VOX POPULI: Yamaguchi Kenjinkai: One Year Later

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People of all ages participated in the Nanka (Southern California) Yamaguchi Kenjinkai’s picnic.

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By ARLENE NAKAMURA

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One year ago, I wrote an article in this section entitled “Yamaguchi Kenjinkai: A Hopeful Sign of Revival.”  In it, I mentioned that over the last several years, our kenjinkai has made the difficult transition from a Japanese-only speaking organization to an English-speaking organization with the help and careful guidance of our advisors. We hoped that with this transition, we could generate interest in our rich Yamaguchi Ken legacy and pass that legacy on to the upcoming generations.

Our goal of making the gradual transition without alienating the Japanese-speaking members as we attempted to engage the English-speaking generations has been accomplished. Our new goal is two-fold: We hope to increase our membership and, in doing so, create a bond among all generations young and old.

Today as I reflect on our progress over this past year, I look to our biggest event, our annual picnic, to assess our direction. I asked myself five questions pertaining to the picnic:

Question 1: Were new attendees present?

Answer: Yes. Much to our delight, new attendees were very evident at our picnic. This year we welcomed 25 first-timers, and they have expressed interest in joining in other activities as well as in the next 2012 picnic.

Question 2: Was the presence of young people evident?

Answer: Yes. Young people from toddlers to college students were in full force at the picnic. This was witnessed during the mochi maki, the ondo dancing and especially during the races and games. It was also very apparent in our group photograph, which we take each year.

Question 3: Was the older generation present?

Answer: Yes. The older generations were also taking part in the above- mentioned mochi maki, ondo dancing, races and games as well. But, unlike the younger generations that raced and competed for the usual toys and prizes, the older generation’s  most sought-after prize was one of the six daikon that were used for “Atsui Daikon” (similar to Hot Potato). Whoever could avoid being caught with the daikon when the taiko stopped playing captured the coveted daikon.

Question 4:.Were all generations participating, and enjoying the varied activities that were offered?

Answer: Yes. Whether it was biting into a chili dog, eating a traditional bento, getting faces and limbs painted, singing karaoke, watching the karate demonstration, ondo dancing, taiko drumming, enjoying a kintoki snow cone, catching a handful of mochi, running in races, competing in games, winning raffle prizes or chit-chatting with family and friends…the picnic grounds were bustling with enthusiasm and laughter as young and old enjoyed the activities of the day.

Question 5: Were multigenerations mingling together?

Answer: Yes. During mochi maki, for example, everyone helped to ensure that tiny tots as well as octogenarians were getting the pink and white mochi. Sanseis and Yonseis were serving young and old snow cones. Games were organized not only by age but by teams, so every team had members of varied ages.

Judging by the picnic, it does seem as though our two-fold goal of increasing members and creating a bond among generations is heading down the correct path. I must admit, however, that this did not happen overnight or by sheer luck.  We are just now beginning to see the fruits of our labor, which began over six years ago.

Two events occurred to get us kick-started. First, we created our 100th Anniversary Book in English so that our future generations could read it.  Second, the then Pasadena Cherry Blossom Festival relocated to Little Tokyo. When this happened, I became a volunteer and became aware of a wonderful opportunity for our kenjinkai. It was the Cultural Booth that encouraged organizations such as ours to display and disseminate information.

Our organization’s Nisei elders came out to support this effort by gathering as much information as possible about our prefecture, including brochures, maps, large photos, posters, flags, and banners. Spearheading that group was Advisor Henry Yasuda, who would always bring his collection of materials to add interest and flair to our booth.

Our Sansei and Yonsei members added to the booth by bringing in the current activities of our kenjinkai, and our resident photographer/artist Richard Fukuhara would present photos on a CD to be shown on his laptop computer.  Many members from the kenjinkai and fujinkai helped on a rotating basis by signing up for times to work the booth.

From our outreach efforts, interested individuals left email addresses; 100th Anniversary books were handed out with contact information and, little by little, the word began to spread. Those who stopped by the booth would say, “I remember going to the picnic as a child,” or “My mother was from Yamaguchi Kenjinkai.” We loved to hear that.

Last year, one of those new contacts was Noreen Miura, who took our 100th Year Book home and read it from cover to cover. She noticed the date of last year’s picnic and called to ask if the picnic would be held at about the same time this year. With the date of the picnic confirmed, she contacted her cousin’s daughter, Jennifer.

Talk about a snowball effect!! Together they emailed other family members and organized the forces to bring 20 descendants of Yamaguchi to our picnic!! Theirs was truly a multi-generational group. After day’s end, Noreen came to thank me and shared this with me: “My cousin said, ‘Look how much fun the kids are having!!’ and I said to her, ‘What do you mean the kids?!?  We’re ALL having fun!’ ”

Her words made me realize that we are really making significant strides toward reaching our goals.  Stories such as hers drive me forward, and I am a happy camper…or should I say a happy picknicker?

(For more information about Nanka Yamaguchi Kenjinkai, contact Arlene at [email protected])

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Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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