Wes Shimoda of the Venice Japanese Community Center holds goodie bags given to Keiro Kai honorees at the drive-by celebration.

The 2021 Venice Japanese Community Center Shinnen Kai and Keiro Kai celebration was streamlined due to COVID-19 but even a pandemic cannot keep the VJCC from recognizing our new Keiro honorees and centenarians.

Eleven VJCC board members packaged, distributed and delivered onto porches the customary bento, gifts and congratulatory certificates to 15 Keiro honorees and seven centenarians.

Gifts included a proclamation from the city and leis crocheted by Roseann Yoshida.

This year’s gift was a Tiger Ultra-Light Stainless-Steel Bottle purchased from Rafu Bussan in Little Tokyo. Bento was a delicious combination box plate from California Rice Center in Gardena. Certificates were provided by the Office of Councilmember Mike Bonin (11th District). Centenarians also received a crocheted lei, handmade by Roseann Yoshida.

Board members who assisted with distribution and delivery were: Jolyn Matsumuro Brookes, Dave Hirota, John Ikegami, Eric Inouye, Kevin Kunisaki, Jack Kurihara, Ken Nagao, Fusako Ogasawara, Bob Onishi, Keiichi Ono and Wes Shimoda.

VJCC was established in February 1921 to preserve, share and promote Japanese and Japanese American culture. The center is available for everyone in the community to participate in the various classes, clubs and events offered there. There are classes in Japanese music, language, martial arts, and cultural arts, as well as activities of general interest such as dance,sports, exercise and personal well-being.

In Appreciation of Tradition and Change

Michelle Orne and Luke Uyeda

Every year at the VJCC Annual Membership Meeting, we cast votes in appreciation of our heroes — our VJCC Persons of the Year. We are grateful to the individuals who work tirelessly to support the VJCC mission to preserve, share and promote Japanese and Japanese American culture. Japanese and JA culture are not static and neither are the means through which we can preserve, share and promote them. 2020 made change necessary and our Persons of the Year stepped up to the challenge and succeeded.

• “Visionary” is the word to characterize Michelle Orne. Recognizing the probability that the 2020 VJCC Natsu Matsuri Summer Festival would be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle proactively conceived of the VJCC’s first-ever virtual event.

In ten weeks — from the April Executive Council meeting where the concept was approved until the weekend of the 2020 VJCC Virtual Festival in June — Michelle convened and skillfully chaired Zoom meetings to determine the committee’s hopes and goals for the event. She created the timeline and kept track of the progress of subcommittees for the festival video and the bento pick-up. She was present and involved in every aspect of the preparation and execution.

Working with a group of people who were new to her, Michelle quickly ascertained their personal strengths with earnest questioning and patient observation. The confidence and enthusiasm she projected and the care she took to delegate responsibilities to those best suited to carry them out resulted in the monumental success that we all experienced.

Beyond just the scope of the Virtual Festival, Michelle’s vision brought together the entire VJCC community that will forever remember the comradery of working together through a bleak period in all our lives, creating something magical to preserve a tradition that we cherish.

Congratulations and thank you, Michelle!

• For the past four years, Luke Uyeda has been instrumental in bringing the VJCC to the community’s forefront through photography and videography. He devotes hours to visually capture an event wherever it happens. He has provided VJCC with critical photos and videos, which include the Golf Tournament, Natsu Matsuri Summer Festival, Sake Social Night, Senior Nutrition and Senior Wellness programs, club events, and VJCC’s video production for its 100th year anniversary.

Luke’s most notable accomplishment was our 2020 VJCC Virtual Festival video during the height of the pandemic. His videography was superb and it not only captured the event vividly but excited the viewers of the Virtual Festival. The Virtual Festival was an unfamiliar undertaking and Luke’s video paved the way for other organizations to follow.

Luke is hard to miss if you know him. Somehow, though, everyone else is made to feel and be the focus of attention when he is involved. His actions speak more than words and those actions are unselfish, constant and seemingly tireless in devotion of his time and skills to support the VJCC mission to preserve, share and promote the culture and traditions for which we came together 100 years ago.

— Submitted by John Ikegami and Bob Onishi

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