By Paul Yamamoto and Kim Tachiki—It all began in 1989 with the simple goal of keeping an ever-growing family connected and renewing increasingly distant ties. Over 22 years and twelve family reunions later, that simple goal has become a treasured and activity-filled tradition enthusiastically called “The Endo Family Reunion.” Every two years during an extended 4th of July weekend, over 200 relatives from five interrelated clans travel from across the country and in some cases across the world to re-acquaint and recreate at planned indoor and outdoor activities in Reno, Nevada and Lake Tahoe.
“I remember at the first couple of reunions a lot of us cousins had forgotten each other’s names. Now we’re not just relatives, but relatives with close ties and that’s unique in a family of this size. Even our children’s children are becoming friends,” recounted Sharon Imazumi.
The Reno-Tahoe region has become an ideal setting that accommodates all of the family’s activities. The days are filled with interactive events like the bowling tournament, fishing derby, lakeside picnic (with all the classic picnic games), golf tournament, Taichi lessons, Texas Hold’em, slot tournament, and the semi-formal banquet that doubles as a talent show and award ceremony for the various competitions. It’s easy to spot family members wandering the resort casino since they all sport our favorite ‘Endo Apparel’ from the current and past gatherings embroidered or silk screen with the special reunion logo for that year’s event. Needless to say there are dozens of planned and informal opportunities for family and friends to meet, catch up with each other face-to-face and claim the all important tournament and derby bragging rights until the next reunion.
Organizing the get together is an event in its own right. Planning begins a year in advance with multiple formal and informal meetings over the course of the year. The best meetings take place at Sets Endo’s home over lunch or dinner. Set’s is both host and chairperson of the committee. The dialogue is always lively and brainstorming new ideas and improving the old ones has become a natural part of what the committee does. “The meetings are great. I think they take twice as long as a company business meeting would cause most of the time we’re eating, sharing stories, cracking jokes and laughing,” says co-chair Joanne Makishima. “The committee’s efforts are really a labor of love. It’s just so wonderful to see everyone smiling and enjoying each other’s company at these reunions,” says Sets Endo.
Though we’ve branded this family get together, The Endo Family Reunion, there are actually five interrelated families that form this unique gathering. According to a quote from the first reunion cookbook, there are two cookbooks so far, “There are deep ties between the Endo, Hirano, Iwamoto, Sugiyama, and Tachiki families from Kanagawa, Japan, which resulted in a unique pattern of intermarriages between several of their children.” These ties have grown even stronger and crisscross the western half of the U.S. with relatives in Oregon, Utah, Hawaii, California, Texas, and Japan. The family has become so large, it’s almost a certainty that you’ll run into a relative at just about any Obon festival during the summer season and it’s not uncommon to run into a perfect stranger who knows one or more of the relatives.
The first family gathering took place in 1989 in South Lake Tahoe encompassing three generations including 11 of the original 12 Nisei and Kibei brothers and sisters, children of Kikuhei and Nao Endo, affectionately known as “The Endo aunties and uncles.” The family tree has become so expansive that family historian, Tommy Endo, began using specialized software nearly two decades ago to record and track family members as the tree continues to sprout new branches. The reunion now includes four generations and though the many events of the weekend allow us to reflect upon those dear to us who have passed on and to celebrate family, friends, important updates and wonderful new additions to the clan.
Quite a few members of the family enjoy getting together so much that they can’t stand to wait the two years for the next bi-annual re-union and have begun to organize the ‘off year’ mini-reunion held in Las Vegas where about 60 or so family members get together for a buffet and fun filled Las Vegas weekend.
Needless to say, the family ties run deep, and in a time when access and communication through technology has become so widely used and helpful in keeping us all in touch, there are simply some things that can’t replace an enthusiastic hand shake from your cuz, a hug from auntie or that peck on the cheek from bachan…social networking the old fashion way.