By SCOTT OSHIMA
White chrysanthemum flowers flowed along a tranquil stream, rested in a teacup for just a moment, and were released back into the world. The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s 2021 Virtual Annual Gala celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding and offered many such moments of contemplation, remembrance, and celebration, as our community — despite our losses and pain — begins to blossom again.
The June 12 fundraiser included a beautiful 56-minute video program, hosted by Tamlyn Tomita, and an online silent auction that closed on Sunday night. JACCC honored both its first executive director, Gerald D. (Jerry) Yoshitomi, and HOSHIZAKI with the 2021 Chairman’s Award. This year’s community-elected Community Spirit Award recipients are Margaret Abo (posthumous), Carrie Furuya Morita, and Don Tahara.
The gala’s theme, “Shoshin,” or beginner’s mind, was introduced through a meditative sweeping of JACCC’s James Irvine Japanese Garden by Hirokazu Kosaka, master artist-in-residence, with a sheng score by Sara Sithi-Amnuai. The program unfolded through three chapters: Purification, Festival, and Resonance, titled with shodo (calligraphy) by artist-in-residence Kuniharu Yoshida. The entire program was artfully filmed and edited by Ken Honjo.
Patricia Wyatt, president and CEO, welcomed the viewers to the gala and introduced the first movement, Purification, as a reflection on the organization’s strong foundation. “So much has been accomplished since our conception and in this past year, we’ve all experienced so many firsts while finding a way forward in a pandemic,” she said in her opening remarks.
JACCC transformed its annual fundraiser into an event about healing and joy, given the many losses during the last 15 months. This was JACCC’s first Virtual Gala—a spirited experience that showcased the organization’s many pioneers, successes, and innovations.
Kosaka presented the 2021 Chairman’s Award to Yoshitomi, who became the organization’s first executive director in 1981. Among his countless accomplishments were the opening of JACCC Plaza, including Isamu Noguchi’s “To the Issei” sculpture and the Japanese American National War Memorial Court; the opening of the Aratani Theatre; the first exhibition of Living National Treasures of Japan in the U.S.; and a profound commitment to local, national, and international communities.
“It takes a village — this village of Americans, those of Japanese ancestry, as well as the many others who understood the importance and value of sharing our cultures with each other,” said Yoshitomi in his acceptance speech.
The program included a touching “In Memoriam” to the many community members we have lost since JACCC’s last gathering in 2019.
Board member George Tanaka and consultant Andy Nakano presented the second 2021 Chairman’s Award to HOSHIZAKI, a global leading manufacturer of commercial and environmentally sustainable equipment for food and beverage services that was founded in Nagoya in 1947. HOSHIZAKI was a major supporter of JACCC’s new Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center, providing vital refrigeration and ice machines across the campus. HOSHIZAKI America’s Interim President Chris Karssien accepted the award with gratitude and a plan to visit the center soon.
The Festival chapter opened with the second performance in the garden: a tea ceremony with Satsuki Palter and Kosaka.
Wyatt shared a taste of JACCC’s programs from past and present. “For JACCC, like many, the pandemic brought uncertainty and a new territory for sharing its programs,” she said. The slideshow included the JACCC grand opening in 1980, legendary performances like “America Maru” and the annual Kotohajime, Sustainable Little Tokyo, and innovative programs during the pandemic, such as a digital Children’s Day, Shodo for Little Tokyo, and Nikkei Music Reclamation Project.
Taki Nakatani of Suntory and Far Bar’s Tahara and Jesse Sepulveda demonstrated the special cocktail in the Suntory and Far Bar/Sake Dojo gift pack, which was available for donors of $500 or more during the gala.
Special sponsor messages included the Folick family, Taiji Terasaki on behalf of the Terasaki Nibei Foundation, and Kaz Koshi of MUFG Union Bank, congratulating JACCC on its 50th anniversary.
The final chapter, Resonance, turned the garden’s entire stream into an immersive tea ceremony. Kosaka poured matcha tea into the water, coloring it a vibrant green and welcoming a cascade of white chrysanthemum flowers. For Kosaka, each flower is a remembrance of the spirits and lives lost and the brief moments we share together — moments that can never be repeated.
How appropriate, then, to close with the annual Community Spirit Award, the highlight of every JACCC dinner. Tomita said, “[The award ceremony] recognizes individuals whose unwavering dedication and commitment have had an immeasurable impact on the people and organizations around them.”
The Grateful Crane Ensemble produced special renditions of classic songs in honor of the Community Spirit Award recipients.
Grateful Crane members Jason Fong, Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima, and Darrell Kunitomi sang a heartfelt rendition of Abo’s favorite song, “Koko ni Sachi Ari” to her daughter Janna Abo-George and grandchildren Kamala and Luke. Abo passionately cared for children as both a daycare provider for over 35 years and co-founder of the Orange County Buddhist Church Girl Scouts program. She was also a deeply active member of OCBC and will be remembered for a life well lived.
For Tahara, owner and chef of Far Bar and Sake Dojo, the ensemble sang a version of “Hotel California” with hilarious lines about Far Bar — “Such a sansei place” — and Tahara — “Such a sansei face.” Tahara opened Far Bar in 2004 and Sake Dojo in 2018 and has been dedicated to providing affordable space and catering for Japanese American organizations and groups for nearly 30 years. He also prepares the daily lunches for the Little Tokyo Senior Nutrition Service.
And tearing up the Aratani Theatre stage, Morita danced to the ensemble’s funky take on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” Morita is a former LAUSD elementary school teacher who taught for 36 years, and helped develop the first Asian American studies class at CSU Long Beach. She continues to be an active and funk-tastic community member, involved in Nikkei Progressives, Tsuru for Solidarity, Sustainable Little Tokyo, and Okaeri.
Morita, accepting on behalf of all three recipients, said, “[This award], aptly named Community Spirit Award, truly belongs to the communities we each are a part of. We thank JACCC for this recognition and realize that it also belongs to those whose vision is to make sure our history, arts, and culture continue to flourish.”
JACCC is emerging from the pandemic with deep reflection on its long and recent history. With major awards like the recently announced L.A. Arts Recovery Fund for $2 million across three years and powerful projects like Marissa Osato’s dance short film “to peer through veils,” JACCC is certainly positioned for a flourishing 2021 and 50 more years to come.
To watch the full video program and see full details on the sponsors, honorees, and award recipients, go to jaccc.org/annual-gala.
Photos courtesy of JACCC