2021 Matsuri fundraiser, other events keep GVJCI rolling

Surviving an unexpected, unprecedented pandemic is no easy feat for businesses and organizations. The key is to have a sound game plan on how to stay solvent.

For now, the GVJCI will continue with social media platforms and Zoom conferences. Its executives are planning a safe transition back to in-person programming leading up to 2022.

If activities is the JCI’s heart and soul then fundraising is the life’s blood. Raising funds is a year-round endeavor, pandemic or no pandemic.

This past week (June 21-25), the GVJCI presented its 2021 Matsuri fundraiser as a week-long virtual celebration. Long considered one of the showcase cultural events in the South Bay, the matsuri for the second year went virtual — yet featured the spirit of the event if not the in-person pageantry.

JCI Executive Director Alison Kochiyama shared her thoughts with the community during Matsuri week on the organization’s website.

“Although we could not be together physically, we hope that the content brought some fond GVJCI matsuri memories to you, your families and friends,” Kochiyama said in a virtual presentation.

With a theme of “Community Strong,” the matsuri featured daily videos, from the 2021 GVJCI Scholarship Fund recipients, to hula and musical performances, to iced coffee and udon demonstrations — and this was just one day’s slate of activities.

“(The Virtual Matsuri) is a way the GVJCI can continue to generate funds that would normally be raised at our annual matsuri, our largest fundraiser each year, beginning from now through the end of June,” officials said on the website.

Cathy Lee, GVJCI director of Development and Marketing, said that business sponsorship for the matsuri has remained strong.

“Our longtime sponsors who have supported Matsuri have really stepped up,” Lee said. “This year we have more sponsors for our virtual matsuri than we have had in the history of the matsuri. It’s really amazing.”

A statement posted on the Matusir page reads:

“Our everyday lives have changed in ways we could have never imagined. The Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute (GVJCI) is a vital South Bay community center and we depend on the financial support that our annual matsuri brings us each year and is needed even more during this unprecedented time… The GVJCI Matsuri Fundraiser is our largest fundraising event of the year and raises critical funds (more than $100,000) that help keep our organization going.”

This year’s Gold Sponsor is King’s Hawaaian; while the Silver Sponsor’s are Jins eyewear and Union Bank; Bronze sponsors are AFIA Insurance Services, Inc., Luther Burbank Savings, Kaji & Associates, Sapporo Premium Beer, Home Care Assistance and Millennia Personal Care Services.

Since the Tomo No Kai Senior Oil Painting class was suspended this past year, the art from JCI seniors was not available. So, the paintings of Venice (California) artist Steve Jones received the spotlight.

Entertainment came in the form of  matsuri videos of Nihon Buyo (Japanese dance), Yuujou (friendship) Daiko, the LA Men’s Glee Club, fun and games videos by Boy Scout Troop 719, South Bay band Elemental Funk and the Kanani Kalama Hula Studio.

Scholarship winners for 2021 are introduced by GVJCI board member and Scholarship Committee member Ray Shibata. He said that the GVJCI annually presents scholarships to local high school seniors and graduates of the GVJCI Language School graduates.

“Each year, we are impressed and inspired by the youth who applied to the scholarship program, the scholastic achievements, their future goals and the commitment and involvement in the community as volunteers,” Shibata said.

Rachel Arakawa is the Gary Hori Memorial Scholarship recipient; Piper Takenaka won the GV JACL Scholarship; and Garrett Tamura won two scholarships, the GV JACL and the GV Gardeners Association Legacy scholarships.

Arakawa is a West High in Torrance graduate who will attend UC Berkeley, majoring in molecular and cell biology on a pre-med track.

Takenaka is also a West High graduate and will attend El Camino College in the fall, majoring in biology. She plans to transfer to UCLA and continue her pre-med studies. Her goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon.

Tamura is a Torrance High grad and will enter California State University, Long Beach in the fall. He will major in mechanical engineering.

Food has long been a staple of the matsuri, but without the enticing aroma of yakisoba, spam musubi and the visual delight of rainbow flavors of shaved ice, recipe videos are presented.

Kendo, kyudo and judo make up the martial arts demonstrations and a Matsuri Memory board is a showcase for favorite photos, shared stories and remembrances.

The beauty of a virtual matsuri is that it can be revisited often and at any time during the year.

“If you go to our website, you’ll see that the 2020 matsuri can still be accessed,” Lee said. “Everything is on our website.”

Facebook and Instagram are the two most prominent platforms used by the GVJCI.

“If you follow us on Instagram and Facebook, you will see everything that we are doing,” Lee said. “You don’t even need to (subscribe to) Instagram and Facebook. Just go to our website and look for the icons (to various social media platforms).

The GVJCI’s next big happening is its 2021 Signature event, Tabe-Doraibu from July 16 to Aug. 1. In this second fundraiser, the JCI will partner with various Gardena and Torrance eateries.

Lee described Tabe-Doraibu as an event that aims to highlight the many amazing businesses and restaurants in the Gardena and Torrance areas across two weeks.

“The South Bay is a hidden gem for food lovers,” Lee said. “It’s an area of southern California we all think of as the food mecca.”

“Tabe” is derived from tabe-aruki, a popular “eating on the move” event in Japan where foodies travel from restaurant to restaurant, sampling their speciality dishes, Lee said.

She said that Tabe-Doraibu is similar in concept and will be presented in a scavenger hunt-style format. Participants visit restaurants and collect points to win prizes. There is an ($10 for individuals or $20 for teams of three) entry fee through the GVJCI, but 100 percent of the sales from meal purchases goes to the restaurants.

“(Tabe-Doraibu) is to help a lot of the small businesses/restaurants,” Lee said. “Many of these businesses have supported us for so many years and now we are returning the favor by helping them (get back on their feet).”

Participating restaurants include Azuma, Gardena Bowl, Sakura-Ya (manju store), Painter’s Tape, Rutts Hawaiian, Cherrystones, Rascals, Concha Creamery, the Loft, Shin-Sen-Gumi 2GO, Shin-Sen-Gumi Shabu-Shabu, Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori, Hakata Ramen, Cafe Pruvia, Scoops and N Café.

“We are excited to be participating with these restaurants, enjoy some delicious meals and hope people will support them and really have fun,” Lee said.

To learn more about the GVJCI Tabe-Doraibu and other events, go to https://www.jci-gardena.org/

This is the first of a two-part series on the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute. Part two will focus on programs, classes and volunteerism.