Noriko Yonami performs a duet of “Amagi Goe” with Mr. Arai. (Photos by TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo)

Nippon Kashu Kyokai USA Tomonokai(Japan Singers Association USA Friendship Club) had its inauguration ceremony on Sept. 5 at the Miyako Hybrid Hotel in Torrance.

The USA Tomonokai was established through a meeting between the association and the founder, Akira Fujimoto, who visited Japan in June. Fujimoto is passionate in his belief that Japanese songs will be a source of vitality for Japanese- and English-speaking people, and will spread and develop in the U.S.

The Japan association’s board members congratulated the U.S. branch. Video messages were sent from President Yasuo Tanabe, Chairman of the Board Michito Goda, and board members Shizue Abe and Linda Yamamoto. They thanked the Tomonokai for seeking to expand Japanese music culture in the U.S. and expressed their wish to come to the U.S. to perform one day after COVID-19 passes.

Yamamoto said, “We are doing our best in the pandemic. We are in this together.”

In the ceremony with about 40 attendees, Tomonokai looked at its future through a PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Shinichi Hirokawa, chairman of the board of Tomonokai, who hopes to develop the U.S. network of Tomonokai members.

Presenter Eriko Sanjo (far left) with the six certificate winners.

He presented some examples of Japanese song culture that has been adapted to foreign music, such as Latin rhythms. He noted that in the 1970s the Ventures composed very “Japanese” hit songs such as “Ame no Midosuji” and that “Japanese city-pop music in the ’80s” is somehow trending in the U.S. right now.

He projected the possibility of Japanese song culture in the U.S. With the English-speaking audience in mind, the group established their English website sooner than the Japanese site.

“If Mr. Fujimoto is the CEO of the Japanese headquarters of a corporation, I am in the overseas subsidiary,” Hirokawa explained, “You know, Japanese sushi became an international food with the invention of the California roll. I think it is the same for the song culture. I want to make Japanese song culture fit to the international landscape.”

The ceremony was followed by the award presentation of the “Professional-Level Singer’s Certificate” from the Nippon Kashu Kyokai audition program. Among the local singers were Shoko Helm, who passed the highest score in the audition by singing  “Haha no Ai” (Mother’s Love); Akira Fujimoto singing “Hana mo Arashi mo”; and Japanese American singer Mark Sanno singing “Ai San San.”

Kevin Kamei, an attendee who respects the purpose of Tomonokai, said, “I believe the songs represent the heart of the countries. They represent human joy and the life they live. I feel myself very much as a Japanese when I sing and mimic the gestures of Hiroshi Itsuki.”

Tomonokai is so far supporting two local Japanese song events in the first half of the next year with the hope that in-person events will generally be safe by then. One is the Spring Song Festival on March 26  and the other is the Himawari Karaoke Club 30th Anniversary Show on June 19, for which singer Yuji Kitagawa, a recording artist from Japan, will be a special guest.

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