By TOMOKO NAGAI and GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Staff Writers
There were smiling faces at the JACCC Plaza in Little Tokyo on Saturday; however, on Sunday the traditional closing ceremony for the Nisei Week Japanese Festival was canceled due to Hurricane Hilary.
On Friday, the Nisei Week Foundation announced that they were monitoring the storm’s developments; by noon on Saturday they made the decision to cancel.
David Yamahata, president of the Nisei Week Foundation, explained that it was unfortunate but necessary.
“With the threat of potential rain as well as very high winds, the concern from our Nisei Week Board is that we were concerned about the safety of not only our workers and volunteers, but the community coming out,” Yamahata, a former deputy chief with 36 years of experience in the L.A. Fire Department, said in an interview with The Rafu.
“It’s unfortunate. We always look forward to having the parade or the closing ceremony. It’s a culmination of our nine-day festival. I mean, it’s so much, it’s probably the most fun for everybody because the community comes out, they participate in the street … (If) you don’t know how to have to dance, you know, you can just watch and you learn very quickly and it’s a lot of fun.”
The second day of the JACCC Plaza festival and the Taiko Gathering were also canceled. The Japanese American National Museum announced on Saturday that they would also be closed due to the storm.
“Little Tokyo floods very easily and you don’t want people having to walk around in the rain, possibly slip, fall down and get hurt,” Yamahata said. “From our foundation’s perspective, our main concern is for the safety of the people.”
By the time it hit the Southland, Hilary was downgraded to a tropical storm but still brought significant rain and strong winds that reached up to 40-50 mph range in Santa Clarita and San Gabriel Valley.
According to the Weather Service, the 2.48 inches that fell in Downtown Los Angeles on Sunday alone made it the wettest-ever August day there, breaking the record of 2.06 inches set on Aug. 17, 1977. In addition to Hilary, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake centered four miles southeast of Ojai struck on Sunday afternoon and almost immediately memes with the term “hurriquake” trended on social media.
The storm and mudslides caused damaged to roadways and highways but no major injuries were reported as of Monday. As a precaution, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho cancelled classes on Monday or moved operations online.
Little Tokyo on Sunday, normally bustling during the last day of Nisei Week, was largely empty. Irene Simonian, owner of Bunka-Do, said the store closed for the day due to the storm; Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do Confectionery, said that his store was open but there were hardly any customers.
Coverings for the al fresco dining on the north side of First Street were swept away by the storm, but no major damage has been reported in Little Tokyo.
Yamahata said that Nisei Week will draw winners of the raffle and stream the results live online, as well as post it on their website.
With the theme “Turning the Corner,” the hope for this year’s Nisei Week was to bring it closer to what it was pre-pandemic with the return of almost all of the events. Hilary, it seems, had other plans.
A tropical storm had not made landfall in California since 1939 — five years after the first Nisei Week in 1934.
The Nisei Week Foundation is looking with optimism to next year. Joann Shin Cordeiro will be president in 2024.
“I think next year we’ll probably be at 100% because we will continue to invite everybody that used to participate,” said Yamahata. “So hopefully again, we will encourage more organizations to participate in our festival because then it draws more of the community out. And it supports the local businesses, the restaurants and the different vendors. So we’re always looking for new ideas to enhance our festival and get more people to come out.”
Photos by JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo