Wayne and Pauline Shimizu, and Mas Tomita and Sandy Kato are so happy to see friends at the Kruze in J-Town benefit concert held last Saturday in the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple parking lot.


Resilience comes in many forms and on Saturday it manifested in smiling faces and the joyful music of Kokoro, entertaining nearly 100 members of the Japanese American dance community at a drive-in concert benefit in the parking lot of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple.

Dances are an important social gathering and have become essential fundraisers for organizations throughout the JA community. Like so many things, this tradition has been changed by the pandemic, but volunteers and organizers found a way to bring some of the feeling of the dances back at a safe, social distance.

“It was kind of a stress reliever. Something happy but safe to look forward to,” said organizer Carol Tanita.

Friends of Glenn Tanaka enjoy their SWA Bento Box and dining outdoors.

The outdoor concert had originally been scheduled for Nov. 7, but was rescheduled due to rain. The band, organizers and volunteers had to undergo special COVID-19 training, which is required by Nishi to utilize their facilities.

Before entering the parking lot, guests went through temperature checks and had to sign waivers and provide emergency contacts.

Once inside, they enjoyed bento provided by Sushi With Attitude, Buttery Popcorn by Mitchell Ida, packaged desserts from Nijiya and other goodies. Nancy Hayata created masks with filters for all of the guests.

Temperatures were taken upon entry by LTSC volunteers.

Social distancing required a larger stage for Kokoro and the band had to wear masks, unless they were singing. Guests were recommended to stay inside their cars as much as possible. Kokoro were joined by Celia Chavez, who tours with Enrique Iglesias, and guest guitarist Billy Watts of Eric Burden and the Animals.

“Everything had to be put into careful consideration for the temple’s safety, the band and the audience,” Tanita said. “We could not have more than 50 cars with no more than two per car.  Recommendations were that people as much as possible stay inside of their cars.”

Adrian Lopez, senior LAPD lead officer, and officials with the L.A. Fire Department provided joint collaboration to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements. The organizers also worked with the L.A. County Health Department. Terry Hara and David Yamahata, former deputy chiefs of the LAPD and LAFD, respectively, were advisors for the event.

Kokoro was joined by Celia Chavez and guitarist Billy Watts on a larger stage built to comply with social distancing measures.

Glenn Tanaka and Orange Coast Optimists, who had staged a similar event at Tanaka Farms in Irvine, offered invaluable guidance.

Concert chairs were Wayne Nagao, Hayata, Kim Kawasaki of Little Tokyo Service Center and Tanita. Other volunteers included Aikido Center of Los Angeles and Maryknoll Shotokan Karate.

Tanita said they were still tabulating but it appeared that they met their fundraising goal. The event raised money for the Terasaki Budokan.

“If things work out, the city and partnering agencies would use our model for the event utilizing Nishi Hongwanji Temple parking lot for future outdoor events,” Tanita said.

Tailgating with Joyce Tanimoto and friends from Orange County.

Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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