Various community members danced ondo surrounded by colorful Tanabata decorations hanging from the yagura. The decorations were made by Hikari Taiko, the center’s judo group and Japanese language school students. Some of the decorations were displayed at the Tanabata Festival on Aug. 10 in Little Tokyo during the Nisei Week Festival. (RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo)

By RYOKO OHNISHI, Rafu Staff Writer

NORWALK — The Southeast Japanese School and Community Center in Norwalk celebrated its 50th Anniversary Cultural Festival and Ondo over the weekend of July 27 and 28.

“Thank you all for coming out to this event,” Richard Shinomoto, the president of the center, told the crowd during the ondo dancing.

An ondo circle was formed by about 20 Tanabata kazari decorations, large flower balls with colorful streamers, a tradition of Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, hanging from the yagura with metal pipes. Using washi (Japanese paper), the kazari were handcrafted by the affiliated cultural group members such as Norwalk Judo, Hikari Taiko, and Southeast Gakuen. 

This is the center’s first year to join the annual Tanabata Festival in Los Angeles, which will be held Aug. 9 to 12 in Little Tokyo. The center has a 90-year history, starting in 1923 as a Japanese language class at Friends Church on Orange Street. The class was taught by Rev. Tsuneishi Hayashi. Two years later, Issei parents built the school at Nawa Ranch and started the Norwalk Gakuen.

The school moved to the current two-acre location on Gridley Road in 1929 during the time that the Alien Land Law was enforced. The Gakuen expanded to other activities such as judo and kendo classes, movies, stage plays, and club meeting. During World War II, the school was closed and the building was rented to an American church. After the war, the Gakuen resumed it activities.

The center completed a new building, which has three classrooms, a kitchen and gymnasium that is used for youth sports. In 1994, the center built the current 10,000-square-foot annex, which has nine additional classrooms and a multipurpose room. 

Today, the center has been successfully attracting the young generation with activities such as Rascals Basketball for ages 5 to 7, and Camp Hanabi for age 5 to 13, to have children participate in language, cultural, crafts and sports activities for one week in July. 

Kimie Matsumoto, the principal of the language school, says, “This year, we had 50 children in Camp Hanabi and it was very well received. Many parents came back to sign up for the language classes for the fall, for their children or themselves.” 

At the festival, various games were offered, including pachinko and goldfish toss. Japanese food was served, including sushi, udon, and yakisoba, along with Hawaiian plates. 

For information about the center, go to The language school will start on Sept. 6. If you have any questions, call (562) 863-5996 and leave a message or email

Southeast Gakuen started selling taiyaki for the first time this year. They purchased hand-held iron taiyaki-makers for the festival. From left: Ami Nishiyama (teacher), Ernie Nishii (parent), Kimie Matsumoto (principal), Hortasia Nakano (parent), Yuri Nishii, Hikaru Nakano (both students, age 9), Keiko Katayama (parent) and Yumi Kushi (parent). They prepared to make 700 taiyaki over two days. (RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo)

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