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Valley Gakuen Celebrates 70th Anniversary

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Valley Gakuen was created by Japanese American farmers returning from the camps.

2019 marks the 70th anniversary of Valley Gakuen, a Japanese language school that is part of the oldest Japanese Unified Kyodo System.

On Oct. 26, they celebrated their 70-year milestone at the Angeles National Country Club in Sunland by honoring pioneers Hiroyo Sakaguchi, Flora Teramura, Kanji Sayano, and Ken and June Kageyama. These accomplished individuals have been an integral part of uniting the community and building the Valley Japanese Cultural Center. Their tireless efforts since World War II continue to build and improve the center and its outreach.

Prior to the relocation (Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt), many Japanese Americans were farmers in the San Fernando Valley. Valley Gakuen was created after they returned from the internment camps. Parents recognized a need for Japanese language education and cultural preservation for their children.

Kanji Sayano is currently cabinet advisor at VJCC. Formerly, he was president of the Fathers’ Association at Valley Gakuen from 1976-1977 as well as the New Building Finance Committee chairman from its inception in 1976 until the completion of the new building in 1980. His daughters, Hiromi and Mayumi, attended Valley Gakuen in the 1970s.

Hiroyo Sakaguchi, a member of Sun Valley Buddhist Temple, is known as “the volunteer that never says no” when asked to help. She helped with finances at VJCC for over 40 years and was treasurer at Valley Gakuen during the construction of the new building.

Valley Gakuen pioneers June and Ken Kageyama with newly elected Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez.

Flora Teramura and the late Kazuo Teramura joined the community center in 1964 when their eldest daughter started Japanese school. Kazuo provided plans and was instrumental in the construction of the buildings, classrooms, and parking lot at Valley Gakuen.

Obon was very important to Kazuo. He wanted the children to have fun and win prizes, especially in the Hoopla booth. He also loved photography and captured many good memories of social events. Flora made costumes for plays, helped prepare udon, and baked cookies for school events.

Ken and June Kageyama were former owners of the Far East Market for 18 years and served in many capacities at Valley Gakuen. Ken was president of VJCC from 2013-2018; PTA president of Valley Gakuen in 1987; a performer in “Pietro’s Magic Show” along with his grandchildren at the VJCC New Year’s Party, in addition to contributing hands-on school-wide maintenance.

June was both Valley Gakuen PTA president and Valley Dharma School president as well as chairperson of social affairs at VJCC. For many years, she prepared delicious lunches for the VJCC’s Maintenance Day and Sunday School special events.

Guest of honors included Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, Jude Hernandes from Assemblymember Luz Rivas’ office, and Nancy Oda of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition.

Kazue Lee, head teacher at Valley Gakuen, is recognized by Jude Hernandes from Assemblymember Luz Rivas’ office.

The evening opened with Christopher Naoki Lee reading a letter from actor/activist George Takei that stressed the importance of language and culture, especially in the current political situation.

The entertainment included Akaoni Daiko and Mike Penny’s shamisen performances. The evening was attended by 120 alumni, current students, and parents.

In 2020, Valley Gakuen is planning to host another reunion. Alumni should send their names and phone numbers — and years attended — to [email protected].

Valley Gakuen PTA, a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded in 2000, is part of the Valley Japanese Community Center (VJCC) in North Hollywood. The school is open every Saturday, with students learning Japanese language and culture through classroom instruction and year-round events. From summer Obon festivals to a beanbag-throwing festival and New Year’s mochi-making, Valley Gakuen has been committed to providing an inclusive and educational experience to the community since 1949.

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