By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
A partnership between the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo and The Suntory Group was announced on Sept. 18 with the naming of a terrace in the JACCC’s James Irvine Japanese Garden.
A sign reading “Suntory Terrace” with the company’s slogan, “Follow Your Nature,” was unveiled by JACCC staff member Chester Ikei.
JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito said that U.S.-Japan partnerships are part of the center’s mission. “The Issei and Nisei leaders that worked so hard to found the JACCC made sure that our relationship stayed strong between the two countries. Almost four years ago when I came on board, our fearless leader, Henry Ohta, led us through the process of starting to rekindle our relationship with Japan and also making new partnerships.
“This where the partnership between Suntory and the JACCC began, and it’s really important because it signals a new era for JACCC and launches us into a new project with our Culinary Cultural Center. We’re looking forward to renovating the garden level as well as expanding the culinary center on the plaza level, and we’re very excited to start this process with this partnership with Suntory.
“Suntory’s slogan and their values are connected to nature, so it made great sense for us to be able to name this veranda … and be able to connect our values between the two organizations.”
Tomomi Fukumoto, Suntory executive officer and deputy chief operating officer of the Corporate Communications Division of Suntory, came from Tokyo to attend the unveiling.
While the company, founded in 1899, is best known for its whisky, wine, beer, soft drinks and health products, Fukumoto said, “Suntory’s corporate mission is in harmony with people and nature. Apart from delivering high-quality products to our customers and steadily growing as a company, we’ve been involved in a lot of social and welfare activities.”
In addition to projects that “enrich people and society,” such as a concert hall and an art museum, Suntory recognizes the importance of “coexisting with nature,” she said, describing the company’s promotion of environmental management based on preserving and regenerating the natural environment and reducing environmental impact.
Suntory’s goal is to preserve water resources and biodiversity “not only for our business but for all mankind,” Fukumoto said.
She added that the Suntory is “privileged” to support JACCC’s efforts to promote Japanese culture so that it will be “enjoyed by people of the United States.”
Ohta, immediate past chairman of JACCC, recalled, “About two and a half years ago we met with Suntory in Tokyo. Leslie led a delegation from JACCC to introduce the JACCC to Suntory. At that time, I told Tomomi, ‘One of the most important things for me is for you to come to Los Angeles.’ My saying is ‘Seeing is believing.’ A lot of people hear about the JACCC, our wonderful programs, but if you come here and see it, I think it gives you a much different, more positive perspective.”
Takeshi Niinami, president and CEO of Suntory and an advisor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been very supportive, Ohta said. “We’re very fortunate to have him on the advisory board of the Cultural and Culinary Center.”
Earlier this month, Niinami announced Suntory’s collaboration with the New York-based Culinary Institute of America to launch a new course named “Advanced Cooking: Japanese Cuisine,” the first phase of a broader Japanese studies initiative at the CIA.
JACCC’s Culinary Cultural Center will be a learning and exhibition space to highlight Japanese cuisine, culinary talent, food and beverage products, and other culinary products. A series of culinary workshops has already been launched, including “Tsukemono 101” on Sept. 11, “Flavor of the New Year” on Nov. 12 and “Soba: A Life of Longevity” on Dec. 3. The upcoming workshops are sold out. For updates, visit www.jaccc.org.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo