By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The Venice Japanese Community Center welcomed 2016 with its Shinnen Enkai and Keiro Kai on Jan. 17.
Noting that the next day was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, emcee Jeff Shimoyama said it was an appropriate time to honor some VJCC members for their many years of service. He quoted King: “An individual has not started to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
The program opened with a performance by Koshin Taiko and presentation of colors by Boy Scout Troop 764.
Shukugin, a celebratory poem, was performed by Uyeno Soryu of Kinryu Gin Ei Kai, whose piece was entitled “Gantan no Saku.”
Rev. Kory Quon of Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple gave the invocation, urging those present to “reflect on those that have come before” and “appreciate those who are next to us.”
Hiro Harada, outgoing VJCC president, reported, “The health of the community center is strong, membership is increasing, and we have many projects still to do later this year and into the future — all things we cannot do without your support.”
Consul General Hidehisa Horinuchi gave a presentation on the character used for Year of the Monkey (申), which differs from the kanji usually used for saru or monkey (猿). He noted that the New Year’s character originally signified a bolt of lighting connecting heaven and earth. With additional strokes, the kanji can become kami or god (神) or nobasu, meaning to grow (伸ばす). He expressed hope that everyone will use the classes at VJCC to grow their talents and stretch their abilities.
Greetings were delivered by Samuel Liu, deputy chief of staff for State Sen. Ben Allen; Daniel Tamm, West L.A. area director for Mayor Eric Garcetti; and Jesus David Orosco, senior field deputy for City Councilmember Mike Bonin.
As Harada read the names of the Keiro honorees, they were escorted to the front of the room by Boy Scouts and presented with gifts from VJCC and commendations from the three elected officials. The seniors were June Fujioka, Eleanor Hamada, Arlene Hamashita, Tad Hirai, Ben Hoy, Sharon Hoy, Nori Kurashige, Grace Matsueda, Irene Matsuno, George Nakano, Hiram Ohta, Joan Ohta, Cheri Sakai, Myrtle Shimoda, Ritsuko Uto, Noe Yamabe and Nan Yoshida.
Recognized but unable to attend were Elaine Chun, Minoru Endow, Fred Kohno, Eleanor Lee, Richard Masato, Fumiko Nishimura, Hiorshi Noguchi, Kazuo Obana, Kimi Obana, Mariel Otoide, Kiyoko Sakihara, Lucille Takahashi, Itsuye Teshiba, James Wong, Mae Wong and Kathi Yamazaki.
Vice President Jim Shibata announced the winners of this year’s VJCC Awards:
Person of the Year — Kevin Kunisaki has been an active parent participant with Venice Youth Council and Boy Scouts. Over the past several years he has gained the reputation of being a person who can get the job done. During his membership term in the Boy Scouts parents organization, he co-led the VJCC Summer Festival. During his tenure as a parent representative and commissioner for VYC, he was instrumental in the development of the Gym Ratz summer basketball program.
Recently, Kunisaki was appointed as an interim VJCC board member to fill a vacancy. He immediately stepped up to design and implement the parking assignment plan that allowed VJCC to comply with the new parking ordinance spelled out in its expansion project. He is currently heading up the Rebranding Committee, whose goal is to re-energize the Summer Festival.
“Kevin continues to come up with ideas that have brought some new energy to the VJCC Board,” Shibata said. “More importantly, he is personally committed to working toward the successful completion of his projects.”
Distinguished Service — Gordon Tani has been vital to the development and maintenance of VJCC. Since graduating from UCLA in graphic arts in the 1970s, he has used his creative and artistic skills by designing the VJCC logo, the 50th and 70th anniversary booklets, golf tournament, fundraising and information brochures, T-shirts, and many other items over the years.
Tani has been an active volunteer and advisor to the Venice Pioneer Project, a group of volunteers that provides luncheons, trips and information for seniors in the community.
Sharon Kumagai of Venice Culver JACL introduced the winner of the George Inagaki Community Service Award, named in memory of a past chapter president, National JACL president and leader at VJCC in the 1960s.
“This year I am happy to present the award to Tiffany Sato,” Kumagai said. “Tiffany has served the VJCC starting at the age of 16. She started printing the VJCC newsletter with Kelvin Uyeda and Gail Sharp … Tiffany continues to do this every month. At age 18, she was old enough to begin volunteering at the spring and fall VJCC bingo events … Tiffany has volunteered at each VJCC golf tournament since its inception … 15 years ago.
“In 2007 and 2009, Tiffany was a recipient of the Frances Kitagawa Internship awarded by the Venice Culver JACL … I got to know Tiffany really well … She has given so much to the community. During her internship project, she was interviewing individuals about the Venice Japanese community and compiling oral history used by Perry Miyake Jr. to write the VJCC history book. Tiffany has a passion for the community and she gave 250 percent of her time during her internship to be sure that the history book was completed.
“Today, Tiffany continues to volunteer at VJCC doing those same things … She was secretary of the VJCC young adults club for two years and the young adults planning committee for the past four years.”
The installing officer for the 2016 officers and board members was former Assemblymember George Nakano, who said, “These are the people who provide the leadership as well as guidance for this community center and we’re all benefiting from their leadership role to put in their time and make sure that the projects and programs are maintained and that people who come here are able to enjoy what’s offered.”
The cabinet consists of Wes Shimoda, president; Jim Shibata, executive vice president; Kevin Kunisaki, facility manager; Kelvin Uyeda, corporate secretary; Sharon Aratani, treasurer; Hitoshi Shimizu, auditor; Fusako Ogasawara, membership.
Appointed officers are Jolyn Brookes, recording and corresponding secretary; Kuni Nishiya, rental; Tom Yamaguchi, historian; Jamie Inouye, festival chair; Jun Oyama, assistant treasurer; Melvin Shimizu, assistant auditor.
Other board members are Hiro Harada, Dave Hirota, John Ikegami, Eric Inouye, Kazie Kame, Kelly Kato, Jack Kurihara, Norm Matsubara, Ken Nagao, Rich Yang, Ross Yasuda.
Hiro Harada led the New Year’s toast, followed by taiko enso (performance) by Koshin Taiko. 2015 Miss Western Los Angeles Queen Michelle Hanabusa was introduced.
The entertainment program, emceed by Donna Burns and Fusako Ogasawara, featured dancing by the VJCC Hula Class under the direction of Kumu Keali’i Ceballos; children from Venice Gakuen singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Japanese; Japanese dance by Azuma Kotobuki Kai, Fujima Ransei (Michiko Yamamoto) and Fujima Seiyumi Kai; ukulele by Venice Hui Aikane under the direction of Bob Matsunaga; koto and shakuhachi under the direction of Eiko Idota.
Drawings for door prizes were conducted by Dave Hirota with assistance from Lindsey Sugimoto.
The event also included exhibits of shodo (calligraphy) by Bunka Shodo Kai, shuji kakizome (New Year’s penmanship) by Venice Gakuen, bonsai by Marina Bonsai Club, and shochikubai (New Year’s arrangement with pine, bamboo and plum blossoms) by Shunrei Uyeno.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo