There are events in our lives that make us feel extra special — such as being the birthday boy or girl, or being the bride or groom at one’s wedding. These events are not only happy occasions but bring together good friends and/or family who celebrate your life together. 

However, when a whole community comes together to celebrate a person’s life — that makes it extra, extra special! That’s how it felt for me to be privileged and honored to be selected as the grand marshal of the 2023 Nisei Week Festival!  

What exactly is a “grand marshal”? I don’t know how a person gets chosen for this title, but I suspect it has something to do with recognizing someone who has made a positive impact on the welfare of the Nikkei community. The famous Japanese silent screen era movie star Sessue Hayakawa was the first grand marshal and many other people considered notable, such as Tommy Lasorda, have held this title. I guess I am in good company.

When social media and The Rafu Shimpo let it be known that I would be this year’s grand marshal, people began to send me congratulations for this distinguished honor. While walking randomly in Little Tokyo, friends and acquaintances would express their congratulations to me, and each time, I felt appreciated and it made me feel special.

Many people asked me if I would get to ride sitting on the back of a sporty convertible in the Nisei Week Parade and a number of my friends showed me the “proper” way to wave to the crowds. Of course, the Nisei Week Parade is one of the shortest parades in town, so it really doesn’t matter how a person decides to wave to the crowds lining the streets and sidewalks!

Bill Watanabe in the Nisei Week Parade on Aug. 13. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

It was truly fun to ride down the main streets of Little Tokyo and see many familiar faces waving and shouting greetings; the people are close enough to the car that they are easily recognizable and conversations between me and people in the crowds can even take place!  

My wife dutifully sat on the seat next to me and while she is not a big fan of crowds, I think the community spirit, friendship and good vibes exuded from the people on both sides of the street made the experience pleasant enough for her.

The grand marshal gets honored at the Nisei Week Foundation dinner, which is held the day after the parade, along with a number of other community honorees who were recognized for their contributions to the arts and to community service. I invited many of my relatives, longtime friends and community service associates to attend mainly because I wanted them to  see and experience what community spirit and camaraderie looks and feels like. It is truly an uplifting experience to have hundreds of people come together to celebrate the Japanese American culture, heritage, arts, and community service. 

I wish to express my gratitude to the many, many volunteers and officials who worked hard to plan and put on this tremendous, multi-faceted event! Thanks to everyone who participated in the Nisei Week Japanese Festival this year — and for helping me to enjoy many cherished memories of a lifetime!


Bill Watanabe writes from Silver Lake near Downtown Los Angeles and can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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