Members and supporters of the United Japanese Society of Hawaii welcomed the “Year of the Dog” with a festive New Year’s celebration on Jan. 6 at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i.
Students from the Pacific Buddhist Academy’s taiko group opened the program with a “Call to Celebration.” After observing a moment of silence for deceased UJSH members, Hanayagi Mitsusumi (Sheree Tamura) performed the New Year’s celebratory dance, “Shin Kotobuki Sambaso.”
UJSH president Sheree Tamura welcomed everyone to the shinnen enkai, wishing them joy, good health and good experiences during the year. Tamura said the 20 Japanese-related organizations that make up the Kizuna Group are coordinating events for this year’s commemoration marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Hawai‘i of the Gannenmono — the first Japanese immigrants, who arrived in 1868.
In attendance at the event was Iwao Horii, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs. Horii said he hopes the descendants of the Japanese immigrants will continue to serve as a bridge between Japan and the United States.
One of the traditions of the UJSH shinnenkai is the recognition of the previous year’s Hawai‘i recipients of imperial decorations from the Government of Japan. Recognized last year were: spring awardees James Andrew Kelly, who received The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, and Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce president Wayne T. Ishihara, recipient of The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays. The fall awardees were: Island Holdings, Inc. chairman and president Colbert Matsumoto, who was presented The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette; and Dr. Satoru Izutsu, recently retired vice dean for the University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine, who received The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.
The 2017 Kenjin Kai Young Achiever Awards were also presented during the program. Honored were: Janelle Aiko Settsu, representing the Hawaii Fukuoka Kenjin Kai; Brandon Akio Ing from the Hawaii United Okinawa Association; Karly Kanehiro, representing the Honolulu Fukushima Kenjin Kai; and Koshin Steven Soga from the Honolulu Hiroshima Kenjin Kai.
The young leaders were applauded for their contributions to their respective kenjinkai. Karly Kanehiro, who spoke on behalf of the recipients, said she and her fellow “Achievers” were honored to be recognized by UJSH. A ninth grade Social Studies teacher at Campbell High School, Kanehiro recalled how visiting Fukushima in 2014 helped to open her view of the world and how she shares lessons of heritage, history, culture and family with her students.
The Young Achievers’ contributions were celebrated with the dance, “Sambaso,” performed by Onoe Kikunobutomi (Brandon Goda) and Jordan Ragasa of the Kikunobu Dance Co., Inc.
Special guests included Gov. David Ige, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Consul General of Japan Koichi Ito. Ige spoke of the importance of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Japan. He said it is people-to-people relationships that will make the difference.
Consul General Ito, who was attending his first UJSH shinnenkai with his wife Misako, said he was impressed to see how Hawai‘i’s Japanese American community embraces its culture.
UJSH past president Kenneth Saiki offered a boisterous banzai to all of the day’s honorees, UJSH and its guests.
The multitalented Rev. Takamasa Yamamura of the Honolulu Myohoji Mission sang a New Year’s congratulatory song and also delivered the invocation before lunch.
The rest of the program was devoted to entertainment.
UJSH past president and advisor Christine Kubota wrapped up the shinnen enkai program with a lively tejime.
The shinnen enkai was chaired by UJSH member David Jones with assistance from Karen Kuba-Hori, Annette Matsumoto, Clyde Matsumoto, Fusayo “Fussy” Nagai, Seichi Nagai, Norman Nakasone, Kenneth Saiki, Faye Shigemura, Cyrus Tamashiro and Mabel Yonemori.