Ernest Nagamatsu (first place), Ruben Guevara (second place) and Satsuki Yamashita (third place).
Ernest Nagamatsu (first place), Ruben Guevara (second place) and Satsuki Yamashita (third place).

As part of its activities celebrating the 130th anniversary of Little Tokyo, the Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) announced the winners of its inaugural short story contest at a recent reception held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles.

Ernest Nagamatsu’s “Doka B-100” won first place with a cash prize award of $1,000. Second place and a $500 cash prize went to Ruben Guevara’s “Yuriko & Carlos,” while Satsuki Yamashita’s “Mr. K” received third prize and $250.

The competition, called “Imagine Little Tokyo,” solicited fictional entries that best captured the setting and spirit of this area of downtown Los Angeles, a symbol of the larger Japanese American community.

“We are grateful for the very generous support of the Little Tokyo community that allowed us to give the cash prizes to the top three winners,” Michael Okamura, LTHS president, stated.  “With about 60 story submissions, we’re enthusiastic about the writing contest becoming an annual activity. Long ago, Little Tokyo was a vibrant community of English and Japanese short story writers, haiku poets, and other literary legacies, and we can now add ‘Imagine Little Tokyo’ short stories to this rich tradition.”

In addition to the three winners, 12 short stories were also finalists: Avril Adams’ “A Wedding in Little Tokyo”; Jeridal Banks’ “Smile’s Sonata”; Kenneth Ito’s “Fathers, Sons and Brothers”; Jenny Kim’s “Fifteen Frames”; Kim Kobashigawa’s “Footprints”; John Leyva’s “Waiting in Little Tokyo”; Erik Matsunaga’s “1999”; Dan Nishimura’s “The Shadow of Your Smile”; Kiyoshi Parker’s “A Little Piece of Home”; Dmitri Ragano’s “The Guardians”; Chester Sakamoto’s “Nihonmachi Serenade”; and Hank Umemoto’s “The Return of the Little Tokyo Fugitive.”

Each finalist received a special commendation based on artwork created by Kimsun Vong and a Mr. Ramen gift certificate.

“It was wonderful to see that the finalists and submissions spanned a nice spread of different ages, races, and experiences,” said Bill Watanabe, who oversaw the “Imagine Little Tokyo” subcommittee. “The top three winners included a Japanese American man, a Latino and a Japanese American woman. I hope we can make it even better for next year!”

The top three winners’ short stories will be published in the print edition of The Rafu Shimpo. All 15 finalists’ works will be posted on the Japanese American National Museum’s Discover Nikkei and the Little Tokyo Historical Society websites.

At the reception, actors Ken Narasaki, Geoffrey Rivas, and Ping Wu presented the top three works, adding dramatic life to the written words.

Short story judges were Academy Award winner Chris Tashima; former JANM CEO/President Akemi Kikumura Yano; and Grateful Crane executive producer Soji Kashiwagi.

Check the Little Tokyo Historical Society website,, for more information about the 2015 “Imagine Little Tokyo” contest. Those who would like to contribute funds or volunteer are encouraged to email Watanabe at

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