The Gardena Valley Nisei Club on a trip to Hawaii in September 1972. Top row, from left: Aki Muranaka, Mark Yamamoto, Ed Yamamoto, Steve Noguchi, Gene Matsuda, John Matsuda, Bob Tarumoto. Middle row, from left: Travel agent, Hanna Fujita, Barbara Yanase, Janine Yamamoto, Amy Yamamoto, Alice Kondo, Akemi Matsuda, Marie Ito, Mayko Tarumoto, Harriet Yamaka, four friends. Bottom row, from left: Dr. Won Sik You (sponsor), Sheryl Yanase, Cheryl Yanase, Marian Matsuda, Sally Kuriyama, Mary Murata, Mary Louise Hernandez.


As a charter member of the Gardena Valley Nisei Club (GVNC) and chairman of the upcoming Japan Night of the GVNC on Saturday, May 19, at the Gardena Japanese Cultural Institute (JCI), I am writing about the history of GVNC and Japan Night.

GVNC was started by three Nisei fellows in 1958 in Gardena. They were Tom Mishima, Ray Fujimoto and Tom Miyawaki, who are now deceased. The purpose was to provide the Nisei and Sansei a social dance club so the Nisei, Sansei, Japanese from Japan and their friends, regardless of their color, origin of birth or religion, could learn dancing and go dancing on a Saturday night instead of bowling, playing poker or just staying home and watching TV.

At the beginning in the ’60s and ’70s, the club sponsored dance parties at Abalone Cove; went to Catalina Casino Ballroom; took trips to Westward Ho and Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, led by the late Bob Inouye and his wife Alice; and went on a trip via Pan Am to the Hawaiian Islands escorted by the late Barbara Yanase, president of GVNC, in 1972.

As the members got older, they became better dancers by taking lessons from Gene Parker, Joe Fletcher, Arthur Bergh, Laurie Haile, Harry Kanada, Kinue Williams, David Shinjo, Atsuko Ota, Jim Ikehara, Masa Morimoto, Ken and Sheila Sloan, Glenn and Lezlie Yata and others in group and private lessons.  Initially, we danced at the Gardena Elks Lodge, Rosecrans VFW Post Hall and Hawthorne Senior Center; held installation dinner/dances at Rosecrans VFW and Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica; Christmas dinner/dances at the JCI; and New Year’s Eve dinner/dances at the Proud Bird and lately at Centre at Sycamore, Lakewood.

Kenji and Itono Nakagawa perform at the Mexico Nite Dance in September 1983.

We danced the International Standard dances consisting of waltz, tango, slow fox trot, quick step and Viennese waltz. We also danced the Latin dances like rumba, samba, mambo, cha-cha, bolero, merengue, paso doble and jive. Of course, we also danced the East Coast and West Coast swings.

In my opinion, Gardena Valley Nisei Club was successful primarily because of the leadership of four great presidents. I would like to pay tribute to three past presidents who are now deceased: Barbara Yanase (1971), Ann Arase (1983 and 1984), and Harold Shishido (1991 and 1992), and one president, Jack Koga, who served for 12 consecutive years and retired this past February.

Barbara Yanase was instrumental in building up the GVNC, which was in a floundering state when she arrived from Hawaii in the ’60s. She devoted her life over and above the call of duty. She was determined to start events on time; she had the MC say grace before dinner; and she had the entire Yanase family, including her twin daughters Sheryl and Cheryl and husband Dr. Stanley Yanase, who wrote the club by-laws, participate in her programs. GVNC was revitalized and on the road to become an active dance club, thanks to Barbara Yanase!

Ann Arase followed in Barbara’s footsteps. Ann, together with her husband Paul, who has been the club treasurer for 40 years, made our club a fully functional, happy organization. Ann’s motto was: “Happiness Is Dancing.” Ann Arase was awarded the JCI Achievement Award for her contribution through the GVNC to better the lives of the senior citizens. Paul and Ann were assisted by their son, Dr. Randal Arase, general surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital, who once played the accordion for GVNC’s dance party on the stage at Rosecrans VFW when young Randy was a high school student.

Elegant couples perform at the 1997 August Moon Dance.

Harold Shishido was truly a never-say-die club president for 1991 and 1992. He was a gentle but persistent worker who listened carefully and intently to the board members’ opinions. One Sunday morning Harold came for the board meeting struggling to climb the stairs at JCI, virtually being carried by his wife Shirley. Harold insisted to his wife that he had to come to the board meeting when he should have been home taking care of his cancer. Harold died within days of that last GVNC board meeting he attended with the help of his wife. Every time I think of Harold’s last days, tears well up in my eyes.

Jack Koga served consecutively for 12 years as president from March 2000 to February 2012. He came from Sylmar for the dances and board meetings without delay. He and his wife Skeeter came early to the dances with their costumes on, whether it be for Hawaii, Japan, China or Mexico Nights, and greeted club members or guests with a nice, warm handshake and a hug. The Gardena Valley Nisei Club wishes Jack Koga speedy recovery in his health and we thank him from the bottom of our hearts.

The Japan Night for this year is scheduled for Saturday night, May 19, from 7 to 10:30 p.m. at Gardena JCI at Gramercy Place and 162nd Street in Gardena, just two blocks west of Western Avenue. Club members and guests are asked to come with happi coat, kimono with a towel and fan. Admission is still $11 for members and $13 for non-members.

Application for membership is still ongoing until May 31, so anyone wishing to become members can contact Takayo Kurachi, vice president of membership, and pay the $10 annual dues per person for 2012, which runs from March this year to February 2013.

At around 9 p.m., we will have three dance exhibitions performed. First couple to dance the International Waltz will be Tsuyoshi Arai and Satomi Seo, who are students of Masa Morimoto, who teaches the Standard dances at Regency Ballroom in Lomita. The second couple, James and Andrea Gutman, will dance a segue of rumba and Viennese waltz. Masa Morimoto and Misuzu Fukuhara will dance the International Slow Fox Trot to complete the program.

We will have about 10 hosts who will dance with the ladies who have no dance partners for the night.

We in the Gardena Valley Nisei Club sincerely hope that our 2012 Japan Night program will please everyone who comes.