Models and guests stroll the catwalk during the finale of  the 2022 So-Phis Fashion Show in Anaheim.

ANAHEIM — Two years since the COVID-19 pandemic forever altered our lives, the theme of the 2022 So-Phis Fashion Show on April 2 couldn’t have been more appropriate: “Hope, Dream, Inspire … Lights the Way.”

The event was abruptly cancelled in April 2020 and for the 500 attendees at the Hilton Anaheim it was an opportunity to once more see people and enjoy an event that has raised funds for charity for 62 years.

Stacey Yoshinaga and Rolene Hamamoto, fashion show coordinators, welcomed guests back, with gratitude and emotion.

“Our theme this year is ‘Hope, Dream, Inspires … Lights the Way’ and we thought it’s a fitting theme as it’s reflective of what we are trying to do at So-Phis, and that’s to better our world. Our goal with our fashion show is to help as many charities as possible light the way,” Yoshinaga said.

The event was held in support of several charitable groups, including the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, represented by June Aochi Berk.

Yoshinaga noted that when So-Phis had to abruptly cancel two years ago, 700 furoshiki wrapping cloths had already been printed with the year, 2020.

“We’re asking you to use them as a memory of what we endured in 2020,” she said. “But I do want to note that the perishable items in the goodie bag are fresh.”

Hamamoto was nearly in tears as she shared her greetings to the crowd.

U.S. Olympian Sakura Kokumai said she wasn’t quite as confident on the fashion stage as in the karate ring, after taking to the runway with Cade Hatsushi.

“We missed in-person gatherings. We didn’t realize how much we missed it until you were actually able to touch and hug and say hello to one another, to friends and family. It regenerates my soul and I know it does the same for you,” Hamamoto said. “So-Phis is so grateful to all of you for believing and supporting us for so many years.”

Helen Ota and Aaron Takahashi served as emcees for the event. Takahashi first appearing wearing boxer shorts and slippers.

“I thought the fashion show was going to be on Zoom!” he exclaimed.

The number of attendees was limited due to indoor event requirements and COVID protocols were enforced.

In a slide presentation, So-Phis alluded to the events that have taken place since the last time they gathered: the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Black Lives Matter movement, anti-Asian violence and the current crisis in Ukraine, as well as more upbeat events such as the Dodgers, Lakers and Rams winning championships and the Tokyo Olympics.

Ota and Takahashi shared their own news. Ota got married during the pandemic and Takahashi and his wife had a little girl, Sherilynn, who has bravely endured treatments for brain cancer.

Todd Odagawa is the focus of attention and a slew of camera phones, as he models an upscale comfort look.

“She’s one of the strongest fighters I know … She’s fine now. She went through six rounds of chemo and she’s on her way back to recovering. Thank you, So-Phis, for being so supportive,” said Takahashi, who shared that the women would bring meals over to the family.

After acknowledging the difficulties of the last two years, the show focused on what brought everyone together — good times, colorful fashions and supporting charities that help others in the community.

Representatives from charitable groups were showcased, including CHOC Children’s Hospital Therapy Dog Program, East West Players, FashUnited, OCO  Club, Terasaki Budokan, Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, Walk the Farm, and Zentoku Foundation.

Emcee Helen Ota chats with young models – from left, Aiden Kamiyama, Kenzie Kamiyama, Owen Okuno, Landon Tanaka and Alison Okuno.

OCO Kiboh Taiko opened the festivities, which also featured performances by Brian Yamamoto and Jimmy Ng, and the Clash Boys dance group.

An array of models walked the runway in designer fashion created by Masako Designs, a ladies sportswear label led by Margaret Masako Cummins; Hide and Squeak Kids, a boutique children’s clothing designer in Irvine; and Macys. The show also featured a boutique and silent auction.

The men, including Alan Kosaka, Glenn Tanaka and David Yamahata, enjoyed kidding with the audience and some good-natured cat-calling.

Entertainment during the fashion show included OCO Kibou Taiko (above) and dancing from the Clash Boys (below) – Evan Nakahara, Christian Kim and Nathan Tran.

The women were graceful and elegant, striking poses as attendees took photos with their phones. Among them, Olympian Sakura Kokumai, scheduled to appear In 2020, joined the models on the runway and shared her memories of the Tokyo Olympics. No stranger to fashion, Kokumai became a face of Ralph Lauren during last summer’s games.

Crooner Brian Yamamoto brought some swoon to the evening.

“I was born in Hawaii and grew up in Hawaii and Japan. Being able to represent the U.S. in Japan, where karate originated from, it was such an emotional feeling,” Kokumai told the audience.

Speaking to The Rafu, Kokumai contrasted the experience of walking the runway with karate competition. Her next big competition is in Portugal. She noted that while American fans saw her on billboards for Ralph Lauren, she never got a chance to see them.

“I had blast. It’s my first time walking the runway. I was nervous at first but I loved every single second of it,” Kokumai said. “I love fashion. I would want to explore more of it. What I did today was so much fun! I didn’t look that confident like I do in the karate ring  but inside I was so excited!”

Left: Emcee Aaron Takahashi brought his waist-up Zoom meeting style developed during the pandemic. Center: David Yamahata sports the casual look, donning an aloha shirt, shorts and deck sneakers. Right: Leather is the look for Jaclyn Tomita.   

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo

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