GVJCI reopens with a mix of in-person and virtual classes/events through 2021


The Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute has been a fixture in the community since 1912. During the 16-month pandemic closure, JCI officials said they used the time to remodel areas of the facility.

As part of the institute’s reopening strategy in 2021, officials upgraded all of its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in both buildings with ultraviolet light units to sterilize the air as it recirculates,” Executive Director Alison Kochiyama reported in the Spring newsletter.

Running the units on fan mode will sterilize the air as it recirculates through the ventilation system, she added.

As California relaxed its pandemic safety measures on June 15 and as more re-openings are seen from businesses, organizations, schools and religious institutions, some groups such as the GVJCI are taking a cautious approach.

“We are also taking other protective and safety measures to prepare for when we open our doors once again,” Kochiyama said in the newsletter.  


July online events will include the Tanoshii Fun Camp for kids ages 7 to 10 years, with educational activities that highlight the Nikkei experience. Registration for this program has passed.

An Adult Workshop on Estate Planning is planned for Saturday, July 24 from 2 to 4 p.m. This is a free workshop and registration is through the GVJCI website.

In September, an online art show is slated for Saturday, Sept. 18 to Thursday, Sept. 30. The theme of the exhibit is cultural heritage, which can encompass one’s ethnic or national identity, or can include values that have been passed on, such as a strong work ethic or a passion for advocacy. Artwork format can be paintings, photos, sculptures or other expressions.

See the JCI website for entry information and submission instructions. Entry deadline is July 31.

As mentioned in the July 1 issue of the GVN, the GVJCI’s next big happening is its 2021 signature event, Tabe-Doraibu (a set date is being decided). In this second-year fundraiser, the JCI will partner with various Gardena and Torrance eateries.

Cathy Lee, director of Development and Marketing, described Tabe-Doraibu as an event that aims to highlight the many amazing businesses and restaurants in the Gardena and Torrance areas.

“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.

More information on this event will be featured in an upcoming GVJCI newsletter.

The Japanese Language School, which transitioned to an online format in March 2020, will continue with the Zoom format for its Summer Session from July 10-31.

Moneta Gakuen, the first school established in 1912, was “officially established in 1967 as the Gardena Plains Japanese Language School.” 

The GVJCI offers adult classes in the categories of arts/music/dance; health and wellness; and a variety of martial arts. Youth sports affiliated with the institute are the Sansei Baseball League, South Bay FOR (Friends of Richard) Junior Sports Association and South Bay Youth Basketball. Boy Scout Troops supported No. 683 and No. 719. 


For now, the organization will maintain a hybrid mix of virtual Zoom classes and events with in-person offerings, Stephanie Mayeda, the GVJCI program manager said in an email conversation.

“As we plan our reopening, we will bring back classes and programs that require in-person interaction like our senior technology classes,” Mayeda said. “For the upcoming fall, we are planning virtual programs for youth and adults, but we will keep most of our senior programs and classes on-site with some limitations when needed.”

One of the JCI’s biggest challenges during the pandemic closure is its services for older adults, she said.

“Less than 10% of our 2020 Tomo No Kai (Senior Citizen Friendship Society) membership body participated in our online classes,” Mayeda said. “They tend to face challenges when it comes to both access to technology and how to use their devices to access services and classes offered by GVJCI.”

As reported on the JCI website, “an average of 200 seniors participate everyday in a wide variety of activities, which include arts and crafts, physical fitness, academical games, dance, music and educational and health classes.”

Mayeda said that in the last 16 months, the Cultural Institute has offered its “smartphone and technology” classes online, but few students attended. 

She said that connecting on virtual conferences, such as Zoom, have been slow to find a senior audience.

“(Zoom) seems to prove (equally) challenging as they really require in-person assistance when it comes to technology,” Mayeda said.

Consequently, many GVJCI seniors have opted to ride out the pandemic restrictions and wait for the reopening and on-site classes, she said.

Mayeda said that JCI staff understands that the “pandemic is not yet over,” so that any in-person programs can also transition to online presentations if needed.

“The pandemic has had an enormous impact on how we think about access to programs as well as which types of programs are more compatible in an online format,” Mayeda added. 

Armed with new information on how elderly members respond to virtual instruction has Mayeda and GVJCI officials rethinking traditional classes.

“We want to focus more heavily on our on-site technology classes moving forward in the hopes that we can equip more of our seniors with the knowledge of how to use their smartphone or computer to access online classes in the event of another outbreak and subsequent shutdown,” Mayeda said.

One area of in-person interaction that was started just after the state’s coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 was the successful Senior Food Box Distribution. The food giveaway takes place on the first Wednesday of the month in the GVJCI parking lot.

This program offers free food boxes, courtesy of the LA Regional Food Bank from 9 to 10 a.m. Food boxes are on a first come, first served basis and are available for drive-thru service only. Seniors age 60 and older qualify for the food giveaway. JCI officials ask that people do not line up ahead of time. Food boxes contain shelf-stable, non-perishable food items.

“It has been very successful. We have served about 2,800 food boxes,” Cathy Lee, director of Development and Marketing said.

Mayeda added that volunteers have greatly contributed to the success of the monthly food drives.

“We’ve had pretty much the same core group of volunteers coming since the beginning of the pandemic to help us run this food drive,” Mayeda said. “They’re an amazing group of people who do everything from organizing the donations, setting up the stations in our parking lot, distributing the boxes during the drive, helping to deliver food to the JCI Gardens seniors next door to GVJCI, and even helping us coordinate donations for upcoming food drives.”


At the heart of organizations such as the Japanese Cultural Institute are its volunteers. 

“Our volunteers make it possible for the GVJCI to thrive and offer the variety of programs and services that we have. From our youth programs to our senior programs, our volunteers have assisted our staff in planning and implementing our programs and events,” as noted on the website.

Mayeda said the number of volunteers were impacted by the pandemic.

“(We have had volunteers) although in smaller numbers as before due to limited on-site volunteer opportunities during the pandemic,” she said. “As most of our programs and classes transitioned to online format, we didn’t need volunteers to help us with typical on-site responsibilities and tasks such as setting up chairs and tables or administrative assistance.”

In many cases, volunteer opportunities can’t keep up with those willing to volunteer, Mayeda said.

“As we get closer to reopening, there will be more volunteer opportunities available, but we’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to those who have reached out and expressed interest in volunteering at GVJCI during these very challenging times,” she said. “It depends on the event or program whether or not there are certain age requirements, but in general, most opportunities are open to high school age and above.”

This spring, under pandemic safety measures, the GVJCI presented a Volunteer Appreciation (drive-thru) Parade in lieu of an appreciation luncheon.

Gift bags were distributed to all volunteers.

Anyone interested in adding their contact to the GVJCI volunteer database, they can fill out an online volunteer form at https://www.jci-gardena.org/volunteer.html.

The GVJCI is located at 1964 W. 162nd St., Gardena. Office hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone number is 310-324-6611 and email is info@jci-gardena.org. To learn more about the GVJCI, log on at https://www.jci-gardena.org/

GVJCI reopens with a mix of in-person and virtual classes/events through 2021