Nisei Week to Honor Four Community Service Organizations

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The Nisei Week Foundation is pleased to recognize the Little Tokyo Community Council, Mikawaya, Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park, and Yonsei Basketball Association with its Community Service Awards for their outstanding support of and work in the Southern California Japanese American community.

Also recognized at the Awards Dinner will be this year’s grand marshal, Jan Perry, retired Los Angeles city councilwoman.

The annual Awards Dinner will be held on Monday, Aug. 12, starting at 6 p.m., at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles. Individual tickets are $70 and tables of 10 are $700. For tickets or information, call the Nisei Week Foundation at (213) 687-7193.

“Every year the Nisei Week Foundation has the opportunity to honor organizations within the greater Southern California community who contribute so much to ensure the Japanese American concerns are voiced, our culture perpetuated, and our youth enriched in invaluable ways,” said Steve Inouye, 2013 Nisei Week Foundation president. “We are so grateful to the Little Tokyo Community Council, Mikawaya, Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park, and Yonsei Basketball Association for their many years of dedication and commitment to the Japanese American community.”

Following are profiles of the honorees:

Little Tokyo Community Council members cast votes.

• The Little Tokyo Community Council, founded in 1999, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to ensure Little Tokyo remains a viable center for the Japanese American and Los Angeles Downtown community. The council works to create a vision of what Little Tokyo should be in the future and serves as an advocate on behalf of the community.

Currently in its 14th year, the made up of nonprofits, businesses, and residents with diverse backgrounds and histories, all concerned with Little Tokyo’s future. The LTCC accomplishes its mission by focusing on four primary areas: planning and cultural preservation, parking, transit, and marketing.

Additionally, through building relationships with Los Angeles elected officials such as retired Councilwoman Jan Perry and current Councilman Jose Huizar, and government entities including the Los Angeles Police Department and Metro Transit Authority, LTCC has become the primary entity representing the Little Tokyo community.

In 2003, the City of Los Angeles proposed building the new Parker Center at First and Alameda streets. This proposed facility, located next to the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, would include the LAPD headquarters, a detention center/jail, fire station, and emergency center with bomb squad and anti-terror units. Together with the temple, a wide range of community advocacy and support from Perry, the LTCC successfully moved the location of the LAPD headquarters to a different location in Downtown Los Angeles.

When discussion about future development at the Mangrove Site (the vacant area at First and Alameda where Parker Center would have been) started in 2005, the Mangrove Site Steering Committee was formed to brainstorm potential development on the open lot. This discussion continues today with LTCC playing a major role.

Little Tokyo community design guidelines were developed in 2007 to ensure that future development undergoes a formal planning procedure with LTCC input, and that the design maintains some degree of continuity with the overall aesthetic of Little Tokyo.

The LTCC has also been involved since 2008 as the primary advocate and representative of Little Tokyo on the MTA’s construction of the Metro Regional Connector. MTA’s original proposal would have wiped out Little Tokyo with eight years of construction, deterring visitors and patrons; also, a rail-line would have been built on Second Street, essentially cutting Little Tokyo in half. LTCC continues to work closely with the MTA to ensure a viable future for Little Tokyo, negotiating with MTA to build the rail-line underground to mitigate construction impact and to provide sufficient marketing support and business compensation for Little Tokyo to thrive during construction of the connector.

For more information, visit http://littletokyola.org/ and click “Community Council.”

• Mikawaya started as a mom-and-pop operation with origins from the first-generation Japanese coming to America. Established sometime in the early 1900s, it was then housed in its initial location on East First Street and named after Mikawa, a town in Aichi Prefecture, from where its original owners came. The word “ya,” which means “store” or “shop,” was added, hence the name Mikawaya.

The first of the clan, Ryuzaburo Hashimoto, Frances Hashimoto-Friedman’s great uncle, bought the operation in 1910 and sold it to Koroku and Haru Hashimoto, Frances’ father and mother. The bakery/confectionery store has been in the family since that time. In 1925, Koroku and Haru relocated the store to another address on First Street, and over the years it has moved to various other locations within Little Tokyo. Hashimoto-Friedman took over in 1970. Mikawaya has been open continuously except for a brief interlude during the war years, when it experienced a short interruption in service because the entire family was relocated to an internment camp in Poston, Ariz.

Mikawaya’s pastries are known and loved nationwide.

Post-war they returned next door to the site where they had been. Years later, in 1974, Hashimoto-Friedman opened new quarters on Fourth Street when she thought redevelopment would take place in Little Tokyo. She built a factory there and expanded its retail operations, which now include three retail outlets.

Mikawaya, through the efforts of Hashimoto-Friedman and her husband Joel, has succeeded in securing an unassailable reputation in the local community and nationwide as well. Their superb family of traditional Japanese pastries is built on the premise of premium quality. Their combined innovativeness resulted in a genuinely unique line of products; one high point was the creation of “Mochi Ice Cream.”

A combination of a well-loved Japanese delicacy and a classic American favorite, Mochi Ice Cream, much like Frances and Joel’s marriage, was a true example of “East meets West” in the best of all possible ways.

