Councilmember Bill Rosendahl presented the Keiro Kai honorees with city proclamations.
VJCC board members were sworn in by former Assemblymember George Nakano (right).
Shakuhachi and koto players under the direction of Eiko Idota.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The Venice Japanese Community Center celebrated the new year and honored its seniors Sunday at the annual Shinnen Enkai and Keiro Kai.

From left: VJCC President Hiro Harada; Deputy Consul General Masahiro Suga; emcee Jeff Shimoyama.

With Jeff Shimoyama as emcee, the program opened with drumming by Koshin Taiko, presentation of colors by Boy Scout Troop 764, shukugin by Kinryu Gin Ei Kai Uyeno Soryu, and invocation by Rev. Jim Miyabe of Venice-Santa Monica Free Methodist Church (who kept it brief by saying, “Thank you, God! Amen!”).

Hiro Harada, VJCC president and chairman of the event, delivered greetings and thanked the planning committee, noting, “There were some unforeseen illnesses and changes to our program, but we had other members who … helped out and made it possible for us to continue.”

Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Venice, discussed his ongoing battle with cancer. He said that the diagnosis last year “hit me out of the blue” but that “your prayers, your love, your support, and that of thousands of other people have had a dramatic impact in a very positive way.”

Rosendahl, who now uses a walker, returned to work after taking two months off, but has decided not to run for re-election.

George Inagaki Community Service Award recipient Elinor Suzuki (right) with Venice Culver JACL President Sharon Kumagai.

A supporter of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker to be erected on Venice and Lincoln, Rosendahl said he understood the “incredible humiliation and presecution that Japanese Americans suffered” during World War II, having visited Manzanar.

As a German American whose family was harassed during the war, he added, “They would come to our house and go up into the attic and look around for shortwave radios … My sister was in kindergarten and she slipped into German and they all mocked her. So my folks never spoke German around me. I never really learned about my heritage … So I have a little bit of appreciation of what the Japanese Americans went through.”

Deputy Consul General Masahiro Suga, who was accompanied by his wife, Michiko, said he was meeting members of the Venice community for the first time as he just arrived in Los Angeles last fall.

Suga applauded the VJCC “for serving the community, preserving and developing Japanese culture, heritage and language, and providing multigenerational programs for children through seniors for more than 90 years. This is one of the most active community centers in the region. The Japanese American community remains vital and strong due to your many efforts.” He called the keiro honorees “pioneers and leading examples in the community.”

Noting that 2013 is the Year of the Snake, he added, “In Japan, the snake is thought to be a very auspicious animal. It constantly sheds and replaces its skin, always renewing itself, and is a symbol of recovery and revival. So I think this will be a good year of steady progress, growth and revitalization.”

VJCC Person of the Year Jack Kurihara (left) with VJCC President Hiro Harada.

Twenty-one seniors were escorted to the front of the room by Boy Scouts to receive gifts from the VJCC plus city proclamations from Rosendahl: Yuri Amamoto, Esther Gates, Wally Hauke, Charlie Higashi, Terry Hiltz, Shigeko Iwasaki, Tomiko Kasai, Milnes Kurashige, Robert Matsunaga, Tsuyako Miyashiro, Ray Nakagama, Jytte Nielsen, Alice Saiki, Yuki Shiraki, June Sumida, Elinor Suzuki, Nancy Tahata, Sumiko Tochihara, Lilian Tsukahira, Mary Ann Webster and Emiko Yamada.

Honorees who were unable to attend: Toshi Asari, Grace Garcia, Kho Iseda, Minako Iseda, Barbara Isono, Kikuye Kubo, Kazuko Kurahashi, Molly Li Lowe, Shigeo Maedo, Tak Morimoto, Victoria Morimoto, Teruko Morinaka, Richard Saiki, Sue Tanaka, Janet Watanabe, Fumiko Webster, Kikiyo Yamaguchi, Kenneth Yamamoto and Ryuko Yoshimaru.

Rosendahl also received a gift for his support of the VJCC’s expansion and other projects.

VJCC’s Person of the Year was Jack Kurihara, board member and past president. Harada said Kurihara “was very instrumental during the renovation and the construction of the Multipurpose Room and he’s still involved in the gym and other future renovations.”

