The 2022 Nisei Week Court (from right): Faith Sumiko Nishimura, Amanda Akiko Hiraishi, Maile Tabata Yanguas, Kristine Emiko Yada, Loretta “Lorie” Hatsuko Meza, Emily Shigeko Kumagai and Audrey Emi Nakaoka.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Once more, dancers will fill First Street and a Nisei Week queen will be crowned before an audience at the Aratani Theatre. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, Nisei Week announced it will return to in-person events during an opening ceremony held on Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum.

Chikara Daiko, based at Centenary United Methodist Church, performed to start the ceremony. Co-Presidents Cory Hayashi and Nancy Okubo welcomed the gathering of approximately 100 invited guests. Since 2020, the festival has been held virtually and while the pandemic isn’t over, Nisei Week, the longest-running ethnic festival in the U.S., will resume as an in-person event.

“During the last two years we’ve made the tough decision not to have an in-person Nisei Week Festival,” Hayashi said. “This was only the second time in our long history that we had to do this. The first was during the dark times of World War II. Similar to those times, the Little Tokyo community has shown it is determined to come together to take care of one another and our community.”

Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO, said the return after two years of virtual ceremonies is a testament to the resilience of the Japanese American community.

From left: Hironori Kobayashi, president of the Japan Business Association of Southern California, Nisei Week Co-president Cory Hayashi, Ann Burroughs of JANM, 2021 Nisei Week Queen Jaime Sunny Hasama, Nisei Week Co-president Nancy Okubo and Consul General Akira Muto perform the kagami-biraki sake barrel ceremony.

“It’s wonderful to think we’ll all be celebrating the … rich cultural life of this precious community and just the sheer joy of being able to be together again and celebrate the extraordinary resilience of this community … that has emerged stronger than it was before in the second time in its history,” Burroughs said.

The 2022 Nisei Week Court made their official debut in fuschia pink dresses designed by Tadashi. The coronation will be held on Sunday, Aug. 13, at the Aratani Theatre.

Nisei Week Grand Marshal George Sugimoto waves to the gathering.

The candidates are: Emily Shigeko Kumagai, representing San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center; Faith Sumiko Nishimura, representing Venice Japanese Community Center and Venice-West L.A. Japanese American Citizens League; Maile Tabata Yanguas, representing the Japanese Restaurant Association of America; Audrey Emi Nakaoka, representing Gardena Evening Optimist Club; Loretta “Lorie” Hasuko Meza, representing the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute; Amanda Akiko Hiraishi, representing the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center; and Kristine Emiko Yada, representing the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council.

Also honored at the ceremony were Grand Marshal George Sugimoto; Inspiration Awardees Steve and Patty Nagano and Bill Watanabe; Parade Marshals Maia and Alex Shibutani; Honorary Parade Marshal Kellyn Acosta; Hashimoto Service Award recipient Fugetsu-Do; and Pioneer Awardees: Ken Hayashi, Masao Morisaku, Mike Murase, Yoshio “Yosh” Nakamura, Heizaburo Okawa and Mario Gershom Reyes.

Nisei Week choreographer Kikusue Azuma performs the dances that will be featured at the Grand Parade on Aug. 14.

Queen Jamie Hasama served as emcee for the ceremony and presented the 2021 Court members: Brienne Mari Yasukochi, Kiyomi Arimitsu Takemoto, Kendra Alana Motoyasu, Michelle Toshiko Murakami and Kiyoko Alicia Nakatsui.

“Thank you again to the five amazing women I have had the privilege of spending the past year with. We’ve been through so much together during this past year’s journey, which has brought us closer together and given us a lifelong connection,” Hasama said.

Choreographer Azuma Kikusue and her dancers demonstrated the dances that will be performed for the Grand Parade: “One Wish” by Hiroshima and “Kawachi Otoko Bushi,” a festival standard. She currently teaches over 60 students from Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange counties and 15 students in Kapa‘a and Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i.

Rafu photographer Mario Gershom Reyes is recognized as a Nisei Week Pioneer.

Kikusue said this year’s dances were the favorites of the late Azuma Sumako, who passed away in 2020.

“As many of you know, our head sensei Azuma Sumako passed away after a brave 24-year battle with brain cancer. We chose this year’s parade dances ‘Kawachi Otoko Bushi’ and ‘One Wish’ because these were two of her favorite choreographies. We thank the Nisei Week Committee for allowing us to honor her in this way and asking us to perform here today,” Kikusue said.

The traditional kagami-biraki or sake barrel breaking ceremony was held at the conclusion.

Speaking to The Rafu, co-presidents Hayashi and Okubo said that they are both anxious and excited to have Nisei Week resume as an in-person event. During the past two years, Nisei Week has seen a new generation of volunteers and has had to adapt.

This year, instead of the gyoza-eating contest, Day-Lee Foods is sponsoring a Nisei Week Matsuri that will feature local chefs and food demonstrations. They both said the most exciting aspect is to once again see people.

“We’ve all gotten used to Nisei Week as a homecoming. You see certain people at this event,” Okubo said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had this homecoming. Doing something together in person is going to be a highlight for a lot of people.”

“Seeing everybody again is the biggest excitement. Seeing the parade going down the street, dancing together on First Street, being there for all our awardees, hanging out in the beer garden and getting our local food. Coming to Little Tokyo and seeing the energy in Little Tokyo is something we’ve all been missing,” Hayashi said.

Photos by JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo

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