From left: Michael Pacelli, Kenny Fukumoto, Neil Yamamoto, Noe Yamabe, Peter Inouye, Ed Kita, Henry Ako and Jerry Koyama.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

GARDENA — Noe Yamabe celebrated his 90th birthday in true Elvis fashion at Cherrystones on Nov. 4.

Before the Elvises left the building, they gathered for a group photo.

Kenny Fukumoto, bassist for The Grassroots, provided entertainment, performing a number of Elvis favorites.

Noe’s wife Mary shared the history of the Obon Jivers, who are a popular part of the Obon festival season. Besides dancing, Yamabe is a noted graphic designer, who created the iconic prints of the World War II concentration camps, seen at the Japanese American National Museum and other sites that tell the story of the Nikkei community.

Here is what Mary shared about the Obon Jivers:

Noe and Mary Yamabe

In the late 1990s, Noe wanted to dance in the Obon Festivals in our various communities with our friends. Noe came up with the idea of calling our group the Obon Jivers and he made T-shirts for all of us. The original guys in the group were himself, Noe Yamabe, Dave Saika, Stanley Kong and Tom Ishimine. In the fall of 2002, Dave Saika had gone to a Halloween costume party wearing a cool wig and the day after, he was showing his friends how he looked in the wig. Cool….very cool!  

Then Noe got the idea….. “Hey!  How about wearing a cool wig and dressing as Elvis at the Obon Festivals!” And thereafter they made history, appearing at all the Obon Festivals in the Greater L.A. communities! They were even invited to dance at the Las Vegas Obon Festival! Everyone loved them and they had quite a following through the years.

Besides dancing at Obons, they appeared at weddings, at the Japanese American National Museum Volunteers Christmas Celebration, at a formal ceremony of the Shinto [shrine], and they even were invited to a friend’s funeral who was an avid fan of Elvis! Through the years they brought smiles to many, many people.  

And, through the years new Elvis’ were brought in. Michael Pacelli became Elvis No. 5, Henry Ako became Elvis No. 6, and Ed Kita became Elvis No.7. Several years ago we lost Stanley Kong, one of the original Elvises, and last July we lost another dear friend, Dave Saika.  

But new Elvises continue to keep the heritage and fun going! Noe recently had his 90th birthday celebration at the Cherrystones restaurant and as the celebration had an Elvis theme, new Elvises were born! Kenny Fukumoto Elvis No. 8, Peter Inouye Elvis No. 9, Neill Yamamoto Elvis No. 10 and Jerry Koyama Elvis No. 11! 

With that many Elvises in the room, Noe’s party was a blast!

Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo

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