American culture to a diverse audience.”
The recipients of the Pacific Pioneer Award, Chairman’s Award and Ambassador Award demonstrate that “when a partnership works so well and so deeply, partners seem to become a part of your family,” kato-kiriyama said, while the Community Spirit Award honorees were chosen for “well-deserved and long-overdue recognition for their tireless efforts and significant impact on our community in the arts, activism, social services and business.”
George Tanaka, chair of the JACCC Board of Directors, gave welcoming remarks and Leslie Ito, JACCC president and CEO, presented the Pacific Pioneer Award to Daniel Ho, a six-time Grammy winner for Hawaiian music, and his wife and creative partner, Lydia Miyashiro-Ho.
Ho’s association with JACCC began in 1992 when the late Duane Ebata, then managing director of the Aratani Theatre, presented a show by Ho and his band, Kilauea. The honorees married on an auspicious day, 8-8-08, at the JACCC’s James Irvine Japanese Garden and held the reception on the Aratani stage, so “JACCC holds a very special place in their hearts,” Ito said.
Over the years, “Daniel and Lydia and their team … created a vibrant community-building space around the popular four-stringed instrument,” Ito added. “We hosted two Guinness World Record attempts for largest ukulele ensemble, two holiday hula shows, and trained hundreds of ukulele students.”
Miyashiro-Ho said that she and her husband have been “communicating emotions through sound” by, for example, sharing “the joy of music with Japanese students who were affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.”
“How moved we are that the JACCC is alive and well and continues to be a cornerstone for our community,” she said, expressing hope that the music will continue to “bring people together” and leave “lasting impressions for a very long time.”
Ho, who came prepared with his ukulele, joked that he is “not comfortable being the center of attention” and proceeded to play “Danny Boy” and Elton John’s “Daniel.”
Jason Arimoto, co-owner of JACCC’s U-Space and co-founder with Ho, Miyashiro-Ho and Patrice Oyama of Ukulele Creations and the L.A. Ukulele Expo, performed an original piece dedicated to the honorees. The song, which was about picture brides, was inspired by plantation life in Hawaii as well as blues music.
Tanaka presented the Chairman’s Award, which is for individuals and corporations that serve as exemplary role models through philanthropic, social and cultural activities benefiting the community at large, to American Honda Motor Co. Inc., represented by Steven Morikawa.
Since opening its first U.S. plant in 1979, Honda has demonstrated “a corporate philosophy built on the basic principles of respect for individuals and sharing joy with its customers, it employees and the greater society,” Tanaka said. “Honda is one of JACCC’s longest-standing corporate sponsors, dating back to the founding of the organization and our first capital campaign that was conducted both in Japan and the U.S.”
Tanaka also thanked Morikawa for being “an incredible community champion not just for JACCC but also the greater Nikkei community and far beyond that.”
Morikawa remarked that it felt “a little strange” to receive the award because “we all in this room should be honoring the JACCC for all they do for the community.”
On behalf of Honda, Morikawa thanked JACCC for “not just showing leadership in extending the Japanese and Japanese American culture but (also) across cultures, other cultures that make up the L.A. area and our entire state … They understand us better, we understand them better.”
A performance by kids from Kumu Hula (master teacher) Keali’i Ceballos’ Halau Keali’i O Nalani followed.
Ito paid tribute to three community leaders who have passed away over the past year — Ruri Sugimoto, Dr. Paul Terasaki and Dr. Takeo Uesugi — and listed some of JACCC’s recent accomplishments, including Fiesta Matsuri, a joint Little Tokyo-Boyle Heights venture; the all-youth musical “Peace on Your Wings,” based on the story of Sadako Sasaki; and displaying Edo-period artwork from the Price Collection with ikebana arrangements by the Ikenobo, Sogetsu and Ohara schools.
Ito spoke of “JACCC’s momentum as we enter into the next chapter of our history, new ways to invite our longtime finds, and new partners to join us in cultivating JACCC as a vibrant place for current and future generations.”
David Yamahata, 2016 dinner chair, led a toast to “36 years of sharing the arts and culture and bringing communities together.”
