By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor in Chief
Toasts of apple cider and booming taiko drums greeted the new year at the Venice Japanese Community Center’s annual Shinnenkai and Keiro Kai on Jan. 19.
Hiro Harada, VJCC president and event chairman, welcomed the gathering, noting that the center has seen its membership grow in the past year.
“Hopefully with your help, next year will be just as good,” Harada said.
Speaking to The Rafu, Harada noted that the center is focusing their efforts on increasing the number of younger members with the formation of the new Young Adult Club.
“We have a big group of kids in karate, martial arts and basketball, but as soon as they run off to college, they don’t come back. So we’re trying to have other activities for that group,” Harada said. “We’re trying to get young adults, couples, marrieds to stay in the community and be active.”
Jeff Shimoyama served as master of ceremonies. The invocation was offered by Rev. John Iwohara of Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple.
The highlight of the luncheon was the introduction of this year’s Keiro honorees. Members of Boy Scout Troop 764 escorted the seniors to the front, where they were handed gifts and proclamations from L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin.
Keiro honorees for 2014 are: Frances Flaaen, Grace Fujimoto, James Fujioka, Tetsuro Kawashiri, Aya Kojima, Henry Kozai, Marian Kubota, Suyemi Matsumoto, Tomio Miya, Tyler Nakamoto, Tadashi Naruo, Kunihiro Nishiya, Amy Nishiyama, Akio Nomi, Takako Nomi, Mas Ooka, Richard Oshita, Edna Saito, Ethel Saito, Hideo Shimoda, Ted Takahashi, Gary Uyeno, Fumie Yahiro, Setsuko Yamashita and Fujiko Yoshikawa.
The gathering also enjoyed entertainment provided by VJCC hula class, Venice Gakuen, Azuma Kotobuki Kai, Fujima Ransei (Michiko Yamamoto), Venice Hui Aikane, and Eiko Idota.
Jim Shibata, a member of the board of directors, presented the Venice Japanese Community Center Award to Harada, who is serving his third year as center president.
Gail Sharp, newsletter editor, was recognized as the Person of the Year, and also as the recipient of the JACL George Inagaki Community Service Award.
Sharon Kumagai, Venice-Culver JACL president, presented the award to Sharp, who said she was surprised by the honors, but a little suspicious when her two sons, Steve and Ryan, both said they were attending the Shinenkai. She is a longtime resident of the neighborhood and has been active at VJCC since she was a child.
“My mom is here, my children grew up here and I grew up here. So I really have a sense that this is where I need to give my time,” said Sharp.
“I was very surprised and very honored, because really the people that I look up to are the Sharon Aratanis and the Kazie Kames and all the Komon (board members). They really do a lot and continue to do a lot. Our volunteer force, so many of them are between 70 and 90, so I have a long way to go before I am that age.”