Hikari Taiko performed a lion dance.

Over 100 friends and family of all ages celebrated the 114th annual Nanka Kanagawa Kenjinkai (#Kanagawa SoCal) New Year’s festivities at St. Francis Catholic Church (Maryknoll) in Little Tokyo on Feb. 26.

Hikari Taiko performed a lion dance.

Debbie Sato-Valencia was the liaison with Maryknoll.

The auditorium was decorated with five Tanabata kazari, a Lego exhibit including the “Great Wave off Kanagawa” built by Darryl Taiji, table decorations with origami cranes and Japanese masks, noren and signs.

Hank Iwamoto and Tom Endo smoothly checked in the guests and directed them to the “Itadakimasu” buffet table prepared by Leonard Kim’s Cherrystones, including their famous award-winning chili. 

President Frank Kawase gave a welcome followed by “rabbit” jokes and rewarded guests who were born in the Year of the Rabbit. Tats Kumagai gave a special welcome in Japanese.

Kawase introduced the incoming president, Jennifer Cuya Kawase, a Yonsei. She acknowledged all those that helped with the festivities and introduced board members and special guests: Kenjinkai Presidents Yosuke Aoyagi (Chiba), Mari Kawaguchi (Tottori), Seiji Matsumura (Tokushima), Yoshikuni Okita (Kumamoto), Kehei Otani (Ehime) and Kimiko Otani, Jeff Yamazaki (Tokyo) and Happy Mizutani, executive director of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai.

Midori Masuda received a toy rabbit.

The greeting was followed by a rousing New Year’s toast by Ray Yanagita. Mature guests over 85 were recognized with stuffed rabbits and children 12 and under were brought to the front to receive recognition and a rabbit goodie basket.

Ray Kawase followed with a memoriam for those who had passed and pioneers who came from Kanagawa and established their roots.

Lea Yamamoto created an ice-breaker for the attendees, who broke up into small groups and identified a series of pictures from different eras. There was much joy in reminiscing about each of the pictures and teamwork amongst the different generations.

Next was a special shishimai (lion dance) performance by Hikari Taiko, which was founded by Tak Murata in 1978. The lion wound through the crowd eliciting shouts of glee and laughter. The dance was followed by an outstanding taiko performance.

Performance by musician Kat McDonnell, who has lived in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Jennifer Kawase, on behalf of the board and members, thanked Frank Kawase for his decades of service as president. She commented, “We would not be here today if not for his leadership and dedication. Frank has a love for music and always enjoys sharing experiences with others.” 

A surprise performance by musician Kat McDowell, who has lived and toured in Kanagawa Prefecture, was dedicated to presidents and board members past and present who had given of their time and dedication to Kanagawa Kenjinkai. She delighted the crowd with songs sung in Japanese and English that included “1,000 Paper Cranes,” “Sukiyaki” and “By Your Side.”

Everyone participated in an ice-breaker game.

The bake sale with delicious homemade goodies was enjoyed and then bingo was played with all participants going home with a prize. Ray Kawase had a table of gift cards, mystery bags, rice, paper products, senbei, and other Japanese snacks. Stan Sato and many others generously donated numerous popular prizes. 

Jennifer Kawase gave a “domo arigato” and appreciation to all for attending and helping to make the event a memorable celebration. We look forward to seeing everyone at the annual picnic on Sunday, July 9.

Stan Sato won a bingo game.

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