Japan Society of Fairfield County

20th anniversary In Japanese history twenty years is nothing! But for the Japan Society of Fairfield County (JSFC), twenty years is a great celebration. Much has changed in Fairfield since the society held its opening ceremony at the Tara Stamford Hotel in 1988. The 20th anniversary was celebrated at the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival at The Greenwich Japanese School. 

The ceremony was introduced by Harry Sakamaki, current president of the JSFC, Peter Tesei, First Selectman of Greenwich, and Jiro Okuyama, Director, Japan Information Center, Consulate General of Japan in New York, with the traditional “Kagamibiraki,” sake cask-breaking ceremony followed by a toast. Following the traditional Bento, picnic box lunch, and cherry tree blossom viewing, the members of the society were entertained by an Okinawa Sanshin performance by Zen monk Kossan, a Japanese dance performance by Kyoko Ohnishi and two of her pupils, Rie Ogasawara and Yuika Abe, and a demonstration of Atarashi Naginata and Tendo Ryu Naginata-jutsu by Sachiko Yamauchi, Kyoshi, Greater New York Naginata Foundation.

The history of the JSFC was told in the words of the former presidents. Ms. Karie Goto was the first president. Moving here from Washington DC, out of loneliness she decided to become an estate agent, the only agent in Greenwich who could speak Japanese. Suddenly Japanese companies started to pour into the New York area. Goto explained, “Many of these Japanese had a hard time adjusting to the American way of living and culture then. So I came up with the idea to start a voluntary organization for the better mutual understanding of Japanese and American culture and customs. We became the seventh Japan Society formed in the USA. Our opening was attended by the first selectman of Greenwich and the mayor of Stamford.”

Ms. Teruko Pace took over the presidency in 1993, after Ms. Yuriko Takeyama, the weekend Japanese School teacher who had returned to Tokyo to become a member of Japan’s Lower House of representatives. Pace recalls, “I believe it was the most fulfilling and satisfying period of my life. I wore a variety of hats. Members helped but some days, I worked 16 hours a day. Often dinner was not prepared when my husband came home but he never complained. He went out and brought home carry-out dinners!” She continued the story to say how Mr. Sam Kusumoto, the president and chairman of Minolta Corporation said, “You are doing a great job but I presume it is because of your husband’s generosity that allowed you to do the job well.” Pace acknowledged she could not have done it without the support of her husband, Charles.
The JSFC raised funds for the earthquake in Kobe in 1995. In 1997, there was a flood disaster in North Dakota. To reciprocate the kindness the Americans displayed towards the Kobe earthquake victims, the Japan Society made a donation. Pace recalls her father telling her when she left Japan for the USA in 1956, “Remember that every action you perform in the USA henceforth will ultimately represent all of Japan.”

Ms. Nina Streitfeld of Westport was the first American president of the JSFC. When asked how she became involved, Streitfeld told a story about meeting renowned Japan scholar, Donald Keene. She related how when asked how he became an authority on Japanese literature and culture, he simply stated, “I discovered I like things Japanese.” Streitfeld said she was tremendously impressed by the answer. Now, when asked, having become an enthusiast of Japan, “Why Japan?” she too replies, “I discovered I liked things Japanese.” She also mentioned Mr. Noboru Uezumi, who was vice president of the JSFC at the same time. Uezumi, a volunteer at the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, learned that Genjiro Yeto, a Japanese artist whose painting is exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, studied at Bush-Holley between 1890 and 1900. Uezumi translated the Bush-Holley brochure into Japanese and persuaded Saga TV of Japan to come to the USA to make a film of Genjiro Yeto and Bush-Holley.

Dr. Vernon Beck of Ridgefield brought the JSFC into the modern age with the launch of its website. He reported, “Almost two thousand people now visit our website every month. Currently I believe that the JSFC website is the only web source for the story of the Nojima Cherry Grove in Stamford. We have now also developed a close working relation with the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden in North Salem, NY and Still Mountain Center in Kent, CT. JSFC is unique among Japan Societies in maintaining a philanthropic program with contributions to community events with children and the elderly and an on-going Pre-Thanksgiving banquet for the homeless at St. Luke's Lifeworks in Stamford.”
Happy Anniversary to the Japan Society of Fairfield County.
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