By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
BUENA PARK — Nanka Kumamoto Kenjinkai held its 111th annual picnic on July 17 at George Ballis Park in Buena Park with about 150 people attending.
Kenjinkai President Yoshikuni Okita and Hiroko Hirayama emceed the informal program, which included karaoke, “rajio taiso” (group exercise), Japanese folk dances and hula. A group of members sang “Hinokuni Ryojou,” a song about Mt. Aso, an active volcano, and other famous sites in Kumamoto.
A moment of silence was observed for victims of the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. Vice Consul Satoshi Nakayama, who is from Kumamoto, thanked the Kumamoto Kenjinkai for supporting ongoing relief efforts. The disaster has resulted in stronger people-to-people connections both in Japan and between Japan and California, he said.
Fujinkai (Women’s Association) President Janice Hirano, who was born in Japan and raised in the U.S., greeted the gathering in English, saying, “It’s perfect weather for a picnic.”
Okita welcomed several guests representing other kenjinkai as well as other community organizations.
George Mori spoke on behalf of the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, which is made up of 41 prefectural associations in Southern California. As one of the organization’s 10 vice presidents, he also attended the Nanka Fukushima Kenjinkai’s 103rd anniversary picnic, which was being held at the same time in the same park.
Mori, who was born in Japan and has lived in the U.S. for over 50 years, said on a personal note, “My preferred language is English, but my wife from Kumamoto kind of retrained me to speak Japanese … Every time we go back to Japan, it’s very easy for us because I’m from Miyazaki, she’s from Kumamoto … so we can go on the same airplane, same train. They’re very close to each other.”
He also thanked the association for supporting quake relief and said that he has been showing his support by running marathons wearing a shirt reading “Nippon gambare” (Do your best, Japan).
A scholarship was presented to Erika Otsuka, granddaughter of Kumamoto Kenjinkai member Chizuko Moriguchi. Otsuka graduated from South High School in Torrance and is majoring in human resources management at CSU Long Beach (Class of 2015). A student of Japanese classical dance for many years, she has performed at Nisei Week and other cultural events.
Otsuka gave thanks in Japanese and said that she would study hard. Okita encouraged her to consider enrolling in an expenses-paid, year-long study program sponsored by Kumamoto City.
The event also featured games for kids and a raffle. The menu included hot dogs, yakisoba, chicken and shaved ice.