The Venice Japanese Community Center welcomed The Year of the Dog Sunday, January 15th, with a traditional New Year’s luncheon that also honored 50 members who had reached 80.

Highlight of the luncheon this year were appearances by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

Former local Assemblyman George Nakano swore in new officers for the center’s coming year, as he has done before.

MAYOR PRAISES DIVERSITY — After Nakano told the mayor and the councilman that an eerie chant — called the skukugin — offered at the beginning of the program was “our soul music,” Villaraigosa told the Japanese community center members that “it is very, very important to nurture the customs that you had in the old country.”

The mayor reminded the members that he had grown up in Boyle Heights at a time when the community was almost evenly divided among Jews, Mexicans and Japanese.

Villaraigosa spoke only Spanish in his first years and remembered coming home after having been harassed at school for speaking only Spanish.

“My mother shared with me the (stories of) Jim Crow and the Holocaust and the relocation of the Japanese,” the mayor said.

“In the ’50s, you almost wanted to reject the customs” of your heritage, the mayor remembered.

He welcomed the return to the diversity of languages and peoples in the city.

“In Los Angeles we have 30 different nationalities with the greatest amount of their people who live outside of their countries.

“We speak 120 languages,” he added.

“There is no contradiction to pledging allegiance to this great flag,” Villaraigosa said, pointing to the U.S. flag, and still acknowledging the customs of your old country,” he told the Japanese community center members.”

He praised the members for acknowledging those who have reached 80.

“We celebrate the new year with different traditions that are old but we want to keep them alive,” Villaraigosa said.

“These are rich communities” with rich traditions, he said of the various cultures found in the city.

He noted that the previous day he had been to a Korean observance of the new year.

“The Korean community has a tradition of cleaning up the community for the new year,” he said, noting that he found “2,000 young people out cleaning up their community.”

“It is these traditions we keep that keep Los Angeles with the diversity it has today,” the mayor said.

ROSENDAHL A ROOSTER —Rosendahl noted that the Year of the Rooster had not completely passed.

“I think it runs to January 29th. I am a rooster and the year has been very good to me. I had my birthday in May and then got elected to the City Council.”

He said his nephew, who lives with him in Mar Vista, was born in The Year of the Dog and “he is very excited because The Year of the Dog means loyalties and strengths.”

THIRD YEAR AS PRESIDENT — John Ikegami is beginning his third year as president of the Venice Japanese Community Center.

He noted that one of the key programs of the past year was the presentation of high school diplomas to those who missed their high school graduations because they were interned during World War II.

The Venice center joined other Japanese organizations in the region to put together a high school graduation program for such students.

During the coming year, he said members of the center will continue their efforts to build an additional multipurpose building adjacent to the present multipurpose facility.

The building program is only one of 40 programs the center is involved in.

“It really helps the center to participate with different groups in different activities” Ikegami said.

The center honored Bob and Misao Shibasaki as “Persons of the Year.”

Jun Oyama was honored with a lifetime achievement award.

The Koshin Taiko drummers and Japanese dancers entertained.

The Venice Japanese Center is at 12448 Braddock Drive in the Del Rey area.