Wesley Nishinaka dances at the Nisei Week Ondo on Aug. 27 at the JACCC Plaza. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

(Published Aug. 29, 2023)

After three years of pandemic impacts, Nisei Week wasn’t going to let something like a historic hurricane stop the festivities.

Over the weekend, Nisei Week concluded its 81st festival with dancing, taiko and raffle prizes. The way it came together reflected the determination of the volunteers to overcome obstacles and make things happen.

Vicky Nishinaka Leon, manager of the Nisei Week office, volunteered to take the lead to reschedule the ondo. With board approval and only three days following Sunday’s storm, the “Nisei Week Ondo at the JACCC” was officially announced. 

From left: David Yamahata, Frank Fujii, Queen Kaitlyn Chu and Dolly Oishi draw the grand prize winner of the Nisei Week raffle on Aug. 26 at the Japanese American National Museum. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

On a warm Sunday afternoon, more than 200 gathered under the tent at the JACCC Plaza to dance some Obon favorites, including “Sho Tokyo Ondo,” “Shiawase Samba” and “Taiko Bushi.” In addition, Nisei Week volunteers collected $281.56 for the Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund. 

Dance groups came with their students. Bando Hidesomi was among the dance instructors participating. Ryujin Taiko provided live drumming. Speakers included Tamlyn Tomita, Wesley Nishinaka and Nisei Week Foundation President David Yamahata. Members of Centenary United Methodist Church handed out free water bottles to all in attendance. 

The Nisei Week Ondo was postponed for one week due to Tropical Storm Hilary. Dancers included Kathy Tokudomi (front). (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

Nisei Week expressed gratitude to Councilmember Kevin de Leon and his staff, who helped tremendously in speeding up the process to make this event happen. Dance groups were notified, the plaza was reserved and a Fire Department permit was approved. 

Tamlyn Tomita, a Nisei Week Ondo regular, sported an inflatable kabuto (samurai helmet). (TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo)

On Saturday, approximately 100 attended the closing ceremony, held at the Japanese American National Museum. The ceremony was canceled last week due to Hurricane Hilary and concerns for the safety of volunteers and community members.

“The festival is nine days long. We got to Day 8 and Hurricane Hilary cramped our style,” said Yamahata. “Needless to say, when the Angels and Dodgers cancel their Sunday games, it kinda gave us the indication that maybe we should make some changes. What we were concerned about was the safety of everyone who would attend.”

Nancy Okubo served as emcee for the event, which was live-streamed. Nisei Week Queen Kaitlyn Chu, the 2023 Nisei Week Court and Master Bando Hirohichiro performed “Maneki Neko Ondo” and the drawing for raffle prizes was held with Frank Fujii and Dolly Oishi of Japan Airlines pulling the ticket for the grand prize. Nicole Van was announced as the winner of the JAL miles.

County Supervisor Hilda Solis presented certificates to the Nisei Week Court and said she is hopeful that the opening of the Metro Regional Connector will bring more people to Little Tokyo.

Dancers included Vicky Nishinaka Leon, who led the rescheduling of the ondo, and the Nisei Week Court. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

“I’m so happy we were able to open the Regional Connector. I hope more people come during the weekdays and evenings but more importantly that people understand culture of the (Japanese American) community and what it represents,” Solis said.

Deputy Consul General Naoshige Aoshima congratulated Nisei Week and asked the community to continue to support Little Tokyo and the festival.

Bando Hidesomi (left) and her students. (TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo)

“This Nisei Week will be long remembered because of the tropical storm. It is also the first Nisei Week after the opening of the Metro Regional Connector station and also Nisei Week will be long remembered because it united us strongly after the pandemic and I believe we have surely turned the corner,” Aoshima said.

“Let’s hope Nisei Week next year is not disrupted by pandemic or hurricanes or whatever happens. But it’s so wonderful to think this is an 81-year-old tradition,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM. “In the years I’ve been here, I’ve come to understand how important this festival is to Little Tokyo, the Japanese American community and to JANM.”

Robie and Steve La of Ryujin Taiko provided the beat during the ondo. (TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo)

In bright yellow happi coats, the queen and court thanked the community for their support. The festival is just the beginning of a year of activities for the 2023 court.

“We are so happy and excited to carry on this legacy for the year. We’re excited to see all your faces for another weekend and we’re so excited for this coming year,” Chu said.

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