WEST COVINA — Earthquake relief efforts for Ohtawara, West Covina’s sister city in Japan, will be the focus of this year’s City of West Covina Cherry Blossom Festival this Saturday at the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.
Ohtawara is located in Tochigi Prefecture, approximately 125 miles north of Tokyo. It is approximately 93 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter. West Covina and Ohtawara became sister cities in 2004. The East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center (ESGVJCC) manages the Cherry Blossom Festival as well as all of the sister-city programs for West Covina.
Brandon Leong, ESGVJCC program director, explained that ESGVJCC hosts a yearly student exchange program with the city. Currently, Yuki Fukusumi, a member of the ESVJCC, is also working as a teacher in Ohtawara.
“We got in touch on Facebook and he’s been posting video of what’s going on. He was in school when it happened and they had to evacuate,” said Leong.
Although spared from the worst devastation, homes were destroyed in Ohtawara and the agricultural town has set up 10 relief centers, Leong said. Ryo Sato, a renowned chef and ESGVJCC member, is from the area and will be donating all proceeds from his food booth to the town.
“He and his wife always dreamed of having a relationship with the city there and here, and he asked us to get involved with the student exchange program,” said Leong.
Cherry Blossom Festival vendors are being asked to donate portions of their proceeds to disaster relief efforts, and donations from festival participants will be encouraged.
The ESGVJCC is located at 1203 W. Puente Ave., West Covina. Festival hours will be noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.
For information about the center, visit www.esgvjcc.org.
For details about the festival or the sister-city programs, contact Leong at (626) 960-2566.