‘Jazz Katsu’ mixes jazz and pork on a stick to benefit Japan


Kushi Katsu. photo by Barbara Hiura

SAN JOSE — With thrilling riffs, familiar jazz, old style “scatting” and great eats, the inaugural “Jazz Katsu” collaborative, a free jazz fundraising concert and kushi katsu fry-a-thon, was held at the Wesley United Methodist Church on Aug. 27 in San Jose’s Japantown.

Fundraising tickets were sold for two kushi katsu — delectable panko encrusted fried pork on skewers with tonkatsu sauce and hot mustard — for Japan relief. Patrons also enjoyed spirited jazz stylings during the informal drop-in affair.

COOL KATSU — Akio Sekino, event coordinator, showing off his cooking talent. photo by Barbara Hiura

The event was an exciting one for the small Japanese-speaking congregation. “We sold 800 kushi katsu,” or 400 tickets, stated a delighted Akio Sekino, who did most of the legwork to provide an adequate health-safe venue for the concert.

“Our original target was $3,000 in relief, but we were able to raise $6,200 in just four hours,” Sekino said. “It was an incredible amount we were able to raise.”

The fundraiser was well worth the many sleepless nights Sekino spent worrying about the event’s attendance, food, set-up and many other details.

There was not so much worrying, however, by the Rev. Michiko Nishinosono, Wesley’s Japanese-speaking pastor. “I wasn’t worried because I put my trust in God. God provided and guided this event and we made more than we thought,” she commented.


Japanese Speaking Community in the South Bay

Surprisingly, “at least 50 percent of those who attended were Japanese-speaking,” added Nishinosono. This gave the church a different look and feel, as most attendees were young adults with families, giving rise to the notion that there is a fairly large community of Japanese nationals in the South Bay.

The proceeds were donated to the United Methodist Committee On Relief, with 100 percent of the contribution going to the Japan relief effort.

Three jazz groups performed: “Masako Okada and Friends,” which included Emily Pedri, Kiyoe Wakabayashi, Jim Schneider, Daniel Raynaud, Noriyuki “Ken” Okada and Kirk Abe; and John Worley and the Mo-Chi Quartet with Murray Low, Ken Okada and Sutton Marley. Well-known Bay Area artist, Ayako Hosokawa, with Gregory Chen, Okada and Stephen Marley followed them during the four-hour event.

The Wesley house was rocking with music and food, which filtered out into the patio. Balloon artist Shinobu Arisawa created hats, animals and swords for the kids.

The collaborative effort took many months of preparation, following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in northern Japan. Immediately following the disaster, assistance came from all corners of the world with concern and empathy, but in recognizing that the need for ongoing clean-up and healing from physical and psychological losses remain, one small Bay Area group of friends wanted to provide long-term relief.


A Winning Combo

“Soon after the tsunami, we wanted to do something,” commented Masako Okada, 29, who splits her time between Japan and the United States. A few friends got together and in pooling their talents, decided on holding a jazz concert with food.

While it is known that adults, not children, go to jazz concerts, “we wanted families to attend,” she said. Different skill sets came into play. Masako’s husband Ken is a bass player with several local Japanese jazz combos.

“We wanted to help in the relief effort and were discussing what we could do,” event coordinator Hiromi Murayama chimed in. “Our katsu chef, Ken Fukui, came up with having a benefit jazz event where we could serve kushi katsu as the fundraising aspect.”

KATSU N’ ALL THAT JAZZ — One hundred percent of the funds raised from the sales of the kushi katsu will go to the Japan relief effort. photo by Barbara Hiura

Fukui, although an amateur chef, specializes in making kushi katsu for local events. This year he made more than 3,000 fried pork-on-a-stick delights for the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple during their Obon.


Overcoming Tragedy Through Creativity

Ken Okada, music director for the event, noted, “the word ‘katsu,’ means ‘cutlet’ in Japanese and also means ‘to overcome.’

“Our mission is to remind people of the tragic event and let them participate in aiding the situation in a creative way.”

The event organizers decided to combine both food and entertainment, but needed a venue; a place that had a hall for performances, and a kitchen to cook the kushi katsu. Enter the church.

“This had to be a collaborative effort,” Murayama explained. “We couldn’t do this by ourselves.”

She happened to be friends with a former Japanese-speaking minister’s wife at Wesley now living in Japan.

“Naoko is my friend, and her daughter Minori and my son play together,” Murayama continued. “That brought us in touch with Rev. Michiko [Nishinosnono] here at Wesley. The church people have been very kind and helpful.”

The collaborative effort became a reality when Sekino stepped up as coordinator. Emiko Uchiyama co-coordinated the event with him.

For Katsue Watts, the fundraiser was personal. Watts lives in San Jose, her mother in Iwate Prefecture. While her mother survived, Watts lost friends to the tsunami.

She found participating in the fundraiser cathartic. It was estimated that more than 600 people from all parts of the Bay Area attended the event.

“I think this was a very successful event,” Murayama stated. “I expected only a small number of people to show up, but church people, and community people came out.”

Families, children and even pets came out to listen to soothing jazz and munch on pork on sticks.

Jazz Katsu’s event organizers want to do more of these events and hope to host one annually at Wesley. They believe this is the first of many annual benefit concerts as the clean-up and rebuilding process will take years, possibly decades, to complete.


Anyone interested in hosting an afternoon of jazz with kushi katsu, contact www.jazzkatsu.org. The event coordinators provide everything — the music, the food, the posters and public relations. All they need is a hall and a kitchen.

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