The evolution of Mochi Ice Cream was painfully slow. This quest to develop a novel food product that would cross ethnic boundaries eventually took more than a decade of experimentation and research and tens of thousands of pounds of ingredients. It was important to both of them to create something that people of various ethnic origins, regardless of their diverse backgrounds and culture, would find pleasing to their palates, and also something people would want to eat over and over again.

In 1995, to support the Mochi Ice Cream operation, Mikawaya added an additional 15,000 square feet of manufacturing, warehouse, and freezers to its main site, bringing the company’s facilities to 60,000 square feet. In 2004, Mikawaya began a new facility that now totals 192,000 square feet to house the entire Mikawaya operation.

After 103 years, Mikawaya still eagerly looks to the future.

On the Web: https://mikawayausa.com/

• The Suburban Optimist Club of Buena Park, chartered in February 1966, is a community service organization dedicated to serving the youth of Southern California. Its mission is to provide the structure and leadership in support of the community through civic and youth-oriented programs for families and to provide an environment where tomorrow’s leaders can build character, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

Throughout the year, SOC is busy supporting programs directed at boys and girls in Southern California. In support of its motto, “Each child is a winner in our eyes,” SOC sponsors many community events. It believes that all kids, regardless of their situation, should enjoy a memorable holiday season, and for more than 15 years it has partnered with the Garden Grove Boys and Girls Club to host a Christmas party for less privileged families. This has become one of its most enjoyable events. Games are played, a hearty holiday dinner is served, and to top off the evening, gifts for the kids are handed out by Santa. For some, this is the only holiday celebration they will have.

SOC Tri-Star Competition

This past year, SOC received an award from the Orange County Board of Education for its Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) Senior Recognition Night. Past president Roy Oshiro originated the event more than 27 years ago. The DHH program’s graduating seniors are invited to a dinner hosted by SOC to showcase their achievements, and scholarships are also awarded.

SOC sponsors the achievement awards program at Laurel High School in Los Alamitos. Throughout the school year, SOC presents monetary rewards as encouragement for academic progress for “at-risk” students.

In an annual event held since 1966, SOC honors graduating high school seniors of Japanese ancestry in the community. The seniors are invited to dinner with an opportunity to listen to a relevant guest speaker. Each graduate is acknowledged for their achievement and community involvement and receives the Suburban Optimist’s Youth Recognition Achievement Award. Thousands of dollars of scholarships have been awarded over the years.

The original founders of SOC created one of the club’s greatest achievements, South East Youth Organization, to provide an athletic, cultural, and social environment for children of Japanese ancestry. SEYO began the first year with five boys’ baseball teams from ages 8 to 12.

SOC Sports Group is an integral part of the overall SOC organization. The Sports Group promotes and supports sports programs that encourage and facilitate the development of good character, citizenship, and sportsmanship.

It is proud of its “baby” club, Orange Coast Optimist Club (OCO), which has become one of the largest and most successful community service clubs.

Fundraising activities through Suburban Optimist Club Foundation include a pancake breakfast community fundraiser, charity golf tournament, and youth fund raffle.

Additional information can be found at www.SuburbanOptimistClub.org.

Established in 1993, the Yonsei Basketball Association teaches cultural heritage and sportsmanship.

• The Yonsei Basketball Association is a non-profit corporation founded in 1993 by a group of Southern California Japanese Americans interested in establishing a cultural exchange program for middle school-aged youth of Japanese heritage. The Board of Directors consists of individuals from the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas who are actively involved in the Asian American community and youth sports programs.

Yonsei Basketball is the vision of Frank Kiyomura, head of a local architectural group, who had a long history of active participation in Asian youth sports programs and Japanese cultural events and associations.

The vision of the association is to provide Japanese American youth with a glimpse of their rich heritage through immersion in the Japanese culture by staying with a Japanese family and participating in their daily lives. Basketball is the medium through which both sides endeavor to bridge the gap.

The program was founded with a goal of providing a cultural exchange program for fourth-generation (Yonsei) Japanese American youth. The objective of the Yonsei Basketball Association is to provide 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls, active in Southern California Asian basketball organizations, the opportunity to experience their heritage first-hand. In Japan, they participate in a goodwill exchange of ideas and cultures through homestay experiences, basketball games against their Japanese counterparts, and visits to prominent cities.

Players and parents undergo a rigorous selection process. Program participants are selected for academic excellence, positive attitudes, and sound basketball skills. Upon selection to the team, they participate in fundraising and cultural activities in preparation for their trip to Japan. Players are fortunate to be coached by high school-level varsity coaches who also travel with them to Japan.

As each succeeding generation of Americans of Japanese ancestry becomes further assimilated into the American culture, comprehension and appreciation of their cultural heritage diminishes. With a heightened awareness of their cultural heritage, Yonsei families participate in community service projects that help them assume positions of leadership within their respective Asian communities.

Participation in the Yonsei experience inspires an appreciation for the importance of family values, community participation, and Japanese American heritage. The association believes that this experience plays an important role in the development of the character in the community’s youth.

For more information, visit http://yonseibasketball.org/.

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