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Newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club of Greater Los Angeles

Volume 56, Number 5 - Febuary 2010

President's Message

February 14, a day we traditionally celebrate with conversation hearts, boxes of chocolates and bouquets of flowers, will this year be unleashing a tiger...the Year of the Tiger! According to the Chinese horoscope, Tigers are dynamic. They can be dependable yet unpredictable, fearless yet tender and loving. Tigers are extremely protective and look out for threats to children and their home. They show authority and command respect. As we come into year 4708 in the lunar calendar, I hope that JAO can take on some of the characteristics of the tiger. My wish is that our event chairs can count on the dependability of our members, yet be unpredictable and willing to try new things. Our board should be fearless in our actions yet tender and loving in our approach. JAO will always look out for the needs of the children we serve and the programs we sponsor will continue to command the respect of our community. The Year of the Tiger is going to be a dynamic year for the Japanese American Optimist club. I hope to see you all at the Essay Contest, Girls Basketball Bingo and CYC Jamboree. Come serve with us, make a difference in a child's life and hear our ROAR! -- Nikki

JAO Bingo Night Features Snack-Off

Peanut butter mochi? Red velvet cupcakes? White chocolate crunches? The makers and bakers of such delectable post-game snacks -- always a highlight of every JAO basketball game -- now have a chance to compete for the too-cool title of JAO Snack Queen (or King) of the year! A new "snack off" contest will highlight JAO Bingo Night, which is scheduled for Feb. 20 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Church in Little Tokyo. The annual event raises money for JAO Invitational League basketball scholarships.

"It's the commissioner's excuse to try everyone's snacks," said JAO Basketball Commissioner Leland Lau. "Over the years, we have been able to sample the wonderful culinary talents of the many moms and dads in the league. Others should be able to try them too." Tigers coach Jeff Gin, for instance, has set a standard of excellence with homemade cookies of every kind and recently whipped up red velvet mini-cupcakes topped by fresh cream, according to Lau. "He has been baking up a storm for years," Lau said. OK, moms, dads and kids - the gauntlet has been thrown down! The first snack-off will feature sweet treats (other categories will follow in future contests). Contestants are asked to bring a minimum two dozen pieces to Bingo Night, plus the recipe. The recipes will be compiled in a JAO Snack Cookbook, to be sold as a fundraiser in the future. The entries will be judged and winners announced and crowned at Bingo Night. In another new event, all JAO teams are invited to make a poster of their team (no larger than 20'' by 30'' standard size poster board) and bring it to Bingo Night for display. The poster activity is aimed at showcasing the wonderful girl ballers in the league and involving them in a Bingo Night activity. And back by popular demand is the 2nd annual Pie the Commissioner booth - your chance to get even with "Dr. No" for turning down your special plea this year! Indoor carnival games for kids are also planned. And Russ Fujii and his faithful crew will be back in the kitchen offering such fine culinary cuisine as chili rice, ramen and hot dogs. Joyce Nakashima, our resident nutritionist, will try to hide her horror at the sodium and fat content consumed this night. Bingo door prizes are needed! Please consider donating something to make this night extra special: sports equipment, movie tickets, wine or foodstuffs, gift cards, etc. Bingo tickets are $10 each, which will cover two bingo tickets. All JAO families are required to buy at least one ticket. For more information, please contact Leland Lau at [email protected] or Teresa Watanabe at [email protected]


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Newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club of Greater Los Angeles

Essay Contest Judges Set

Three prominent community writers and editors have agreed to serve as judges for the annual JAO Essay Contest. Randy Hagihara is a senior editor for recruitment at the Los Angeles Times. Weiko Lin is currently a screenwriting faculty member at Northwestern University in Chicago. And Gwen Muranaka is the English editor of the Rafu Shimpo. The three judges will evaluate essays from local high school students on the topic, "The Internet: Today's Evolution or Tomorrow's Threat?" The winners will be honored Wed. Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. at Taix Restaurant in Echo Park. Come on out to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our youth!

JAO Roars in New Year

A loud roar could be heard coming from the back corner of the Hong Kong Garden dining room in Gardena on Jan. 20. As JAO members and friends fought rain and traffic to convene and get an early start on celebrating the coming Year of the Tiger, the roar heard was not from the approaching tiger, but from 14 hungry stomachs. Before the guests were allowed to enjoy a dinner of delectable Chinese dishes, slave driver and JAO President Nikki Kodama made each person "earn" their dinner by assembling Year of the Tiger picture frames. The frames, which will be gifts to the residents of Keiro South Bay, were carefully assembled, piece by piece, under supervision from Nolan Maehara and Terry Hara. Dinner definitely was worth the hard work and long drive in the rain! For the first time in years, Gayle Hara and President Nikki didn't leave the table hungry! Eileen Yoshimura, as event chair, ordered more than enough food for everyone! Potential new members Don Ikeda, Norman Arikawa and Athena Asklipiadis left impressed by the crafty talents, knowledge of good food and healthy appetites of the attending JAO members. Also joining in on the food and fun (and hard work!) were Garrett Suemori, Sandy Sakamoto, Ed Miyashiro, Kari Miyamoto, Russel Fujii, and Jerry Fukui. Gung hay fat choy!

JAO Celebrates Shinnenkai with a GRRROWL!

Twenty-three eager and hungry JAO members and friends met at Cherrystones Grill and Grotto in Gardena to celebrate the New Year with a delicious Hawaiian buffet dinner on Wednesday, Jan. 6. They were met with a remarkable appetizer spread that included poke and Cherrystones' famous chili, which "hit the spot" on that rather chilly evening. While noshing and talking, guests and members intermingled and exchanged New Year's greetings and spoke of future JAO activities. Once the dinner buffet was ready, everyone lined up to partake of the Chinese chicken salad, kimchee, chicken, kalbi, and the many other selections. People actually went back for second helpings, then took take-home boxes for midnight snacks. After each of the lucky guests won a raffle prize, they applauded owner Leonard Kim, who surprised the audience with his amazing magic tricks. Since the evening was still young, many of the guests also took turns at the open mike and sang a song or two, showing off their karaoke prowess. Those who left early missed being serenaded with karaoke sung by Cherrystones' Leonard and JAO's Nolan Maehara, Jerry Fukui, Leiton Hashimoto -- Shinnenkai planner extraordinaire -- and even our illustrious president, Nikki Kodama. Other members and friends attending included Jani Eckstrand, Russ Fujii, Jennifer Hamabata, Gayle and Terry Hara, Don Ikeda, Keith Inatomi, Jae Lee, Kiyo Maruyama, Kari Miyamoto, Ed Miyashiro, Kitty Sankey, JC Smyth, Deanne Suwa, Carolyn Taffel, Jeff Tani, Tom Yamaguchi and Eileen and Julianne Yoshimura. (New member JC Smyth was a little late, because he walked through the Hustler Casino on his way to Cherrystones! Mmmm.) **Note: The other part of the "GRRROWL" will happen at the Chinese New Year Dinner when we will herald in the Year of the Tiger!

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Newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club of Greater Los Angeles

Meet Kiyo: Few Words, Much Action

together started JAO with other Japanese American men. Athough members came from throughout the region, the nucleus was Little Tokyo. "There was no service type organization in the Little Tokyo area, and there was a need for one," Kiyo recalled. An initial group of about 100 men formed JAO and other Optimist clubs, including ones on the Westside, Crenshaw, Crescent Bay and Pasadena. The club placed its first emphasis on youth sports programs, sponsoring basketball, baseball, crosscountry and annual swim meets. The basketball program got so big that club members partnered with other community organizations to form the Community Youth Council, or CYC. Initially, the programs were for boys but JAO started a girls' program some years later. "At the time, our kids growing up were a lot smaller. Their opportunity to participate in high school sports was slimmer. Yet they wanted to play," he said. Kiyo remembers club days of drinking, socializing and a close-knit camaradie. Club families flocked together to sponsor the teriyaki booth at Nisei Week and the Labor Day outings with golf, fishing and barbeque. Club member Steve Awakuni recalls that before taking the president's post in 2007, he was told he would be spending lots of money socializing with fellow members. "I was told that when Kiyo held office he used to always pick up the drink tab," recalled Steve. "You couldn't pick up the bill fast enough because Kiyo always got to it first." Other members recall Kiyo as being really tough but commanding. When he spoke, everyone listened. At meetings, some members would fool around, throwing napkins at each other. But when Kiyo walked in the door, everyone stopped and got back to business. Kiyo didn't need to say a word. He was a no-nonsense leader and got things done. One of his crowning achievements, aside from JAO, was founding Keiro Senior HealthCare with a handful of other men who took out second mortgages on their homes to finance this pioneering facility for Nikkei elders. He was recently honored with a prominent place on Keiro's stunning new Founders Wall. If you're lucky, sometimes Kiyo would show you his humorous side. He was asked to speak at the Founder's Day luncheon last year, but fell down a hill right before the event. When asked how he was doing, Kiyo sternly replied, "#*&@#!! Don't ask me to speak again because I'll get hurt!" As you can guess, we haven't asked Kiyo to speak since. After all these years, the charter member still attends most meetings. What joy it must bring to him to see something that he helped form many years ago live on in the same spirit today. "I'm just glad to see it's continuing the way it is," he said. "If it keeps going the way it has the first 50 years, I'll be happy." As a man of action and few words, that means a lot to hear Kiyo say this. We hope to continue making you happy, Uncle Kiyo!

If you didn't know Kiyo Maruyama before, your initial meeting with him would probably be somewhat uneventful because "Uncle Kiyo" (as he is affectionately called by fellow JAO members) doesn't say much. He comes across as rather tough. But if you get to know "Uncle Kiyo" better, you will find that behind this founding member's tough, taciturn demeanor is a man of action. Born August 28, 1920 in Los Angeles, Kiyo moved to Glendale at the age of 1. His mom ran a laundry business from home and his dad was a gardener. He grew up mostly around Caucasians in the Glendale area and was not very involved in Japanese community issues as a youth. A formative experience took place in 1932 when he joined the American Legion Boy Scout troop at age 12 with a couple of his neighborhood Caucasian friends. After about six months, one of the parents made a fuss about having a Japanese in the troop. "They kicked me out," Kiyo ruefully recalled. "That was my first experience with real discrimination. It left a bad taste in my mouth." But that wasn't Kiyo's last experience with bias. From Glendale Jr. College, he went to UC Berkeley to study civil engineering in 1940. A day before he was set to take his final exams on Dec. 8, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He tried to go home but the train company wouldn't sell him a ticket without a birth certificate proving he was a U.S. citizen. His dad had to get a duplicate certificate from Los Angeles county and mail it to him. In April of 1942, he was evacuated to Manzanar. He stayed a few months, and then volunteered to work the sugar beet fields and then attend school in Chicago to get out of the camp. He was drafted into the Army and worked in military intelligence at Fort Snelling in May 1945. After the Pacific War ended, he was stationed in Tokyo with the U.S. Occupation Forces. In early 1947, he returned to the United States. He earned an accounting degree at the University of Southern California in February 1950. Kiyo worked for the State of California for a few years, and then decided to launch his own accounting business with Bruce Kaji. The two became business partners and then Ricksha

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Newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club of Greater Los Angeles

JAO Basketball Update

I love seeing the families spending their day with the kids at the gym these past few Sundays. The girls were raring to go the first week. We had several sudden death overtime games that were nail-biters, to say the least. The stands were packed at Schurr's small gym with grandparents, parents, aunts `n uncles cheering on the Midget Brass girls heaving the ball toward the basket. My favorite play occurred when a young player grabbed the ball as it was loose on the floor, with the instinct of a falcon going after its prey. She lunged for the loose ball and got it. The only problem was that she also wrapped her arms around the opponent's leg as well. Thank goodness the ref stopped the play in time or I would have to rename the league the WWE. Thank you for sending in your game scores and box scores during the past few weeks of a test run. The Rafu Shimpo is still working on a system to get the statistics posted on its Website. We do not yet have a launch date but will keep you posted. We also plan to begin posting league standings on our club Website and will alert you when that becomes available. Be sure to visit our Website at to check out the latest club happenings in our Ricksha newsletter. Lastly, we are all so fortunate to be living in America where we take many everyday things for granted. Though the unemployment level is high, we have a roof over our heads and the ability to have a meal and something to drink. JAO will continue to collect your generous canned good donations and forward them to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank on your behalf. As we have seen the situation unfold in Haiti, let us be mindful there are many people suffering far greater than any of us could ever imagine. Whether you donate money to the American Red Cross or one of the other recognized charities, or donate a pair of gently worn shoes to Sport Chalet, let us all do our part to make this world a better place to live in. Last year, 34 teams and more than 80 girls ages six to 14 participated in the hoopshoot, raising more than $5,000 for Keiro. The league's top fundraiser was Lynn Takahashi, then a fifth grader with the 98 Tigerettes team. Keiro is the nation's largest healthcare provider serving the Japanese American community. Since opening in 1961, its staff has provided culturally sensitive care for more than 60,000 seniors at four facilities: Keiro Nursing Home, South Bay Keiro Nursing Home, Keiro Intermediate Care Facility and Keiro Retirement Home. Through its Institute for Healthy Aging, Keiro has also disseminated health care education to 30,000 caregivers and 59,000 baby boomers.