Kurihara stressed that he was accepting the honor on behalf of a team that has done “a lot of hard work” on the expansion project, including Roseann Yoshida, Joy Hong, Sharon Aratani, Hitoshi Shimizu, Jim Akioka and Alan Matsuzaki.

Miss Western Los Angeles and Nisei Week First Princess Crystal Hanano drew the winning raffle tickets.

Elinor Suzuki was named this year’s recipient of the JACL George Inagaki Community Service Award, which is named after a past president of both the Venice-Culver JACL and National JACL and a leader at the VJCC during the 1960s.

Sharon Kumagai, Venice-Culver JACL president, said that Suzuki “has been a volunteer with the center for over 30 years. She has been described as the VJCC ‘Energizer Bunny’ because she’s always there to give of her time … Elinor has volunteered at the senior nutrition program, chaired the sushi booth at the annual Summer Festival in June … and today Elinor was greeting you at the reception table as you entered the gym for the luncheon.”

Suzuki has also served as VJCC representative (with Kay Shimizu) in organizing the Miss Western Los Angeles contest, whose winner becomes a Nisei Week Queen candidate.

Former Assemblymember George Nakano was the installing officer for the VJCC board. In addition to Harada, the cabinet members are Jim Shibata, executive vice president; Kelvin Uyeda, corporate secretary; Sharon Aratani, treasurer; Jim Akioka, facilities manager; Hitoshi Shimizu, auditor; and Ken Sogabe, membership. Appointed officers include Susan Wong, recording secretary; Sandie Hill, corresponding secretary; Kuni Nishiya, rental; Tom Yamaguchi, historian; Terry Keelan, festival chair; Tracy Kiyohiro, assistant festival chair; Jun Oyama, assistant treasurer; and Melvin Shimizu, assistant auditor.

Koshin Taiko opened and closed the program.

Before leading the alcohol-free kampai, Shimoyama said, “We want to thank all the service and participation that the keiro honorees have had within the VJCC over the past many years.”

Randall Tamura served as emcee for the entertainment, 2012 Nisei Week First Princess and Miss Western Los Angeles Crystal Hanano drew the winning raffle tickets, and Dave Hirota handed out the door prizes.

Halau Keali’i O Nalani, under Kumu Keali’i Ceballos, danced “Pili i ka Pu’uwai” and “Manoa i ke Ko’i’ula” and sang “Nada Sou Sou.” Venice Hui Aikane, under instructor Bob Matsunaga, played “Haole Hula,” “Chotto Matte Kudasai,” “Aoi Sora no Shita,” “Aloha Is” and “Naka Pueo” on ukulele.

Three Japanese classical dance groups appeared. Melissa Misaye Morinishi and Kiara Emi Kubota Stromberg of Azuma Kotobuki Kai performed “Matsuri”; Fujima Ransei (Michiko Yamamoto) and Fujima Ryusei (Lori Miyakawa) performed “Ningyo Buri”; from Fujima Seiyumi Kai, Stevie Asao, Jenna Matsushita and Amy Smith performed “Todaiji” and Masako Farell and Kuni Tomita performed “Shiosai.”

Koto and shakhachi musicians under instructor Eiko Idota played “Mai Ogi,” “Azuma Jishi” and “Tsuki no Sabaku, Mori no Kobito.” Nippon Minyo Nishimura Kai, featuring singers, shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko, was the final act.

Calligraphy by Bunka Shodo Kai, bonsai by Marina Bonsai Club, and shochikubai (New Year’s arrangement with pine, bamboo and plum blossoms) were displayed.

Left: Scouts from Troop 764 presented gifts to the seniors. Right: The ukulele players of Venice Hui Aikane performed. Some members were also Keiro Kai honorees.
Nippon Minyo Nishimura Kai performed traditional Japanese songs.
Hula performance by members of Halau Keali’i O Nalani.
Left: Fujima Ransei (Michiko Yamamoto) plays a puppet and Fujima Ryusei (Lori Miyakawa) plays the puppeteer in “Ningyo Buri.” Right: Members of Azuma Kotobuki Kai perform “Matsuri.”
Left: Fujima Seiyumi Kai. Right: Kampai! A toast to the new year.

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

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