City Councilmember Jan Perry (front row, center) and friends. Front row, from left: Solomon Yang, Yuko Gabe, Mae Matsumoto, Chris Aihara; back row, from left: Brian Kito, Rev. Mark Nakagawa, Mike Okamoto, Sandy Sakamoto, Yasue Clark. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Little Tokyo leaders thanked Los Angeles City Councilmember Jan Perry for representing the neighborhood for more than a decade, and in the process becoming a member of that community.

The reception was held Nov. 29 in the Garden Room of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Serving as emcee was Chris Aihara, former chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council and former executive director of JACCC.

Jan Perry takes a bow after giving a heartfelt speech. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Aihara noted that LTCC, which is composed of about 100 organizations, started in 1998 and Perry was first elected to represent Council District 9 in 2001, “so during the duration of the community council … Jan Perry was our go-to person. I think we understand that change is inevitable, but we have to say that those years when Councilwoman Perry served Little Tokyo were some of the best years that Little Tokyo experienced.”

Perry was re-elected in 2005 and 2009, and is termed out. She is now running for mayor.

Mike Okamoto, current LTCC chair, told her, “You’ve been a great friend and advocate for Little Tokyo, and such an approachable person … We can always go to you and ask for advice, and you understand the importance of our community.”

Okamoto cited the successful effort to keep the city from building a jail in Little Tokyo, the construction of an affordable, business-friendly parking structure on Judge John Aiso Street, and the choice of Little Tokyo as the site for Metro’s Regional Connector. “We went through ups and downs, but I think we are getting there,” he said of the latter project.

Presenting Perry with a framed work of art, Okamoto pointed out, “If you look here, there’s a character written in Japanese. It’s kiku, which means ‘listen.’ But there are several characters for kiku. This one means ‘attentively listening.’”

Entertainment was provided by Yuko Gabe, who played the shamisen and sang “Ue o Muite Arukou” (better known as “Sukiyaki” in the U.S.) and the children’s song “Shojoji no Tanuki Bayashi.”

Brian Kito of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association expressed appreciation to Perry “for all the work you’ve done supporting Little Tokyo public safety … all the downtown Skid Row area that she’s helped to clean up and get control of, and in turn this has helped all the communities around, especially Little Tokyo.”

Kito, who has known Perry since she was chief of staff for her predecessor, Rita Walters, presented the councilwoman with a gong, saying that she can use it to call staff meetings. “When you become mayor of Los Angeles, you could take it to the top of City Hall and bang it,” he added.

Sandy Sakamoto presents Jan Perry with a gift on behalf of the JACCC. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

On behalf of the Little Tokyo Residents Association presentation, which represents those living in the affordable housing complexes and residential hotels, Yasue Clark said, “We really appreciate Jan’s kindness … Every time we have some New Year’s party or Christmas party, she always shows up … We’ll miss you.”

Solomon Yang presented Perry with a framed gift from the association featuring an artwork and a photo of the councilwoman at a seniors’ event.

Rev. Mark Nakagawa, president of the Nisei Week Foundation, recalled that Perry’s first candidates’ forum for Council District 9 was held 11 years ago at his church, Centenary United Methodist. “I remember somebody asking me, ‘Mark, who are you praying for?’ I said I was praying for the best candidate, and God answered my prayers.”

He also quoted a relative working for Perry’s mayoral campaign as saying, “Mark, don’t believe everything you hear on the radio about the other three candidates. Jan’s looking very good at this point.”

Nakagawa continued, “The last two years as president of the Nisei Week Foundation … I’ve been fortunate that it was to be Councilwoman Perry’s last two years on the City Council here in CD9, which made my job as Nisei Week Foundation president a heck of a lot easier.”

On behalf of the foundation, Nakagawa presented Perry with two photos, one of her riding in the parade and the other with her friend Frances Hashimoto of Mikawaya, who recently passed away.

Sandy Sakamoto, chair of JACCC, said, “We’re all here tonight to give our thanks, appreciation and love for Jan because she has given us and our organizations so much love back … I can’t remember an event where Jan wasn’t present, and she’s here because she truly enjoys being here. She’s very genuine in her commitment to all of our organizations.”

She gave Perry an original artwork by Hirokazu Kosaka, JACCC’s artistic director.

Aihara called on 15 members of Perry’s staff to come up and receive a token of appreciation — a maneki neko (beckoning cat) figure. Traditionally, the cat has one paw raised, but “this cat is a little stylized — it’s holding its hands together in a gesture of gratitude,” she explained.

“We know that Jan is great, but she is great in some part because she has great staff … Little Tokyo wants to thank all of Jan’s staff for making her even greater by all of your support to us,” Aihara said.

Performance by Yuko Gabe. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Fighting back tears, Perry told the gathering, “I have loved Little Tokyo even before I was elected. When I was in college, I used to come to Little Tokyo with my friend … whose mother had been (interned) in Poston. They lived in Arizona, and we’d come shopping to Little Tokyo every single weekend … to make sure that she had things to eat that she loved so much, because she couldn’t buy them in Arizona. That’s how much and how long I have loved Little Tokyo. And I feel that you’ve loved me back and I’m grateful for it …

“I thank you for thanking my staff because I could not do this job alone. It is a very hard job. It requires a lot of attention, a lot of compassion and a lot of focus. And I’ve never regretted any time spent working for, fighting for, loving Little Tokyo. It has been one of the greatest joys of being your councilwoman …

“I’ve danced in ondo and I’m not very good, but I’m going to keep trying. I learned a lot and I do miss Frances very much, but I know that we’ll all remember her as we move forward. I have become a part of this community and I feel that you are my family too, and I’m grateful to you for that.”

Perry stressed that this was not a farewell party. “This just means … now we move on to the next step. So for all the energy and the positive feelings we have for each other, I hope you can convert that and support me for mayor … I know we can continue to take care of each other for eight more years and make Little Tokyo even better and stronger and more respected and held in the highest regard.

“It is such a wonderful community in every sense of the word. Most of all it’s because of the people who are here in this room tonight. The people who are in the businesses, the people who live in the senior centers … Thank you for giving my life such great meaning. Words almost fail me. I talk for a living, but tonight I’m just overwhelmed with love and joy and appreciation.”

Perry bowed to everyone before posing for pictures and chatting with her friends one-on-one.

A candidates’ debate between Perry, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Kevin James will be held Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. at the Aratani Japan America Theatre.

Members of Councilmember Jan Perry’s staff were thanked for their service to Little Tokyo. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

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