By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Kansha (appreciation) was the spirit of the evening at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center’s 41st anniversary gala, held on the JACCC Plaza in Little Tokyo on June 23.
More than 400 gathered for the first time since the pandemic to celebrate and recognize individuals and organizations who have supported the JACCC through the years.
Japanese Festival Sounds, led by Johnny Mori, welcomed the gathering with the rhythmic sounds of taiko. David Ono of ABC 7 Eyewitness News served as the emcee.
Consul General Akira Muto offered a kampai toast. He said, “I offer my heartfelt congratulations on the 41st celebration and awards dinner. It is wonderful to see the JACCC Plaza come alive again.”
Glenn Inanaga, chair of the JACCC Board of Directors, explained that the dinner committee chose the theme “kansha” to express appreciation for the support the JACCC has received throughout the decades, and in particular during the pandemic.
Kazuo Koshi, chairman of the boards of MUFG Americas Holdings Corporation and MUFG Union Bank, and Justice Kathryn Doi Todd were honored with the JACCC Chairman’s Award.
Koshi said that Union Bank has been proud of its relationship with the Japanese American community, which goes back 70 years.
“As you know, MUFG is in the process of transferring ownership of Union Bank to U.S. Bank,” he said. “The baton will be passed, but our heritage will not be lost and our lineage will never be forgotten. I am happy that our friends from U.S. Bank joined in support of this event and is in attendance. I am optimistic about the new chapter of Union Bank’s partnership with the community.”
On a personal note, he said that he would be returning to Japan after spending 23 years in the U.S.
“In a sense, I feel like I’m leaving home away from home… to go home. It is bittersweet, and I cannot think of a better place than right here, right now in Little Tokyo with all of you to express my tremendous kansha and respect for the Japanese American community for the honor of being a part of this community and for the noble work that all of you support.”
Doi Todd served on the JACCC Board of Directors for 27 years, including as chair from 1983 to 2010. She reflected that her love of Japan started with a summer exchange trip to Keio University in Tokyo more than 60 years ago.
“It was a very important experience for me as it opened my eyes to the beauty and extraordinary cultural depth of Japan,” she said. “And I realized the importance of this knowledge and the immersion in Japanese culture for my own sense of self.”
She remembered the earliest days of the JACCC, when her daughter Mia, then just two years old, sat on the floor as she and her husband helped Miles Kubo install “Hikari,” an exhibition of paper lanterns by Isamu Noguchi.
“I believed it was going to be important for my daughter, a Yonsei Hapa, to appreciate the importance and beauty of Japanese culture, and frankly that was my selfish reason for wanting to be involved here at the JACCC. For her and for the other Japanese American children of the future to have these experiences and, of course, to share that with the rest of Los Angeles.”
Jerry Yoshitomi, former JACCC executive director, presented the original co-chairs of AutumnFest Committee with the President’s Award. Gary Kawaguchi, Tim Manaka, Jr., Suzy Sasaki, Karen Shintaku, and Paul Shishima were recognized for their efforts, starting in 1987, to grow AutumnFest into a popular and successful fundraiser.
During the pandemic, Manaka and his wife Akiko reached out to Sasaki, Shintaku, Kawaguchi and Shishima to help the JACCC and a newly formed AutumnFest Committee staged the first virtual gala in November 2020.
Manaka expressed gratitude to his co-chairs and also acknowledged former JACCC staff, including Toni Kitazawa, Ellen and Ken Minami, Gail Matsui, Kathy Tokudomi and Qris Yamashita, for continuing to support the center.
“The mission here has not changed. We’re here to night to raise money because we’ve gotten grants that are fabulous but none of them are going to keep the doors open. We see this support continuing from generation to generation,” Manaka said.
Sasaki said, “Leadership and vision began with our Issei and Nisei pioneers. This foundation was laid with care, sacrifice and strength by our parents and grandparents. We have been working to continue their legacies and through our service to the community and support of JACCC we now are excited to have the next generation of JACCC supporters join us, bringing fresh energy to foster community through culture and the arts, reimagining such events as the AutumnFest.”
Patricia Wyatt, JACCC president and CEO, expressed gratitude to the gathering, noting that the setting in the JACCC Plaza has borne witness to numerous events over the decades, including Nisei Week, and is one of just three remaining public spaces in the U.S. created by famed artist Noguchi.
She announced that JACCC has received a $250,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. The funds will be used to create the Kosaka Center for Arts and Crafts, named for Hirokaza Kosaka, the center’s master artist-in-residence.
JACCC also received a pledge of $100,000 from the Kanai Foundation for the construction of the Kanai Shudo An, which will include programs about washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine), a sake wall and tasting corner.
“To help fulfill our pioneers’ vision, we are now working on revamping our beloved 2.2-acre campus so that we may continue to host live performances; introduce the world to Japanese and Japanese American culinary arts; welcome back the culture-bearers of traditional arts with whom we have worked for decades; and provide opportunities for all of you, your children, and your grandchildren to study traditional Japanese art forms,” Wyatt said.
Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo