On Saturday, March 10, the San Fernando Valley Community Center, led by its board, sponsored a fundraiser — a day short of the one year anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. The purpose of the event was to provide aid to the 1,300 orphans left in the wake of the disaster. In addition to asking for direct donations, member organizations of the center sold food, much of which they had made.

L.A. Matsuri Taiko opened the remembrance program.

MC was Tamlyn Tomita, who described herself as a former Valley girl. She wore a kimono and danced with the Meiji Ondo along with her mother, Asako.

Guests included Japan Consul General Jun Niimi, local Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, a representative from Councilman Richard Alarcon’s office and Yoshihito Yonezawa, Miyagi Kenjinkai president.

Clergy from three Christian churches as well as a representative from the San Fernando Buddhist Hongwanji addressed the audience. Rev. Ruy Mizuki of Chatsworth West United Methodist Church led a moving candlelight ceremony in memory of those who perished. Participating in the ceremony were the Chiba family, who own a restaurant in Sun Valley, and their relatives visiting from Japan who lost close relatives.

Michael Takeshita, a Valley local who serves as an assistant chief of the L.A. County Fire Department search and rescue team, described how his team was dispatched to Japan within 24 hours of the disaster. His team is one of two such teams in the country, representing the U.S., that responds to disasters around the world. The stories of his experiences in Japan were riveting.

Then, after a musical singing group’s performance of “Ue o Muite Aruko” and the performance of a minyo dance, the audience was transfixed in hearing from three survivors, Koichi Saichi, Hideka Chiba, and Yuko Aoyama.

The final performers called themselves Loco Voco and the Fujazz Band. I did not get the names of all the performers of this jazz group, but notable were singer Lisa Furutani and Warren Furutani’s two brothers, Norman and Alan. Warren was there, and sat in the front row seeming to enjoy their performance. I told Warren since he is retiring from the Assembly, he ought to consider performing with his musical family.

At the same time a program geared to a younger audience was staged in the gym. It was hosted by 2011 Nisei Week Princess Amber Piatt. A tae kwon do demonstration and musical numbers were performed, and included in the program were cheerleaders from Bert Corona Middle School, located on the campus of the center. High school student Jenna Matsushita made friendship bracelets that raised $1,000 for the cause. Mugs, caps and T-shirts were donated and sold.

I called to thank and congratulate Board President Nancy Oda, who was the main force behind this stellar event. She told me about $17,000 was raised, all of which will be sent to Miyagi Prefecture for the orphans.

What she will cherish will be the sight of the Chiba family and their surviving relatives from Japan serving miso soup to the attendees out of appreciation for the support they had given to the cause. (A community center fundraiser last year plus donations and money raised by Chiba Restaurant brings the total raised for the year close to $100,000.)

I stayed for a meal we shared after the program. They were speaking Japanese, so I do not know what they were saying, but they laughed and seemed joyful. Nancy told me they told her it was the first time after a year that they were able to laugh.

What I will remember about this event was the sad look in survivor Koichi Saichi’s eyes after he told of how he lost his mother in the tsunami. In Tamlyn’s closing comments, she spoke about how personally meaningful this event was for her. She choked up as she expressed how moved she was seeing her community come together to support this singularly worthy cause.

Phil Shigekuni can be reached at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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