By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
The Sawtelle Nikkei community honored four 100-year-old seniors at Stoner Park, where the cherry trees were near full bloom.
The Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival was co-sponsored by the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle (JIS). The annual undokai, the sports day for the JIS, was held at the same time.
In addition, Mary Misono, the office manager for 11th District Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, received special recognition for her work bridging the city government and the community. She previously served as office manager for Councilmembers Marvin Braude and Cindy Miscikowski.
On March 2, more than 300 community members, including the West L.A. Boy Scout Troop 39, gathered to view the blooming trees, which were planted in 1994 by the Bay Cities Gardeners Association, a Japanese American group in the Santa Monica and West Los Angeles area.
Historically, the park was the location where Japanese gardeners created a Japanese garden in 1932, and in the 1950s, the late Koichi Kawana, former professor at UCLA, took the lead in re-landscaping the garden with volunteers from local nurseries and gardeners who have maintained the garden ever since.
At the Sakura Festival, Consul General of Japan Jun Niimi said, “Not only this warm climate but also the warmth of the local community must have helped enjoy their longevity.”
Local centenarians Torako Akutagawa, Stanley Ikeda, Mitsuo Kodama and Mike Shintaku were honored along with 90-year-old Jean Saito and 80-year-old Kimi Ouchi.
Rosendahl stated, “Mary Misono is the real superstar for me today. She is extremely humble and has been serving the city over 50 years. I treasured my eight years with her. Mary was the one who put together the roundtable for all of us to begin with the conversation and follow through with it.”
At the end of the ceremony, over 150 children of the Japanese language school at JIS performed “Soran Bushi,” a fisherman’s dance, and the awardees watched their performance with a smile.
Photos by RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo