Venice Japanese Community Center returns with its annual Summer Festival
By Michael Aushenker
The “Land of the Rising Sun” will shine and cherry blossoms will be in bloom Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23 when the Venice Japanese Community Center (VJCC) in Del Rey holds its annual Summer Festival.
“It gives the groups visibility in the community and brings old and young folks together,” community center member Jay Miya said of the festival. “As a kid, every summer, it was something we could not wait to happen.”
This year, you can say “Domo arigato” to Terry Keelan, who oversees this year’s Summer Festival (Natsu Matsuri) at the Westside center across two days.
“I look forward to the food and the atmosphere and the demonstrations,” said Keelan, who promises such activities as a game booth with a gold fish toss, nickel toss and a dunk tank. Also featured are scores of traditional delicacies including teriyaki sushi, ramen and udon, snow cones, and the ubiquitous favorite – sushi – in addition to treats from outside the culture such as tacos and corn on the cob.
While admission to the Summer Festival is free, the concession stands at the event will raise money for the Venice Japanese Community Center’s building fund. Entertainment and activities will also include demonstrations of various martial arts – karate, judo, kendo and aikido – dance shows by the Line Dance and Hula Dance clubs, and a musical demonstration by the Language School. There will also be a Taiko demonstration by the Venice Koshin Taiko. At each evening’s end, attendees will be invited to participate in the traditional Ondo dance.
Founded in 1921 to aid the growing local Japanese-American farming community, back when Los Angeles was a font of Japanese immigrant energy, the VJCC has long been a driving cultural force reflecting Venice’s multeity and intertwined with L.A.’s Japanese population. This Del Rey site even served as a relocation center for the displaced Japanese-Americans returning from internment camps post-World War II.
Throughout the year, VJCC preserves and promotes Japanese-American culture, from Shinnenkai and Keiro Kai, to celebrating the New Year and Miss Nisei Week during the Nisei Week Festival. Koshin, the center’s Taiko group, provides performances at many celebrations. For a quarter of a century, the center has also published the VJCC Community News.
Keelan, who has been involved with Summer Festival for the past two decades, said his connection with the center began when his children enrolled in its language and basketball programs. He has seen the center evolve over those 20 years.
“As a community ages, you get more mixed Asian families, and the focus seems to change more toward martial arts and away from the traditional art forms. But the VJCC is still vibrant and it recently had a major renovation to one of the buildings,” said Keelan, who married a Japanese-American also involved with VJCC.
That large community room is just the beginning, as the VJCC, whose operational expenses come from member dues, donations, and rent from various clubs, intends to add classrooms to accommodate an increase in interest and participation at its facility. The center presently hosts more than 30 clubs and conducts courses in Japanese creative activities that are open to the community, including lessons in bonsai, ikebana (flower arrangement), shodo (calligraphy), watercolor, sumi-e (Japanese ink painting), and soroban (abacus). Japanese language classes are also offered.
Boy Scout Troop 764, the Bridge Club, the Fishing Club, Gardeners Association, and the Venice Culver Japanese American Citizens League are among the organizations affiliated with the center, which Keelan believes is a crucial hub for the Westside’s Japanese-American population.
So one way to help ensure the VJCC does not say “Sayonara” anytime soon is to attend the Summer Festival and have some fun. Tanoshimu!
The annual VJCC Summer Festival takes place on from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 22, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at the community center, 12448 Braddock Drive, Del Rey. Admission is free. Information, VJCC.com.