August 12, 2013

Buddhist Church of Sacramento bazaar keeps on cooking in its 67th year

Honored by Japan's consul general in 2011 for her lifelong efforts to share Japanese arts and culture with the broader world, Mitzie Muramoto is the guiding force behind the Buddhist Church of Sacramento's annual food and cultural bazaar.

Mitzie Muramoto was here almost from the early days, back in the late 1940s, when she was a young married woman and the Buddhist Church of Sacramento celebrated its first food bazaar to raise money for the church.

With other volunteers, she marinated chicken and made sushi, sometimes rising at 2 a.m. on festival days to start rolling and slicing the rice. She did whatever it took to help.

Over the weekend, the church hosted its 67th annual food and cultural bazaar, with crowds overflowing the church complex at 2401 Riverside Blvd. to sample chicken teriyaki, tempura and a variety of sushi. And Muramoto was still there, volunteering.

"It's hard to remember how many years I've been involved with the bazaar," said Muramoto, now 88. "From the very beginning, I was involved."

That's just about how long Molly Kimura, now 89 and the co-founder of Sacramento's chapter of Ikebana International, has volunteered, too.

Honored by Japan's consul general in 2011 for her lifelong efforts to share Japanese arts and culture with the broader world, she is the guiding force behind the bazaar's annual traditional arts exhibits, which include calligraphy demonstrations, Ikebana floral arranging and a doll display.

Before 1960, Kimura remembers, the annual bazaar was always in November – "after the harvest," she said – and it was targeted mostly toward church members.

But when the church moved from its original location at Fourth and O streets downtown, ousted by the city's redevelopment efforts, the congregation's leaders wanted to attract a wider audience to the bazaar.

Because of the publicity she'd already received for teaching Ikebana lessons, Kimura said: "They asked me to help them expand. They said, 'Molly, you're the one who will help us make money.' I hate to say that, but they did."

The bazaar, which attracts up to 25,000 people each year, today accounts for about one-third of the church's annual operating budget, said bazaar chairman Sherman Iida.

Each year, the fair requires the help of some 700 volunteers, many of them friends of the church's 1,000 member families, he said.

"In the early days, there were only 10 of us making the chicken," said Muramoto. "We ate in the courtyard. We had to have somebody come teach us how to make tempura for a lot of people. I knew how to do it for my family, but cooking for a lot of people is different."

These days, she helps out wherever she's asked, mostly in the sushi booths.

"For a lot of older people like me, it's getting difficult," she said.

On Sunday afternoon, a milling crowd of festival attendees gathered underneath a huge tent strung with Japanese lanterns, lining up at food booths and game booths and making their way back inside the church to take calligraphy lessons.

Kimura and her students made fresh Ikebana arrangements to display.

"We're trying to train the next generations," she said.

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her in Twitter @AnitaCreamer.

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