Esther Chaing of Hama Sushi and Len Nguyen, senior deputy to City Councilmember Mike Bonin, with a full-size model of the VJAMM obelisk.

The fifth annual Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker fundraiser at Hama Sushi restaurant was held on April 27.

This year, Esther Chaing of Hama Sushi donated $3,619.60, which represents 100 percent of the profits from 269 bentos (45 of which were ordered by Helen and Warren Miyashiro) and 10 percent of dinner sales. Her total donation to VJAMM is $14,536.43. In 2010, she gave VJAMM $200 — its very first donation.

VJAMM Committee and Venice Arts Council member Suzanne Thompson

In 2011, Suzanne Thompson, a member of the VJAMM Committee and the Venice Arts Council, initiated the discussion about having a VJAMM fundraiser at Hama Sushi, and the event has been held every April since 2012, during the week before the Manzanar Pilgrimage, which is always the final Saturday in April.

In addition to Thompson, speakers at this year’s event included:

• Phyllis Hayashibara, retired teacher at Venice High School and VJAMM Committee member;

• Becky Dennison, executive director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, fiscal sponsor of the Venice Arts Council and VJAMM Committee;

• Scott Pine, UCLA student and Venice High School alumnus;

VJAMM Committee member and filmmaker Brian Maeda

• Mark Antonio Grant, former special assistant to the late Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl (a long-time supporter of VJAMM);

• Len Nguyen, senior deputy to Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin;

• Emily Winters, a member of the Venice Arts Council and VJAMM Committee;

• Nikki Gilbert of the Venice High School Alumni Association and VJAMM Committee;

• David Williams, founder and owner of Williams Monument Company in Arvin, which will supply the solid black granite VJAMM obelisk;

• Ruth Galanter, former Los Angeles City Council member (6th District);

• Bruce Embrey, co-chair of the Manzanar Committee;

• Brian Maeda, filmmaker and VJAMM Committee member (

Members of Venice Honganji Buddhist Temple’s Buddhist Women’s Association prepare bentos at Hama Sushi.

The VJAMM will be installed on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln boulevards. The 9′6″-tall obelisk marks the spot where some 1,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu lined up with only what they could carry in April 1942. Buses transported them directly to the Manzanar camp in Owens Valley, the first of ten “war relocation centers.”

In addition to Chaing, the VJAMM Committee would like to acknowledge with deep appreciation Hama Sushi’s Tony Kim, Naoko Matsumura, Masayo Onuki, and Miguel Esquivel.

Pastor Keesong Lee of L.A. Nam Seoul Grace Church assists chef Masayo Onuki with the bentos.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl pledged $500 towards the VJAMM thanks to a request by Thompson.

Volunteers: Joyce Enomoto, June Fujioka, Shinobu Koda, Aya Masada, Judy Nawa, Cyndy Uehara, Lauren Wolpert, June Tomita, Zed Aquarian, and Eugene, Edd and Pauline Hayashibara.

Volunteers June Tomita, Judy Nawa and Aya Masada.

Also serving on the VJAMM Committee are Kay Brown, Mae Kakehashi, Arnold Maeda, Alice Stek, and Yosh Tomita.

Tax-deductible donations may be sent to: Venice Arts Council/VJAMM, P.O. Box 993, Venice, CA 90294. Make checks payable to “VCHC/VJAMM.”

For more information, go to or visit VJAMM on Facebook.

Photos by Phyllis Hayashibara

The bentos included sushi, chicken, tempura, and edamame.

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