Azuma Kotobuki Kai members demonstrate the dances that will be performed at this year’s Nisei Week Grand Parade, which returns to Little Tokyo after a two-year hiatus.

By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer

The Nisei Week Japanese Festival is coming back after missing two summers due to the pandemic.

On June 6 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Downtown Los Angeles, the dance teachers demonstrated the choreography for the Grand Parade’s Japanese dance segment.  This year’s two parade songs were unveiled, “Kawachi Otoko Bushi” and “One Wish.”

Azuma Kikusue and five Azuma-ryu dance members demonstrated the dance to the teachers from other dance groups joining the parade. Going forward, the teachers will bring the choreography back to their groups and teach their students. In early August, they will meet again at the public dance practices scheduled in Little Tokyo, heading for the parade in August.

For Nisei Week, it is a tradition for the leading local dance teachers to take turns every year to be responsible for selecting the two songs and choreographing them. This year, Azuma-ryu is in charge.

The group decided to take this opportunity to honor Azuma Sumako II, the Japanese American community’s beloved dance master who passed away in 2020. “To honor the late teacher,” Kikusue said, “we chose to revive the two songs, ‘Kawachi Otoko Bushi’ and ‘One Wish.’ Both were choreographed by Sumako Sensei.”

A photo of the late Azuma Sumako (Janice Aiso Edesa) watched over the gathering on Monday night at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

“Kawachi Otokobushi” (1989) is a popular Japanese song by a enka singer Mitsuko Nakamura. The cheerful ondo is perfect for summer festivals. Riding on the rhythm of taiko drums, the dance is performed with an uchiwa (round fan) in hand.

On the other hand, “One Wish” is an instrumental song released in 1986 by the world-famous Japanese American band Hiroshima. The choreography with the fluttering sensu (folding fan) flows along with the beautiful melody of koto.

“It may seem different, but in this choreography, Sumako Sensei adapted the traditional Japanese dance move from a classic dance piece called Ayame (Iris), which she had learned in Japan,” Kikusue explained.

Dance teachers from different dance groups, including Bando Hidesomi of Bando-ryu,  Fuijma Kansumi and Fujima Kansue of Fujima Kansuma Kai, and Imoto Hoshunjyu of Nihon Minyo Kenkyukai, all said they were happy to be able to resume the tradition again.

At the teaching session, Kikusue said, “We encourage you to dance on your own, wherever your heart goes … as long as you are moving forward while dancing (because it is a parade).”

Azuma Kikusue holds an uchiwa as she calls out the moves for “Kawachi Otokobushi.”

As the festival has just been announced, the time allowed for preparation is shorter than usual, not to mention other COVID-related concerns. Yet the community is hoping that the participants enjoy the fun and beauty of dance at the parade with pride in Japanese and Japanese American culture at heart.

Nisei Week is one of Southern California’s leading cultural and community festivals. The Grand Parade will start at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 14. The Street Ondo and Closing Ceremony are scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21. The public can participate in both dance events as individuals or as members of the participating groups.

Public dance practice will be held on Aug. 2, 4, 9, and 11 at the JACCC Plaza, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo. Parade dance practice starts on 6:30 p.m., followed by Street Ondo dance practice from 7:45 p.m. The practice video recorded at the demonstration session on June 6 will be released soon on social media.

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Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo

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