By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The Venice Japanese Community Center’s annual Shinnen Enkai/Keiro Kai, held Jan. 18 at the VJCC, featured the presentation of two community service awards and the first appearance by two dignitaries.
Emceed by Jeff Shimoyama, the “Year of the Sheep” program opened with drumming by Koshin Taiko, presentation of colors by Boy Scout Troop 764, shukugin, “Takara Bune,” by Kosui Yamamura of Kinyu Kai, and invocation by Rev. James Miyabe of Venice Santa Monica Free Methodist Church.
“I just wanted to report that 2014 was a very good year for us,” said VJCC President Hiro Harada. “… A lot of activities, new clubs, associations and classes were started. Our membership has increased … Everything is going according to plan and we’re hoping that 2015 will be as successful as last year.”
He added, “Everything done here is on a volunteer basis. It’s just truly amazing, we have a lot of amazing people in the community.”
Consul General Hidehisa “Harry” Horinouchi, visiting VJCC for the first time, wrote the character for “sheep” (hitsuji), noting, “The sheep was a very important animal in ancient China when they created the Chinese characters.”
In honor of LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara, one of the VIPs in attendance, Horinouchi added some strokes to create the character for “justice” (gi). He then wrote the character for “beautiful” (utsukushii), which also contains the sheep character, and wished everyone “a very beautiful day.”
State Sen. Ben Allen, who was elected in November to succeed Ted Lieu (now a member of Congress), introduced himself. “I’ve been active with an organization called the United States-Japan Leadership Program, which tries to promote dialogue between our two nations, bring young leaders from both countries together, one summer in Japan, one summer in the United States … to try to strengthen this incredibly important relationship between our two countries,” he said.
“I’m also happy to have just signed a letter to try to open an extra slot for direct flights between Los Angeles and Tokyo. Right now Seattle has a bit of a lockhold on the new slots that are coming through, and it’s really important that we open up this very important flight slot.”
Allen added that his brother lives “just down the street” and is on the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, “so I know this area very well … I really look forward to working closely with you.”
Ashley Fumiko Dominguez, field representative for Lieu, gave a few remarks in Japanese, then said, “Congressman Lieu is very excited to be representing the 33rd Congressional District, containing very large pockets of Issei, Nisei and Sansei. As a Nisei, I am very honored to join this vibrant community.
“Already the congressman has met with many Japanese American leaders in Washington, D.C. such as Congressman (Mike) Honda and Congressman (Mark) Takano. He plans to join the (Congressional) Asian Pacific American Caucus and plans to provide a voice for his constituents regardless of their country of origin. The congressman wanted me to share with you today that he is in Washington fighting for comprehensive immigration reform and keeping families together.”
Dominguez announced that congressional certificates for the Keiro honorees will be presented at a later date.
Daniel Tamm, West L.A. field director for Mayor Eric Garcetti, presented a city proclamation and praised VJCC for being “a truly remarkable example of when people come together out of caring and love and service, beautiful things happen … You enrich us by your presence and you help make L.A. a great city.”
Cecilia Castillo, field deputy for City Councilmember Mike Bonin, said, “Diversity is what makes this great city so special, and centers like these ensure that culture and tradition are passed on to the generations born here. I’d also like to thank the center for honoring their elders. They are the foundation that makes us who we are today.”
Certificates of recognition from the California Senate and the City of Los Angeles were presented to the following seniors: Geri Bieber, Art Haraga, Nancy Nakagama, Anne Nakama, Jean Nakamoto, Yoshie Nakao, Mariko Sekine, Helen Shishino, Mildred Tanaka and Yoshiko Yoshimori.
Honorees not present were Celia Bocanegra, Misako Fujisaki, Haruko Inatomi, Frank Kawabe, Betty Kitabayashi, Barbara Matsuno, Allen Takakawa, Mieko Takigawa, Yaeko Tanaka and Misako Tanida.
The VBJCC Person of the Year, Kazumi Ota, was announced by Vice President Jim Shibata: “As the volunteer managing editor of the VJCC Community News, Kazumi continues to give countless hours every month printing and overseeing and collating and stapling the newsletter … Even using the collating and printing machine, it takes hours to complete because of the volume. The newsletter averages about 30 pages every month, and the hard copies, about 1,300 of the newsletter is mailed each month.
“So each and every member of the VJCC is a beneficiary of Kazumi’s kindness and ceaseless dedication to service.”
Ota, who was recovering from an illness, was unable to attend.
The George Inagaki Community Service Award recipient, Eric Inouye, was announced by Steven Sharp, president of Venice-Culver JACL. Sharp noted that Inouye grew up in the local community, graduated from Venice High School and USC, pursued a career as a pharmacist, and married his wife Elizabeth, with whom he has two children.
As president of the Venice Pioneer Project and an executive board member of VJCC, “he’s become what you call one of the guys who know where everything is,” Sharp said. “You see him at every festival set-up, every clean-up. He’s just an ubiquitous presence here.”
“I’m really surprised,” Inouye said. “I really want to thank the Venice Pioneer Project. All our volunteers are so great … We’ve been doing that for about 30 years and they really deserve this award.”
Named in memory of George Inagaki, who was president of the Venice-Culver JACL, former president of the National JACL, and a community leader at the VJCC during the 1960s, the award is presented annually to an individual who has given his/her time and heart to the community.
The new cabinet, board members and komon (advisors) were sworn in by former Assemblymember George Nakano, who commented, “If it weren’t for the leadership of those who serve in the cabinet as well as the board members here, you would not have such a successful Japanese community center. This is the only center that I know in Southern California that’s going through an expansion.”
The cabinet consists of: Hiro Harada, president; Jim Shibata, executive vice president; Kelvin Uyeda, corporate secretary; Sharon Aratani, treasurer; Hitoshi Shimizu, auditor; and Fusako Ogasawara, membership.
Other board members are Dave Hirota, John Ikegami, Eric Inouye, Kazie Kame, Jack Kurihara, Norm Matsubara, Ken Sogabe, Rich Yang and Ross Yasuda. The komon are Tad Suzuki, Jim Akioka, Kuni Nishiya, Robert Sawano and Hitoshi Shimizu.
The kampai (toast) was led by Kuni Nishiya.
Drawings for door prizes were overseen by Dave Hirota, with Nisei Week First Princess Lindsey Sugimoto, who represents West Los Angeles JACL and VJCC, selecting the winning tickets.
The entertainment program, emceed by Donna Burns and Fusako Ogasawara, featured drumming by Koshin Taiko; hula dances by the VJCC hula class (Kumu Keali’i Ceballos, instructor); children’s songs by Venice Gakuen; classical Japanese dance by by Fujima Ransei (Michiko Yamamoto); Japanese dance by Fujima Seiyumi Kai; ukulele by Venice Hui Aikane, (Bob Matsunaga, instructor); and koto and shakuhachi music (Eiko Idota, instructor).
The event also included exhibits by Bunka Shodo Kai (calligraphy), Venice Gakuen (shuji kakizome/penmanship), Marina Bonsai Club, and Shunrei Uyeno (shochikubai, New Year’s arrangement with pine, bamboo and plum blossoms).
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo