Masako Rodriquez leads the ladies of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center (SFV JACC)
through the streets of Little Tokyo during the closing ondo of the 2011 Nisei Week celebration. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By NJ NAKAMURA, Rafu Contributor

Masako Kodera Rodriquez, a dynamic and enthusiastic ondo dance instructor for the local Japanese American community, passed away at the age of 85 on July 13.

Her love for the Japanese folk music style of ondo dancing inspired many to “just dance” and to enjoy the festive music.

Rodriquez was born in Tsuyama City, Okayama-ken, Japan, on Dec. 26, 1934. She met the love of her life, Joaquin Rodriquez (Keno), and they were married in Kobe on May 10, 1957. In 1963, after Keno’s service in the Army was concluded, they were finally able to move to their own home in Arleta.

It all began in 1999, when Sam Kimura noticed a very graceful dancer at the Obon summer festivals. That dancer was Masako Rodriquez. Together, they established the Bon exercise class at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center (SFV JACC) in Pacoima. Sponsored by the Meiji Senior Citizen Club at the SFV JACC, it was promoted as an exercise and as a year-round ondo instruction dance class.

As the class grew to over 20 dancers, Sam and Masako decided they should have their own happi coats. Made of orange fabric, Masako and several other students sewed the happi coats, which were worn at the various summer Obon festivals. Today, the Meiji Ondo dance group wears their trademark green happi coats printed with white wisteria flowers.

By following Masako’s encouraging and sometimes intense dance instruction, the group’s reputation became known beyond the SFV JACC. The Meiji Ondo dance group was invited to perform at the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House fundraiser, the Japanese Gardens (SuihoEn), and CSU Northridge; led the Nisei Week Street Ondo; and most recently performed at the Keiro no Hi Festival.

Her daughter, Chrissy, recalled, “I will always cherish the memory of my mom, my daughter Gina and I dancing together for the first time at the Nisei Week Grand Parade in the summer of 2013. That was three generations celebrating the traditions of our culture.

“While my mom may be gone, the values and traditions she instilled in me and my siblings will live on. My mom was the strongest woman I know and she was and still is my hero. I am proud to say, I am my mother’s daughter.”

Meiji Ondo group during a Cherry Blossom Festival in front of the Japanese American National Museum. Front row, from left: Sensei Masako Rodriquez, Julie Otake. Second row: Eiko Muto, Asako Tomita, Satomi Nishimoto, Ritsuko Shinbashi, Emi Hino, Shuko Akune. Third row: Cathy Fujimoto, Patti Kasahara, Janet Yamamoto, David Osako, Yuki Yoshimoto.

Some of the Meiji dancers shared their experiences with Masako.

Masako Rodriquez with her beloved husband Keno during a Meiji Ondo practice at SFV JACC.

“I was NOT good at all… two ‘left feet’ and I declined to participate in the upcoming performance at the SFV JACC Family BBQ in 2011. Masako Sensei was SOOO encouraging and said, ‘You’re fine… just SMILE and follow. I want you to sign up.’ She convinced me, so I participated and had FUN! I remember making many mistakes… but to this day, I remember Sensei being so supportive, and I will ALWAYS cherish her kindness and being so welcoming into her ondo class.”

“For such a petite person, Masako had the biggest, loudest voice! Our ondo dancers would really listen and learn. Masako not only had a big voice, she had big talent. She danced gracefully and beautifully with ease. She could also look at anything just once and could then duplicate it. She could knit, crochet, sew and design her own clothing, enjoyed arts and crafts and she was a dog lover. Although she was small in stature, she was large in life.”

“Masako was a very good cook and I also looked forward to eating her dishes at our holiday potlucks. I remember asking her husband, Keno, which restaurants they liked to go to. His answer was Masako’s Kitchen!”

Masako will be missed by many people, especially her family. She is survived by her children Frank, Joaquin (JR), and Christine, two sisters Asako and Yoshiko, 8 grandchildren: Robert, Sandra, Jacki, Gina, Nicole, Matthew, Dylan and Nicholas, and 5 great-grandchildren: Lincoln, Lexie, Logan, Victoria and Nycol.

She was predeceased by her husband Joaquin Sr. and daughter Victoria.

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  1. I will miss this beautiful woman….much much more than a dancer…she was the rock of the family.
    RIP Masako…I love you more than you’ll ever know.