Nancy Okubo is pictured with 2015 Nisei Week Queen Sara Hutter (left) and Miss Tomodachi Karen Mizoguchi.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

One of Nancy Okubo’s first Nisei Week memories is of watching gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi waving to the crowds in Little Tokyo. Now, Okubo, as foundation president, is leading the Nisei Week Japanese Festival as it stages its virtual gathering on Aug. 14.

Celebrating excellence in the Japanese American community is a Nisei Week tradition, and although COVID-19 has upended many plans, it has not stopped that tradition.

The theme for this year’s virtual Nisei Week is “Ibasho,” a place to belong.

“My tagline is ‘Experience nine days in 90 minutes,’” Okubo says of the virtual Nisei Week Japanese Festival. “Our traditional Nisei Week Festival is nine days. What we try to capture in the 90 minutes is some of the fan favorites.”

The virtual program will be a mix of live-streaming and pre-recorded segments, highlighting some of the things that Nisei Week fans have come to love about the festival over the years. This is the second year in a row that COVID-19 has impacted but not stopped the Nisei Week tradition.

The Frances Hashimoto Community Spirit Awards will recognize organizations that have helped Little Tokyo weather the pandemic. There will be musical performances by well-known community-based artists, including TaikoProject. The culmination will be the crowning of a Nisei Week queen on Aug. 14, hosted by David Ono and Tamlyn Tomita.

“We hope that this really energizes our community to remember what they loved about Nisei Week and it’s an invitation to come back next year for the 80th,” Okubo said.

Okubo, a Shin Nisei, is the first woman to lead Nisei Week as foundation president since Helen Ota in 2008. She was born and raised in Southern California and attended UC Irvine. Okubo is a familiar face in the Japanese American community, through her work as vice president and segment manager at MUFG Union Bank.

“My role at Union Bank is to support the community. It went beyond being just part of the job. When you see the community you get engaged in the charms that each of the organizations has,” Okubo said.

“Also I think over my adult life you slowly see things you really believe in. I was fortunate to stumble upon Nisei Week as part of the board. It’s something that I truly enjoy being a part of.”

The work has meant a lot of Zoom meetings as the all-volunteer organization plans this year’s festival and also looks ahead to the 80th Nisei Week, which is scheduled for summer of 2022. Okubo and Corey Hayashi will be co-presidents next year, which everyone hopes will be an in-person gathering.

“This will be a coming together of everything that has happened, celebrating our community and our culture. What people are hoping for is that this is the last of the virtual festivals and I sincerely hope that too,” Okubo said.

To watch the virtual Nisei Week, visit the festival’s YouTube channel.

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