Japanese American National Bowling Association


Celebrating a Nikkei Cultural Institution

JANBA Tournament Holds Silver Anniversary in San Jose

By Billie Lee
Nichi Bei Times Correspondent

San Jose From March 7 to 13, about 1,000 members of the Japanese American National Bowling Association including two teams from Japan converged upon the AMF Pastime Lanes to participate in their silver anniversary tournament.

"Approximately 600 men and 400 women participated in the event," said Vince Itatani, men's chairperson of the tournament.

Glenn Tsuchiya, tournament chairperson and vice president of marketing and promotions for 4th Street Bowl, said the event covered mixed doubles, men's 6-game classic, women's 4-game classic, men's and women's team, men's and women's doubles, men's and women's singles, men's and women's all events, men's and women's overall all events, men's and women's veterans all events, men's and women's senior all events, men's and women's high game, and men's and women's high series. Bowlers bowled in squads at their own average level.

At the end of the tournament, champions were awarded prize money and trophies at an award banquet dinner and dance held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Resort. The event featured entertainment by San Jose Taiko.

Putting together a tournament of this kind takes a full year's planning. "It takes a lot of people to help," Tsuchiya noted. "In addition to committees for each bowling event, people are needed to head different committees like transportation, housing, banquet, raffles, registration, booklet and special evening activities. Under each chair, there are 10 to 15 committee members.

Tradition of Bowling

Historically, bowling became a great pastime for Japanese Americans after World War II, when internees returning from camps were forced to work extremely hard to get back on their feet. Young men and women between the ages of 20 and 30 began bowling in neighborhood bowling alleys and joined leagues to play competitively.

Early on, Japanese Americans learned they could not compete in the national leagues. In 1947, when Fuzzy Shimada was about to bowl for a Santa Clara bowling league, he was denied the opportunity because of an American Bowling Congress ruling which said that only whites could play in the league. (This ruling was changed in 1951 and on March14, 1997, Shimada was inducted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.)

Because of the "whites only" restrictive membership in national bowling organizations, in 1947 the National JACL Nisei Bowling Tournament came into being at Salt Lake City. Temple Alleys and the National Japanese American Citizens League, then headquartered in Salt Lake City, assumed sponsorship and coordination of the Nisei Bowling Tournament.

Among the leaders forming the National JACL Nisei Bowling Tournament were Bill Honda, Choppy Umemoto, Hito Okada (who was the National JACL president at the time), and Doug Muir, house proprietor of Temple Alleys. From 1948 to 1973, the National JACL Nisei Bowling Tournament events took place in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Long Beach, Seattle, San Jose, Hawaii, Sacramento, Redondo Beach and Portland.

Break with JACL

But in 1974, the JACL Advisory Board for Bowling which made all the rules for the National JACL Nisei Bowling Tournament had a disagreement over the philosophy of the National JACL Board on the membership makeup for tournaments. After a joint meeting of JACL officers and the National Advisory Board for Bowling, it was decided that a new organization should be formed which would not fall under the control of the JACL.

"Because we were a fraternal organization, we wanted to compete against other Japanese Americans with rules of our own," Ozzie Shimada indicated.
Under the leadership of Mas Satow, the Japanese American National Bowling
Association (JANBA) was organized. Ozzie Shimada served as president pro tem for the first year.

The late Fred Takagi, another founding father of the JANBA, became the first elected president of the organization. He was one of the early owners of a bowling alley in Seattle's Rainer Valley.

The JANBA had their first national tournament in 1975, hosted by the San Jose Nisei Bowling Association at Futurama Bowl.

JANBA members then went on to play in other national tournaments held in the cities of Las Vegas, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacramento and Salt Lake City.

This marks the sixth national tournament held in San Jose. The other years were: 1961 and 1969 (JACL); and 1975, 1984 and 1993 (JANBA).

For All Ages

From the very onset of Japanese American interest in bowling, both men and women were active in bowling leagues and played in myriad tournaments. In 1980, Lessie Yamamoto from Salt Lake City was honored as the oldest female participant in the JANBA tournament held in Hawaii. At the same time, "Pop" Okumura, also from Salt Lake City, was honored as the oldest male participant.

The sport continues to attract bowlers of all ages.

At this year's 25th annual bowling event, for example, Sandy Suekawa, 59, from San Jose, participated in the tournament held at the AMF Pastime Lanes. Suekawa, who has been bowling for 30 years, started in Watsonville with the Buddhist Church young bowling group.

In 1947, the JACL Nisei Bowling Tournament had about 300 bowlers in the organization. Currently, there are about 1,000 members.

The popularity of bowling, unlike countless other community institutions, has not waned to critical levels. Tsuchiya, however, noted that interest in bowling has been on the decline in the last few years.

"Currently, Japanese Americans who participate in bowling are mostly professional people and their average age are in the mid 30s," he disclosed. "They participate in league play once a week and practice sessions at least once a week."

According to Tsuchiya, 4th Street Bowl is "trying to promote more junior bowlers."

"Right now we have 32 juniors participating in the San Jose Nisei Bowling Association Junior Program," Tsuchiya stated. "The kids come from all over and since we are close to most major freeways, it is easy for them to get here. We encourage them by giving discount rates on equipment and bowling."

"Also, we have a large senior program," Tsuchiya added. "There are 90 seniors bowling in leagues, and they meet twice a week to practice and bowl in a league once a week."

Hilo Lanes in Hilo, Hawaii will be the host for the 26th JANBA in the year 2000.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Nichi Bei Times


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