2023 Nisei Week Court (from left) Sara Emiko Kubo, Kaili Mika Inouye, Nancy Izumi Chin, Aiko Marie Matsumura Dzikowski, Kamalani “Kama” Higashiyama, Kaitlyn Emiko Chu and Isabella Rose Polizzotto at the opening ceremony held on Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Turning the corner is the theme of this year’s Nisei Week Japanese Festival, continuing a beloved summertime ­tradition in Little Tokyo

David Yamahata, president of the Nisei Week Foundation

Nisei Week, now in its 81st year, is the oldest ethnic festival in the United States. For the past few years, the festival has been altered by the pandemic with cancelled or altered schedules. David Yamahata, Nisei Week Foundation president, explained that the theme marked a return to something closer to normal.

“Last year was about 90% of what we wanted to do. ‘Turning the Corner’ represents a return more back to normalcy,” Yamahata said.

The ceremony held on Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum began with a stirring performance by Chikara Daiko. Nisei Week Queen Kristine Yada served as mistress of ceremonies.

Check presentations were made by Masahiko Yamamoto on behalf of the Japanese Business Association of Southern California, and Yuko Kaifu on behalf of the Japan House Los Angeles Foundation.

Japan House kicks off an exhibition, “Pokemon X Kogei: Playful Encounters of Pokemon and Japanese Craft,” later this month. Kaifu noted that with the Metro Regional Connector open, a trip from Little Tokyo to Hollywood is now a quick ride on the Metro.

From left: Yuko Kaifu, Consul General Kenko Sone, Yamahata, Ann Burroughs, Nisei Week Queen Kristine Yada and Masahiko Yamamoto perform the kagami-biraki sake barrel ceremony.

Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO, welcomed the gathering of more than100 to the museum. Dignitaries in attendance included Consul General Kenko Sone and his wife, Mami; and Dominic Choi, LAPD assistant chief.

“It is so meaningful to welcome all of you as we kick off the 81st celebration of community, culture and tradition,” Burroughs said.

The 2023 Nisei Week Court made their official debut in bright emerald green dresses designed by Tadashi. The coronation will be held on Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Aratani Theatre.

The candidates are: Isabella Rose Polizzotto, representing Gardena Evening Optimist Club; Kaitlyn Emiko Chu, representing Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council; Kamalani “Kama” Higashiyama, representing the Japanese Restaurant Association of America; Aiko Marie Matsumura Dzikowki, representing the Venice-West Los Angeles Japanese American Citizens’ League/Venice Japanese Community Center; Nancy Izumi Chin, representing Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute; Kaili Mika Inouye, representing the San Fernando Valley Japanese America Community Center; and Sara Emiko Kubo, representing the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.

Nisei Week Queen Kristine Yada is joined at the podium by mascot Aki the Akita during Sunday’s opening ceremonies at JANM.

Bill Watanabe, former executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, is this year’s grand marshal. Basketball great Jamie Hagiya is the parade marshal.

Also to be honored this year are: Pioneer Spirit awardees Dr. Akiko Agishi, Ron Dyo, Akira Fujimoto, Kyoko Nancy Oda, Joan Kuniko Kawase and Kanji Sahara.

Don Tahara of Far Bar and Kristin Fukushima, managing director of the Little Tokyo Community Council, will receive the Nisei Week Inspiration Award.

The late Cathy Tanaka, a dedicated community volunteer and a member of the Fukui family business, will be recognized with the President’s Award.

Anzen Hardware, Tanaka Farms, Toyo Miyatake Studio and U.S. Bank will receive the Frances Hashimoto Community Service Award.

Master Bando Hirohichiro and his dancers performed the two dances that will be featured at the Grand Parade, “Maneki Neko” and “One Piece.”

Master Bando Hirohichiro and his dancers performed “Maneki Neko” and “One Piece,” the two dances that will be featured for the Grand Parade on Aug. 13. “One Piece” is a popular anime series and the dance features some moves inspired by anime. Hirohichiro is the first male choreographer for the Nisei Week Festival.

“As I was choreographing the song, the theme ‘Turning the Corner’ means revitalizing Little Tokyo with not just the businesses but also the culture … I believe in diversity, inclusion and equity and bringing all of Los Angeles together,” Hirohichiro said.

The next event on the Nisei Week calendar is the Baby Show, which returns after a hiatus during pandemic. It will take place on Saturday, July 29, at Nishi Hongwanji.

Rafu Shimpo will publish its annual Nisei Week special edition on Aug. 8.

More information at www.niseiweek.org.

Photos by JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo

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