Surviving 80 years and a global pandemic, the Nisei Week Grand Parade returned to the streets of Little Tokyo last Sunday.
This year’s Nisei Week kicked off with a tribute to Japanese American veterans. The procession of veterans was led by the colors of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team carried by the Joint Services Color Guard of the California State Guard, with banners carried by Boy Scout Troop 242 from Torrance and Troop 329 from Monterey Park. Veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War and subsequent conflicts followed.
Members of Troop 329 were excited to return to Nisei Week. “We carried the banner for the 442 in 2019. It’s awesome seeing all the veterans. We were very honored and fortunate for the opportunity,” said a member of the troop from Monterey Park.
Kenneth Sadao Hayashi, veteran and chairman of the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, was the first Nisei Week Pioneer featured in the parade. Hayashi was honored for his military service and commitment to the legacy of Japanese American veterans.
Hayashi was soon followed by Yoshio “Yosh” Nakamura, veteran and founding member of the Go For Broke National Education Center and the Japanese American National Museum. In addition to his military service, he was honored for his dedication to the community and the arts.
Esteemed service members were followed by various elected and appointed officials, including LAPD Captain Elaine Morales, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Consul General of Japan Akira Muto, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, and Alhambra Mayor Jeffrey Koji Maloney. The Los Angeles Fire Department also participated in the procession.
The first float of the parade featured the 2021 Nisei Week Queen and Court. Riding on the float sponsored by Japan Airlines were Queen Jaime Sunny Hasama, 1st Princess Brianne Mari Yasukochi, Princess Michelle Toshiko Murakami, Princess Kiyoko Alicia Nakatsu, Princess Kendra Alana Motoyasu, and Miss Tomodachi Kiyomi Arimitsu Takemoto.
Nagoya Deputy Mayor Toshinori Matsuo represented the first, and oldest, sister city of Los Angeles. Teruko Weinberg also rode in the wagonette, representing the Los Angeles Nagoya Sister City Affiliation.
This year’s grand marshal was George Sugimoto, who built a successful avionic component business out of his garage in Pasadena and supports many community organizations throughout Little Tokyo.
The Nisei Week award recipients rode by in quick succession. The Aratani Foundation was the recipient of the 2022 President’s Award while the 2022 Frances K. Hashimoto Award went to Fugetsu-Do, which will be celebrating its 120-year anniversary next year.
The 2022 Inspiration Award recipients Steve Nagano, Patty Nagano, and Bill Watanabe took up the rear. The Naganos have been active participants in numerous organizations including Little Tokyo Historical Society, Nikkei Progressives, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, and more. They have also been working to build the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund to ensure that Little Tokyo is preserved as an enclave for future Nikkei.
Watanabe founded the Little Tokyo Service Center in 1980 and served as the director for 32 years. The LTSC offers a variety of social services to Japanese and Japanese American residents of Little Tokyo.
The second float of the parade, sponsored by MUFG/Union Bank, featured representatives from the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce Cherry Blossom Festival. Queen Shari Nishijima, 1st Princess Maile Kawasaki, Miss Popularity Tari-Lynn Manin, Miss Congeniality Daniella Au, Princess Taeler Akana, and Princess Jordyn Valdez shared the aloha spirit with paradegoers.
Masao Morisaku was the next Nisei Week Pioneer to be featured. He has been active in gardening clubs and organizations, and has been instrumental in promoting Japanese culture through his shigin poetry.
A gap of approximately 20 minutes occurred before the ondo dancers arrived. This year’s Nisei Week choreographer was Kikusue Azuma of the Azuma Kotobuki Kai. The group has participated in the parade since 1971 and holds the honor as the lead choreography group. Their late sensei, Azuma Sumako II, passed away at the age of 61 in July 2020. This year’s two parade songs were “Kawachi Otoko Bushi” and “One Wish.”
Other participating dance groups were L.A. Bando Ryu, Kyo no Kai, Kotobuki no Kai, Hanayagi Rokufukumi, SFVJACC Meiji Club, Terminal Island Dance Group, and Nippon Minyo Kenkyukai Hoshunkai.
Even with the summer heat, the dancers were happy to return to Little Tokyo. “We enjoy being back here and being with people we haven’t seen in a while. Nisei Week is a time to come together and share our culture,” said a member of Kotobuki no Kai.
Following the dancers were representatives of Nikkei Games. Established in 1994, Nikkei Games celebrates the unique Japanese heritage through sports and martial arts. The parade contingent gave demonstrations of karate, judo, and basketball. Some demonstrations were cut short or skipped altogether by parade staff who limited demonstrations to 30 seconds or less.
Fumio Demura of the Shito-Ryu Karate-Do Genbu Kai, Hanshi Minobu Miki of the Japan Karate-Do Organization Shito-Ryu Karate-Do, Takayuki Kubota of the International Karate Association, Sensei Shoji Nishimura of USA Wado-Ryu Karate, and action director and stunt coordinator Jeff Imada also participated in the procession.
The Nisei Week Foundation Marching Band and Odori Dancers marched while playing the Mickey Mouse Club March Song before a procession of Nisei Week Pioneers.
Mike Ichiro Murase, community activist and former campaign director of the Terasaki Budokan, led a procession of Nisei Week Pioneers. His community advocacy and political activism earned him a nomination from the Little Tokyo Service Center.
Heizaburo Okawa was nominated by the Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council. His accomplishments in fencing have earned him worldwide acclaim. The former Japanese and U.S. champion even participated in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Mario Gershom Reyes was the final Nisei Week Pioneer to be featured. As photo editor of The Rafu Shimpo, he has been tirelessly documenting the Japanese American community since he first started at the newspaper as a mail and pressroom worker in 1973. Over his nearly 50-year career, Reyes has photographed close to 30 years of Manzanar Pilgrimages and 34 years of Nisei Week Queens. His dedication to documenting the Japanese American community along with his pro bono work for Asian American organizations earned him a nomination from the Koreisha Chusoku Kai.
This year’s parade marshals were siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani. The two-time Olympic medalists and authors thanked the attendees for coming as they drove by.
Next up was the Japanese Speaking Parents Association of Children with Challenges. The JSPACC, a support organization for families of children with special needs, was joined by the Wizstars Hip Hop Dancers.
A fleet from the Nisei Week Deko-car Show was led by Ken Miyoshi. The car show was moved to the rear lot of Nishi Hongwanji Temple this year.
Travis Japan also appeared at this year’s Nisei Week Parade. The boy band created by famed choreographer Travis Payne recently performed at the Anime Expo closing ceremonies. The group’s official Instagram account has nearly 1 million followers worldwide.
Little Tokyo Cosplay Gatherings marched dressed as popular characters from manga and anime and were soon followed by a mikoshi carried by Rafu Mutsumi-kai.
Rafu Mutsumi-kai has participated in the parade for over 25 years and was founded on the grounds of JACCC and the Aratani Theatre. “Nisei Week is our home,” said Keith Nishida of Rafu Mutsumi-kai. “We have other festivals we’ve been invited to, but this one is special to us.”
The honorary parade marshal was Kellyn Acosta. The defensive midfielder for the Los Angeles Football Club helped the U.S. secure a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the third float featured the court from the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Queen Stephanie Doe, 1st Princess Sydney Kasson, Princess Katy Drennan, Princess Ashleigh Takemoto, and Princess Michell Heckert were joined by drummers from the J-Town Taiko Club.
Kamado Tanjiro of the worldwide phenomenon “Demon Slayer” was also featured at this year’s parade. The movie “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” was the highest-grossing film of 2020 and the highest-grossing anime and Japanese film of all time.
Straight Outta Little Tokyo/Terasaki Budokan uplifted crowds with a live rendition of “Dancing in the Streets.” The multi-generational fundraising event will be hosting their fifth installment in October.
Members of the Little Tokyo Historical Society, including President Mike Okamura and author/filmmaker Jeffrey Gee Chin, marched through carrying images of activist and pioneer Sei Fujii, who is credited by some sources as the inspiration for Nisei Week. The LTHS recently hosted a panel at this year’s Anime Expo.
Nancy Okubo, co-president of this year’s Nisei Week, waved to crowds and when interviewed lamented that her co-president, Cory Hayashi, was unable to attend. The Nisei Week Foundation along with a dedicated team of volunteers donated countless hours to make the return of Nisei Week a possibility.
The final float of the evening, sponsored by MUFG/Union Bank, featured the recently crowned 2022 Nisei Week Queen and Court. Queen Kristine Emiko Yada was joined by 1st Princess Audrey Emi Nakaoka, Miss Tomodachi Maile Tabata Yanguas, and Princesses Amanda Akiko Hiraishi, Emily Shigeko Kumagai, Lorie Hatsuko Meza, and Faith Sumiko Nishimura.
The fanfare was cut short as the parade was rushed off the street by cleaning trucks a few feet behind the float of the 2022 Nisei Week Queen and Court. Over the roar of the street sweepers brushing away all traces of the festivities, the voice of the emcee could still be heard. “We’re back!”