JAO Scholarship Applicants Sought

Applications are now available for the annual JAO basketball scholarship program. A cumulative $2,750 in scholarships will be awarded, including the JAO Founders' Academic Scholarship of $2,500 and a $250 award for community service activities. The winners will be presented their awards at the annual JAO Basketball Jamboree on March 21 at Schurr High School. To qualify, applicants must have played JAO girls basketball for a minimum of four years in the midget and junior divisions and at least two years of JAO prep basketball, excluding summer league. A minimum 3.6 GPA is required for all academic scholarship applicants. Applicants will be judged on the basis of excellence in basketball achievements, grades and community service. They will also be interviewed and asked to write an essay. The topic for the essay, which should be a minimum one page, is: "Select one of the dozen-plus community basketball organizations and interview the founders or their successors about the history of how and why they started them. Write an essay expressing your reflections on the interview and whether Asian basketball organizations are still needed." The application deadline is March 1. For more information, please contact your organizational representative.

Kids Score for Keiro

Dozens of JAO hoopsters scored from the heart for community seniors at the 6th annual Kids for Keiro Hoopshoot Jan. 24. The event, organized by Keiro Senior HealthCare and the JAO Invitational Girls Basketball League, aims to raise needed funds and involve younger generations in the lives of the elders who built their community and family foundations. The program gives youth the opportunity to practice the Japanese values of "keiro" (respect for elders), "kansha" (gratitude) and "okaeshi" (giving back). Participants secured a flat donation or monetary pledges for every point their team scored in the Jan. 24 game. Top fundraisers will be announced and all participants recognized at the JAO Invitational Girls Basketball Jamboree next month. Page 4

Ask the Commissioner: Leland Lau

Q: Does the league have a lost and found? A: Each scorekeeper holds on to the jackets and miscellaneous bags that are turned in each week and generally returns them the following week. Should valuable items, such as cell phones, purses or wallets, or jewelry be found, the scorekeeper will notify me so I can either pick them up or have them made available for pick up by the owner. Ricksha

Newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club of Greater Los Angeles

More JAO Fun! The Optimist Creed ___

Promise Yourself To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet. To make all your friends feel that there is something in them. To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best. To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile. To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

___The Optimist Mission

By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.


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Newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club of Greater Los Angeles

District News

The Pacific Southeast District will hold its second quarter board meeting Feb. 19-21 at the Innes Suite Hotel in Ontario. Business sessions will be held Saturday 9-12 noon and 2-4 p.m. The Sunday brunch will feature the District Youth Appreciation event. Hotel room rates are $85.99 + tax per night. Please call 909466-9600 for room reservations by Feb 2. To register for the quarterly meeting, please call Russel Fujii at 323-394-0889 by Jan. 31. You my also e-mail your quarterly registration to Russel at [email protected] Dinner costs $28 per person but you really should be at JAO Bingo that night! Japanese American Optimist Club 2009-2010 Board of Directors

President: VP of Ways and Means: VP of Youth Programs:

Nikki Kodama Jerry Fukui Kitty Sankey Eileen Yoshimura Steve Awakuni Jim Christensen Russ Fujii Keith Inatomi Jeff Tani Nolan Maehara Leiton Hashimoto Leland Lau

Our Gang

Congratulations to JAO member Nina Suzuki and her husband, Wilson Tam, on the birth of their beautiful daughter. Alison Chie Tam was born Jan. 8 at 11:26 p.m. She weighed in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces and measured 20.5 inches. We will see Alison in JAO basketball in about 6 years!

VP of Membership: VP of Community Relations: Treasurer: Secretary: Immediate Past President:


February is Youth Dental Month! JAO Essay Contest Wednesday, February 3 Taix, 7 p.m. Board meeting Thursday, February 11, Keiro HealthCare, Boyle Heights, 7 p.m. JAO Girls Basketball Bingo Saturday, February 20 Nishi, 7pm, Set up at 5:30 p.m. OYHFS Youth Apprciation Banquet Saturday, February 27 OYH Main Campus, 6 p.m. CYC Jamboree Sunday, February 28 Schurr High School, 11 a.m. Oratorical Contest Wednesday, March 3 Taix, 7pm


The Ricksha is the monthly newsletter of the Japanese American Optimist Club. Please send news, comments or suggestions to [email protected] You may reach club president Nikki Kodama at [email protected] and the board of directors at [email protected] The club website is Thank you. Teresa Watanabe, Ricksha editor, and Linda MacKenzie, layout & design. Ricksha

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