Front row: Nisei Week awardees (from left) Bill Watanabe, Brian Kito, George Sugimoto, Patty and Steve Nagano and Maia and Alex Shibutani. Second row: Nancy Okubo, Princess Amanda Akiko Hiraishi, Princess Faith Sumiko Nishimura, Miss Tomodachi Maile Tabata Yanguas, Queen Kristine Emiko Yada, First Princess Audrey Emi Nakaoka, Princess Lorie Meza and Princess Emily Shigeko Kumagai. (Photo by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

With the sights and buzz of past Nisei Week parades lingering in the air, festival organizers and Little Tokyo community stalwarts took time on Monday to thank those who made possible the revival of the in-person event the day before, while keeping in mind the good ole days.

Japanese American National Museum CEO Ann Burroughs introduced businessman and philanthropist George K. Sugimoto, who served as parade grand marshal. Burroughs thanked him for “giving where the need is the greatest” and for having the foresight to “invest in future generations.”

Sugimoto, founder of KGS Electronics and a benefactor to several Japanese American community organizations, admitted that riding in a car at the head of the Nisei Week parade was a long-held ambition.

At 96, he still remembers being approached in 1960 to donate to the festival. After agreeing to donate, Sugimoto added, “Keep me in mind for grand marshal,” only partially joking. “Of course, that was 63 years ago,” he calculated, “but (riding at the head of the parade) still feels pretty good.”

He also took time to hint at his secret for success: “Longevity!” The word, according to Sugimoto, holds a powerful message that urges entrepreneurs to consider the future.

Alex and Maia Shibutani, two-time Olympic bronze medalists who made history as the first sibling ice dance team to win medals in the Winter Games, were parade marshals. Alex pointed out that he and his sister did not grow up in or near a Japanese American community; therefore, they knew little about Nisei Week. Still, they enjoyed serving as parade marshals and were able to share news of their next project: a picture book featuring “Amazing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”

In accepting the Frances K. Hashimoto Community Service Award, Brian Kito, owner of Japanese confectionery Fugetsudo, recalled agreeing to volunteer for Nisei Week when he was 24 years old. He regretted his decision to help until he realized he would be working on the queen’s committee. Kito is president and co-founder of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association.

Bill Watanabe, former Little Tokyo Service Center executive director and the man who initiated the drive to build a recreation center in Little Tokyo (Budokan), received the Inspiration Award.

Patty and Steve Nagano were also tabbed for the Inspiration Award. In addition to their work with the Little Tokyo Historical Society, the Naganos coordinate Little Tokyo Sparkle, an annual cleanup project involving hundreds of volunteers.

Honorary parade marshal Kellyn Acosta, 26-year old professional soccer player with the Los Angeles Football Club, was not able to attend Monday’s dinner. He is credited with helping the U.S. to secure a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. If he is rostered for the global competition in November, Acosta will become the first player of Japanese ancestry to represent the U.S. in the World Cup.                                                

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  1. George has been a longtime friend & client. It has been a real pleasure to know him & his wonderful family.