By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
MONTEBELLO — The Nanka Yamaguchi Kenjinkai remembered past president Richard Fukuhara at its general meeting and New Year’s luncheon on Feb. 24 at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello.
Fukuhara passed away on Dec. 4 at the age of 74.
His sister, Recording Secretary Aki Fukuhara-Vaughn, called for a silent tribute to him as well as other kenjinkai members who have died over the past year: Ruby Okinaka, Hiroshi Igawa, Yoshinobu Ono, Toshii Osaka, and most recently Dennis Nakamura.
Fukuhara-Vaughn noted that her brother served as president in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018. “He was a hard-working, proactive president, a very generous man and very kind and very compassionate. For those of you who did know him, you know that to be very true … He was so giving and just all in all a wonderful guy.”
Daughter Julie Fukuhara, joined by her brother Derek, spoke briefly. “My brother and I have been coming to New Year’s and the picnics since … we can’t even remember how little we were. So this organization has meant a lot to us and my father always wanted to instill a good sense of culture, tradition, and community with us. I know he loved this organization so much and developed so many friendships with all of you, and just really embraced the kenjinkai.
“We have received so much support in the last few months and your kind words and generosity. And so we wanted to give back to the kenjinkai and in honor of him … present a check to the organization. So thank you so much for both of us.”
Vice President Florence Ochi recalled, “After the shocking and sudden passing of our president, Richard Fukuhara, I was pressed into the job as acting president. However, that didn’t last too long because we had an election of officers … I didn’t get to serve with Richard very long, only a year, but I admired him for all the amazing energy that he had and all the organizations that he was a part of.
“In fact, I was at a recent meeting of Nikkei Games … and there was a lot of discussion about Richard — ‘Who’s going to take his place?’ — because he did so much for the organization.”
In addition to Fukuhara-Vaughn and Ochi, the 2019 officers are Arturo Yoshimoto, president; Laura Lee, corresponding secretary; and Naomi Suenaka, treasurer, who gave a financial report.
Yoshimoto said in his New Year’s greeting, “It’s very hard for me to to become president after so many people left us so many legacies, so many chores that we need to continue, but I would like to thank everybody for giving me another opportunity to lead … My early experience in Yamaguchi Kenjinkai was with my father, who always attended the Peru Yamaguchi Kenjinkai meetings and events and told me that always I have to help and be good. I don’t know if I have achieved either, but for sure I’m here today to help and to be good for the rest of my days that I belong to Nanka Yamaguchi Kenjinkai.”
In memory of “those who have left this world, especially Richard Fukuhara, who has left a big impression on the way we do things,” he said, “Never give up, don’t be shy to ask, and always be ready to help.”
Patrick Seki led the New Year’s toast and Arlene Nakamura gave the invocation.
Lee, who worked as a coordinator for international relations for Yamaguchi Prefecture through the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program, gave a slide presentation on “Life in Yamaguchi.” A daughter of immigrants from Taiwan and a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Lee said she first got into Japanese culture through anime.
While the majority of JET participants work as assistant language teachers, Lee chose to work for the prefectural government along with colleagues from South Korea, China and Spain. In addition to school visits, her duties included handling correspondence from kenjinkai in other countries and showing them around when they visited Japan. She and a co-worker also served as models in an ad campaign promoting cycling in Yamaguchi.
Lee helped out at the fourth Yamaguchi Kenjinkai World Grand Meeting, held in Los Angeles in 2015, and hopes to attend the next one in 2020 in Yamaguchi.
Suenaka recognized kenjinkai members 80 and older, who posed for a group photo.
Nakamura discussed the scholarship program, and two past recipients, Clark Yoshida and Julie Fukuhara, talked about how they benefited from it.
Fukuhara-Vaughn reported on the kenjinkai’s activities over the past year and led the group in singing “Ue o Muite Arukou,” which became a hit in the U.S. as “Sukiyaki.”
The event also included bingo and door prizes.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo