By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center celebrated its 39th anniversary and presented awards for community service at its annual dinner on June 8 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach.
This year’s theme was “Kanpai! A Toast to Culinary Arts” to highlight the upcoming opening of JACCC’s Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center.
The program was emceed by KTLA news anchor Frank Buckley. Speakers included Craig Tomiyoshi, chair of the JACCC Board of Directors, and Daren Rikio Mooko, JACCC interim president and CEO. The 39th anniversary toast was led by Atsuko Kanai, executive vice president of Mutual Trading Co.
Terasaki Family Foundation
The first Chairman’s Award was presented to the Terasaki Family Foundation by Gary Kawaguchi, JACCC interim treasurer, who noted that the generosity of the late Dr. Paul Terasaki, a professor of surgery at UCLA, “has been shared throughout the UCLA community and continues to support the JACCC and Japanese American community through the Terasaki Family Foundation.” The award was accepted by Dr. Keith Terasaki, one of Paul and Hisako Terasaki’s four children.
Terasaki said of his father, “He dedicated his life to doing medical research in the field of organ transplantation and over his career, he was fortunate to see and help develop the field of transplantation. Over the years, over 1 million bone marrow transplants, 500,000 kidney transplants, 150,000 liver transplants and 75,000 heart transplants have been performed in the United States.
“After he retired from UCLA, my father wanted to continue doing transplant research, so he started his own independent research lab, the Terasaki Research Institute, which is in Westwood. Our family foundation continues to support this research institute, which continues to do research in the field of transplantation.
“So transportation has come a long way, but for example, the average kidney transplant lasts eight to 12 years, which is very good, but still has room for improvement. In addition, many people still die waiting for transplant. Some of the research scientists at our research institute are at this table here today, and if you know anybody who’s had a successful transplant, you can drop by and thank some of them for devoting their career to transplant research.”
Terasaki recalled, “When I was growing up, it was interesting having a father who did medical research. He was fully dedicated to it and always thinking of new things to do … In the early ’80s, my father needed blood from large families to try to decipher the rules of transplantation. It just so happened that we had a family of four kids, so when we were growing up, every three weeks my father would come home and draw blood from himself, my mother and the four kids, and that’s how we got our spending money.”
He added, “Despite dedicating his life to medical research, my father never forgot his Japanese roots. He had a challenging childhood with immigrant parents. He attended high school in an internment camp … He wanted to support many of the Japanese American organizations here in Los Angeles. One of the things he wanted to do was preserve the Japanese culture … something that should be preserved and available to us all. That’s why our family foundation is supporting organizations like the JACCC.”
MUFG Union Bank
The second Chairman’s Award was presented to MUFG Union Bank by JACCC board member Thomas Iino, who said, “They’re like family to Little Tokyo and California. MUFG’s support of Little Tokyo and the overall Japanese community goes back in the postwar days of 1952, when it opened for business on the corner of Second and San Pedro, right in the heart of Little Tokyo … Its predecessor, Bank ofTokyo, was quickly able to raise capital with the local Japanese Americans to obtain regulatory approval …
“MUFG Union Bank and its predecessor banks have been a big supporter of our entire community and the JACCC. In the 1970s and ’80s, the bank contributed funds to help build what we now know is JACCC’s campus, which includes the Aratani Theatre, the JACCC Plaza featuring Isamu Noguchi’s ‘To the Issei’ sculpture, the center building, the Japanese American National War Memorial Court, the James Irvine Garden.”
The award was accepted by Kaz Koshi, managing executive officer of MUFG Bank Ltd., who said, “Accepting this award on behalf of my company and my colleagues makes me feel both humble and proud. Humble because it’s such a great honor, but also proud because it tells me we’re doing what we’re supposed to do as a responsible bank.
“At MUFG Union Bank, we talk a lot about how banks and communities are meant to grow together hand-in-hand, and we believe we succeed as a bank only if when we help the community succeed as well. That’s why this award means so much to me and my colleagues, including those in Japan … The people who matter the most — our customers, my colleagues and the community partners — are telling us that we are walking the talk.”
To the JACCC, Koshi said, “Thank you for all you do for all of us. The vibrant Japanese American community would not be the same without your inspiring work. As you know, we’ve now entered the new era of Reiwa in Japan, which translates as ‘beautiful harmony.’ How appropriate that the phrase captures the spirit of the JACCC — harmony among all the diverse elements of this beautiful community.”
Toshizo Watanabe Foundation
The third Chairman’s Award was presented to the Toshizo Watanabe Foundation by George Tanaka, JACCC immediate past chair and Union Bank executive, who said of Watanabe, “It just so happens I met this man over 20 years ago in my professional career, and I never thought then that our paths would cross again in a philanthropic setting where I would have the honor to introduce him and his family foundation from the stage.”
He noted that Watanabe, who earned his MBA from Pepperdine University and became president and CEO of Nikken International, was inspired to “pay it forward” by the late philanthropist Lawrence Wein. “In 2008, he established the Toshizo Watanabe Foundation here in the U.S. After several other gifts of note, in May of 2018 … Mr. Watanabe gave a generous $2 million gift to the JACCC towards our culinary initiative to establish the Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center … We’re currently working on construction of the space and preparing for a grand opening in January of 2020.”
As Watanabe was unable to attend, the award was accepted Eri Watanabe, his youngest child, and her husband, Takashi Kobayashi. In a video message, he said:
“Thank you for acknowledging the financial support of my private foundation in furthering the future of the Exhibition Center and the Culinary Cultural Center at JACCC. I am very enthusiastic to be a part of this venture, as I have always loved all aspects of Japanese culture, business and the arts.
“My family came to this country from Japan in 1989, at the peak of the Japanese bubble economy, thinking we would stay for only one or two years, but ended up staying for three decades. We landed in Santa Monica and Century City and came to Little Tokyo on weekends for shopping and attending various events at the Aratani Theatre. All my children were always excited about coming to Little Tokyo.
“With these fond memories. I am so pleased to be able to contribute to JACCC and this community now.”
Community Spirit Awards
David Yamahata, 2019 anniversary dinner chair, said, “Tonight marks the seventh year that JACCC recognizes the unsung heroes of our community with the Community Spirit Award for those individuals whose unwavering dedication and commitment have an immeasurable impact on the people and organizations around them. We know that tonight is special because several of our previous winners are here …
“What makes this award unique is that the nomination comes from the community. Several nominations came in this year and we have a five-member selection committee made up of Dinner Committee members and past honorees. They reviewed all the nominations and they narrowed it down to the final three.”
This year’s recipients were traci kato-kiriyama, an award-winning artist, community organizer, and cultural producer; Dorothy Matsuoka, who has been active in Orange County Buddhist Church’s programs, including Dharma School and Project Kokoro; and Ronald Ohata, who has been active with such organizations as Japanese American Bar Association, JACL, Japan-America Student Conference, and Buddhist Churches of America, and was instrumental in building Teramachi Housing.
In keeping with tradition, members of the Grateful Crane Ensemble (Jason Fong, Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima, Darrell Kunitomi and Kurt Kuniyoshi) sang a song for each honoree. Each song was a popular tune with the lyrics changed — John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Road” for Matsuoka, The Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday, Monday” for Ohata, and Alicia Keys’ “This Girl Is on Fire” for kato-kiriyama.
Speaking on behalf of the honorees, kato-kiriyama said that both Ohata and Matsuoka thanked their friends, family and affiliated organizations. “Ronald’s sincerest appreciation goes to his wife, Fujie, and daughter, Lauren, for their patience and understanding … Dorothy … hopes to encourage more and more people to participate in the all of these organizations and in the community.”
Speaking for herself, kato-kiriyama said, “I would like to thank my accomplices in creativity and community, especially PullProject Ensemble, Tuesday Night Project, Vigilant Love, Nikkei Progressives, Okaeri, Little Tokyo Service Center, Visual Communications, NCRR (Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress), and all my big sisters, my mentors, my homies. I am incredibly thankful for my mom (Iku Kiriyama), a Nisei badass and former Community Spirit Award recipient …
“For all three of us, we accept this award not as a mere recognition of individual efforts but of the collective effort of the various people and communities with whom we share vision and dreams, time and space, family and cultural pride, history and struggle, friendship and deep gratitude, through this continuum of being, this awesome, wonderful life. It is an honor to do this work.”
Members of Bando Hidesomi’s Japanese classical dance group performed. Music throughout the program was provided by the 39th Anniversary Band (Scott Nagatani, Gordon Bash, David Cheung and Keiko Kawashima).
The program included an “In Memoriam” video dedicated to community leaders who passed since the last dinner; a “Call to Action” by JACCC board member Nikki Kodama; a live auction led by Buckley and JACCC Vice President of Programs Alison De La Cruz; and a drawing for 50,000 American Airlines miles conducted by Buckley and JACCC Vice Chair Nancy Matsui, an AA executive. The winner was Amy Watanabe.
The set design was by Sogetsu Ikebana instructor Kaz Yokou Kitajima and contemporary traditional painter Wakana Kimura.