In presenting the Ambassador Award to Bose Professional, Ito explained, “Bose was looking for a theater to showcase their new sound system. Downtown was appealing to them … In the fall of 2014, a partnership was developed between Bose and JACCC, making it possible for the Aratani Theatre to be the first performing arts center in Southern California to house the newly custom-designed Bose Professional sound system, bringing the theater’s acoustic performance to new levels of excellence …
“The Aratani Theatre now provides the finest listening experience for its audiences and is the premier venue for artists who value quality sound in an intimate environment.”
Bose was represented by Doug Green, business development manager, and Phil Celia, western U.S. regional manager.
“On behalf of myself and the more than 5,000 people that make up Bose Corporation, I’d like to express our deep appreciation for this recognition,” Green said. “…Our journey with the JACCC … began innocently enough via email introduction of Bose Professional by Daniel Ho to Leslie Ito and Victor Wong (JACCC director of performing arts and operations). The Aratani needed a voice, a vehicle by which the Downtown L.A. community could express itself, from taiko drums … to Led Zeppelin cover bands …
“This voice could be the messenger that would thrill an audience over and over. Bose Professional is proud to be that voice. And Leslie, thank you for entrusting us with the honor of making that voice heard.”
Oboist Kyle Kurihara, a former JACCC intern and a graduate student at the New England Conservatory of Music, performed “Arethusa from Six Metamorphoses After Ovid” by Benjamin Britten.
The fifth annual Community Spirit Awards went to unsung heroes “whose unwavering dedication and commitment have had an immeasurable impact on the people and organizations around them,” said kato-kiriyama.
Several nominations came from the community and a selection committee that included past honorees narrowed the list to three:
• Yasuko Sakamoto, who created many social service programs during her 35 years with the Little Tokyo Service Center and has worked closely with Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles;
• Gordon Tani, a graphic designer who has worked with such organizations as Venice Japanese Community Center and Orange County Buddhist Church;
• Carol Tanita, who has worked at Rafu Bussan for 43 years and organized fundraisers for numerous causes, including Budokan of Los Angeles.
Singers Keiko Kawashima, Haruye Ioka, Kurt Kuniyoshi and Darrell Kunitomi of the Grateful Crane Ensemble performed popular songs with altered lyrics for each honoree: “You’ve Got a Friend” for Sakamoto, “Suavecito” for Tanita, and “My Girl” for Tani.
Speaking for the honorees, Tanita thanked the volunteers who work in the temples, churches, social service organizations, schools, cultural, historical and youth leadership groups, and community centers.
“Your energy and enthusiasm and commitment are contagious,” she said. “It is because of all of you that we are here tonight. We have made many good friends along the way because of volunteering. Our lives have been enriched by what we have learned from volunteering. We share ideas, resources and networks to reach our determined goals. So much can get done over a bowl of gohan and ocha.”
Tanita added that it’s important to preserve and promote Japanese art because it “sets us apart from any other culture, and concepts like on, which means gratitude, giri, self-sacrifice and devotion, and gaman, enduring the unbearable, are particular to us as people whether we understand them or not. No other culture has words like shibui or wabi sabi, yet we know when we look at a rough-hewn piece of pottery or a simple brush stroke on a piece of rice paper, these words apply.”
She also put in a good word for The Rafu Shimpo, which “has helped us record and publish so many of our nonprofit events and special interests. I am asking all of you, appealing to your Japanese sense of duty and gratitude, to help this 113-year-old institution and please subscribe online.”
Alison De La Cruz, JACCC’s new director of performing arts and engagement, announced upcoming events and said, “We are writing a new chapter in the story of JACCC, one of momentum. Each program, each partner, each exhibit helps us to connect, cultivate and resonate.”
Music was provided throughout the evening by the JACCC 36th Anniversary Band: Kawashima (vocals), Scott Nagatani (band leader and keyboards), Danny Yamamoto (drums and percussion), and Gordon Bash (bass).
The opportunity drawing was conducted by Tanaka and Nancy Matsui of American Airlines. The top prize, 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles, was won by First Princess Veronica Ota, one of the Nisei Week Court members volunteering at the event.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo