New York Mets’ Japanese Heritage Night aids disaster relief efforts

The New York Mets host their second annual Japanese Heritage Night at Citi Field Tuesday, June 21. Credits: Mets.com

By Justin Tedaldi (JETAANY) for NY Japanese Culture Examiner

Following the success of last year’s inaugural Japanese Heritage Night at Citi Field, this new tradition’s second edition on June 21 will pit the New York Mets against ex-Yankee Hideki Matsui’s Oakland A’s.

Scheduled for the pre-game show to celebrate Japan’s culture and heritage are New York-based taiko troupe Soh Daiko; the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York; a tribute to Wally Yonamine, the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II; and the Spirit Award to the People of Tohoku to be accepted by Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki of the Consul General of Japan in New York. A portion of each ticket sold will benefit Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.

Sponsored by the Japanese community of New York, the event is also supported by those outside the five boroughs. California-based artist Andrea Fono purchased two tickets for the game to support the cause in recognition of the enormous contributions Japan has made to other countries, including her husband’s homeland of Fiji, which Japan donated tents and blankets to after Cyclone Tomas battered the islands last year.

“The people of Japan are consistently some of the kindest people in the world,” Fono said. “And the nation is extraordinarily generous in their contributing to other nations. This includes their relief contribution after the cyclone. We are grateful!”

Fono is giving her tickets to people in the New York area, possibly to students, as one of her causes is the Fji Reads Project, which brings new and used books to Fiji.

“It seems like the right thing to do to acknowledge Japan and her championing so many other countries in their time of need,” she explained. “My husband and I collect used children’s books to send to Fiji, as they are not available there.”

Also involved with relief efforts are members of the JET Alumni Association (of which this Examiner is a member), a group that raised over $10,000 in a single night for the JETAA USA Fund in April.

Fono is also active in fundraising.

“Even though the people of Fiji, including my relatives who live in small fishing villages along the Vanua Levu coast, are poor, we decided to create a pool of funds to donate back, even if it’s a small amount, as a token of my family’s thanks,” she said.

Returning to the pre-game festivities, Soh Daiko, fresh off their appearance at last month’s Japan Day @ Central Park, will perform “Hachidan Uchi” (hitting eight sides of the drum), a signature piece representative of a contemporary style of group drumming integrating movement between, and playing on, more than one drum.

The Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York has performed all over the world, including New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At Citi Field, JFDI will perform “NY Ondo,” based on a traditional “Bon Odori” style dance typically performed during the summer months of Obon in Japan. For Japanese Heritage Night, they have recorded a special music track to incorporate a Mets cheer to enrich the New York experience.

Wally Yonamine has been compared to Jackie Robinson for “integrating” the Japanese game, and was even the first person of Asian ancestry to play professional football in America in 1947 as a running back for the San Francisco 49ers. A Japanese Baseball Hall of Famer, Yonamine passed away in February at the age of eighty-five after an extended battle with prostate cancer. To commemorate his achievements, there will be a special video tribute at the event honoring his legacy with an on-field appearance by his grandson, Ryan Yamamoto.

The New York Mets host Japanese Heritage Night on Tuesday, June 21 at Citi Field, 126th Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing. Pre-game entertainment begins at 6:30 p.m. Game starts at 7:10 p.m. Purchase discounted tickets at www.mets.com/japan. Reserved seats are $19 (promenade reserved infield, $32 (Pepsi Porch), and $54 (baseline box silver). For group sales of 25 or more, contact (718) 559-3020.