Akane Mashimo (left) served as emcee as the L.A. Kimono Club held their annual New Year’s pageant on Jan. 1 in Little Tokyo.

By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer

On New Year’s Day 2023, the L.A. Kimono Club was on the stage at the Oshogatsu celebration in Little Tokyo. It was their first Kimono Contest in three years after the pandemic.

The audience enjoyed seeing contestants dressed in attractive kimono with a Japanese-style New Year’s atmosphere. Behind the scenes was the L.A. Kimono Club’s effort to restart the tradition.

Over the past three years, the club’s activities had been suspended due to COVID-19 and the retirement of the top leader, so they were motivated to do something again this year. The current members managed the successful contest.

Akane Mashimo, the club’s vice president, says, “We hustled.”

She recalls that the decision to put on the New Year’s event at Weller Court was made quite late. It was already the beginning of December when the club was asked to come back.

“I thought I would turn down the offer because there was too little time to prepare anything at that point. However, with the strong encouragement of the other members, I made up my mind and answered ‘Yes.’

Newbury Park High School junior Lily Sumida, who began studying Japanese dance at age 3, was chosen as the first-place winner.

“From then on, my mind was filled with the contest every day. We planned and proceeded with everything by weekly Zoom meetings with only four core members who are currently active. Everyone was busy with their regular jobs, housekeeping and parenting. They seriously worked so hard with contacting different people and advertising in various places. We worked really hard.”

The Kimono Contest is not new for the Kimono Club. However, Mashimo had some new ideas.

“This time, when I took the lead, I really wanted to incorporate an audience vote system. They can vote with a QR code from their mobile phones and it would be part of the judgment. I also wanted to make the entry criteria for contestants more accessible.

“Until last time, we only had the Miss Kimono contest for unmarried women and Mr. Kimono contest for men. Age was set at 16 years and above. If we followed the rules, it was not possible to gather enough people in a short period of time. So I decided to make the judging criteria only by the performance on stage, regardless of gender, age, or race.”

As a result, along with the votes from the audience, they received a variety of positive feedback from everyone. Contestants included many teens, a mother and daughter, and even a gentleman who wanted to wear women’s kimono.

“I am proud that this contest has become a completely new kind and is very suitable for the times,” says Mashimo.

“I dressed about half of the contestants in the morning, but these three winners came dressed by themselves or with the help of their families at home. Whether or not they dressed themselves was not included in the judging criteria, but I think their familiarity with kimono and strong passion toward kimono came out in the results.

Third-place winner Rhea Gaddes receives a collection of gifts.

“Taking advantage of this success, I would like to increase the number of events this year and expand the field of activities with new members. The next plan is to have a New Year’s lunch party at the beginning of February to discuss what we would like to do as a club this year.

“I strongly hope that L.A. Kimono Club will become a kimono oasis not only for Japanese people, but also for all L.A. local kimono lovers, and especially for the younger generation, who are very good at spreading the culture and making new trends.”

First-place winner Lily Sumida said, “I’m excited to be Miss Kimono L.A. 2023!  I am 16 years old and a junior at Newbury Park High School. I wore a kimono for the first time when I became a Japanese dancer at the age of three under the tutelage of Kikusue Azuma at Azuma Kotobuki Kai. My passion for kimono began through participation in dance, and grew in 2022, when I learned kitsuke, the art of dressing in kimono.

“I enjoy learning about the history of Japan through kimono, and it makes me feel connected to my culture when wearing one. Music is my other great passion, which I express through classical singing, piano, and learning Tsugaru shamisen under Mitsuru Sasaki Sensei of Sasaki Mitsuyoshi Ryu. I incorporate Japanese culture and classical music by wearing kimono for my recitals and other events. I also began composing pieces which contain both Western and Japanese influences.

“I look forward to being the best Miss Kimono L.A. I can be by attending events, sharing Japanese culture, and encouraging others to learn about and wear kimono. The contest was a wonderful experience, and I met many amazing people who are also interested in kimono and Japanese culture.”

Photos by TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo

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  1. IMHO, the kimono or yukata is the most beautiful garb a woman can wear.