Final Northern California Japanese American Senior Centers Shinnen Kai Held

SERVING SENIORS — John Yamada, treasurer of the NCJASC; Roz Enomoto, former director of the San Mateo Japanese American Community Center; and Steve Nakajo, executive director of Kimochi, were honored during the 30th annual event, held in Union City, Calif.

Roz Enomoto remembers the excitement of the first Shinnen Kai (New Year’s Celebration) 29 years ago at the College of San Mateo.

“I was a charter member and organized the first Shinnen Kai. I remember that we had 700 people, it was mammoth. I like the gathering of Japanese Americans,” said Enomoto, the retired director of the San Mateo Japanese American County Center.

On March 27, more than 300 seniors gathered to celebrate the Year of the Tiger at the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church in Union City for what would be the last Shinnen Kai.

Sponsored by the Northern California Japanese American Senior Centers (NCJASC), a coalition of senior centers, the 30th Anniversary Shinnen Kai drew people from nearly a dozen senior centers throughout Northern California.

Sophie Horiuchi-Forrester, executive director of Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service in San Jose’s Japantown and an NCJASC member, said that the goal of Shinnen Kai is to celebrate the New Year and to see old friends again. “Shinnen Kai is a gathering to renew friendships, honor and celebrate seniors, and usher in the new year.”

Guest speakers at the event included Assemblymember Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward), civil rights attorney Dennis Hayashi and Union City Mayor Mark Green.

The event included information tables focusing on services for seniors, in addition to various arts and crafts tables. Senior groups created a variety of handcrafts, including handmade cards, jewelry, quilts, blankets, baked goods and manju. There was also live entertainment, including a variety of singing and dancing in both Japanese and American styles.

Horiuchi-Forrester said that after 29 years, this will be the last Shinnen Kai to be sponsored in this format.

“We decided that maybe this is not the event to bring everyone together. We’ll be creating something new, and we’re now in the planning phase.”

Julie Hubbard, activities director at Yu-Ai Kai, added that there have been discussions of possibly holding the event in the summer and inviting professional musicians.

Laura Takeuchi, NCJASC secretary, said that organizers would like to hold the event in a different format to draw more seniors, adding that funding was not a consideration in the decision.

“Funding is not an issue since the event is able to pay for itself. For some of the centers, the cost of renting a bus may factor into their decision to attend or not,” said Takeuchi.

Takeuchi, who previously served as the executive director of Japanese American Services of the East Bay, added, “Shinnen Kai and NCJASC are fortunate to receive in-kind donations and volunteer services from the member organizations and volunteer groups.”

Whereas Takeuchi said the event’s major expense is the bento, she said, “Yamato Flight Kitchen and Berkeley Bowl help by keeping the cost to us low. We do add a small amount over the bento cost to cover our event costs and guest lunches.”

Speaking of the community event, Takeuchi said, “The coalition knows that bringing the seniors together is of great value. We hope that presenting something new after 29 years may lure more people back to the event,”

Takeuchi added, “There is great value in what Shinnen Kai brings to the community. We will continue to honor that in the form of conferences and picnics. We want to do something that will bring everyone together from far away. So it’s sad, but not that sad.”

Lillia Yamada, an NCJASC board member and Eden Township Senior Center board member, said she has enjoyed attending Shinnen Kai. Yamada, who works at the Eden Senior Center in San Leandro, Calif. twice a month, said that there are 45 people who regularly participate in the services at the center, ranging in age from 72 to 102 years old.

LONG-TIME SUPPORTERS — NCJASC board member Lillia Yamada (L) with nurse Jean Higa, who was with Shinnen Kai from the beginning. photos by Erin Yasuda Soto/Nichi Bei Weekly

“I like Shinnen Kai because it’s my culture and I’m comfortable. It’s an opportunity to renew friendships, and everyone feels good,” said Yamada, whose husband John is the treasurer of the NCJASC and one of the founding members of Shinnen Kai.

Jean Higa, a retired nurse from the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and one of the original members of Shinnen Kai, agreed with Yamada.

“It’s interesting. I live in the Bay Area, so I like seeing some of my old friends who I don’t get to see all the time,” she said.

Steve Nakajo, executive director of the San Francisco Japantown-based Kimochi, Inc., recognized Higa for her contributions to Shinnen Kai.

Nakajo said that Shinnen Kai started nearly 29 years ago with the Bay Area Japanese American Senior Group as a way of giving back to seniors.

“Organizations like Kimochi and Yu-Ai Kai … wanted to do something to care for their elders. It was a new idea and a risk to go into the older Japanese community,” he said.

Sansei activists wanted to care for their elders. They wanted to give back to the seniors for what they’ve contributed,” Nakajo said.

He added that Kimochi played a key role in the origins of Shinnen Kai when it was founded 29 years ago

“Kimochi went to Roz Enomoto about doing a workshop about ‘Nisei in Retirement.’ We decided to do a field trip to San Mateo,” he said.

And the rest was history.

Nakajo added even though this may be the final Shinnen Kai, its spirit will continue with the goal of helping one another.

“This may be the last Shinnen Kai, but it doesn’t mean we should stop working with each other and support one another,” said Nakajo, who was honored by NCJASC — along with Enomoto and Yamada — for their years of service to Shinnen Kai.

“Tell your kids and grandchildren the importance of caring for each other. We need to work toward that,” he said.

NCJASC is a coalition of senior centers that aims to enhance the lives of Japanese American seniors in Northern California. Those senior centers that participated in this year’s Shinnen Kai included the Berkeley Nikkei Senior Center, Extending Connections (Alameda), Eden Township Senior Center, Japanese American Seniors of the East Bay, Kimochi, Sakura Kai (El Cerrito), San Mateo Japanese Community, SACBC (Union City), Mountain View Tri-City Seniors, Sakura Kai Senior Center (El Cerrito), Shinwa Kai (Concord) and Yu-Ai Kai.

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