The Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce welcomed the ”Year of the Sheep” at its 70th annual shinnen enkai (New Year’s banquet), which was held Jan. 9 at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. Close to 400 people — HJCC members, their families and friends — attended the sold-out dinner banquet.

The taiko group, Dragon Beat Hawaii, opened the evening with a heart-pumping wadaiko performance. That was followed by welcome remarks from HJCC board chair Candice Naito.

Bishop Daiya Amano of the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii performed a traditional Shintö blessing and then offered the invocation. Kampai were offered by Consul General of Japan Toyoei Shigeeda and Nippon Club president Kosuke Nakajima.

During the dinner hour, the audience was treated to Japanese classical dances performed by members of the Hanayagi Dancing Academy Hawaii Foundation. Imperial and VIP table sponsors were treated to table service of a special menu that had been prepared by guest chef DK Kodama of Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar.

The HJCC shinnen enkai is always a well-attended event, with guests enjoying the fellowship and the introduction of the latest “class” of “Shoko Shiranami Gonin Otoko” kabuki “stars.” For the first time this year, five of the seven stars were women, who gave themselves a special name, “Walter’s Angels,” in honor of their “coach” — show producer and director Walter Saito. The two male cast members were:

  • Steven Teruya, president and CEO of Finance Factors, Ltd., who played the Kojyo; and
  • Brian Watase, Bank of Hawaii assistant vice president and commercial banking officer, who played Meakashi Kingoro.

But the real stars of the show were the wahine dorobö (female thieves), who probably could have talked their way out of any arrest:

  • Melanie Okazaki, regional marketing manager of McDonald’s Restaurant of Hawaii, played the role of Nihon Daemon;
  • Becky Ogata, project marketing and leasing director for Avalon Commercial, LLC, was Benten Kozo;
  • Amy Watabayashi, assistant vice president for employee benefit sales with Pacific Guardian Life, who played Tadanobu Rihei;
  • Stacie Koike, principal of Orasi Design, who played Akaboshi Jyuzaburo; and,
  • the show’s prima donna, Carole Haya-

shino, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, who implored the audience not to call her “the Queen Mother” or “Bachan” (grandmother, which she is in real life) as an oshare (flashy) Nango Rikimaru.

The audience cheered on the Gonin Otoko performers with laughter and hoots, although they were asked to refrain from delivering their gifts of daikon until the conclusion of the show. The show’s production team was made up of Walter Saito, director/producer; Robert Nagao, assistant director/producer and Ronald Ushijima, script master. The shamisen pieces during the show were performed by Kineya Sakio and Kineya Samei, with drums and percussion performed by Hanayagi Mikami and Kineya Saritsu.

Joichi Saito, past HJCC chair, closed the evening with a lively tejime. Grace Lee, co-host of Hawaii News Now’s “Sunrise” morning news program, emceed the event. The Gonin Otoko play was videotaped for airing later on ‘Ölelo Community Media.


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