By RYOKO ONISHI & JORDAN IKEDA
RAFU STAFF WRITERS
The weather was idyllic for those participating in the 70th annual Nisei Week Parade Sunday in Little Tokyo. Temperatures hovered in the mid-70s allowing the kimono-clad dancers, dolled-up princesses, furiously drumming taiko drummers, and Aki the Akita a level of comfort not seen since 1991 when LA last experienced a summer this cool.
And yet, Little Tokyo crackled with life.
The familiar smells of freshly grilled takoyaki and delectable curry rice wafted throughout the newly remodeled Japanese Village Plaza. Spikey-haired manga characters with their outlandish costumes animatedly mingled together in Weller Court. The poundings of taiko drums reverberated throughout Little Tokyo, while the one-man band, Art Nakane, set up shop on the corner of San Pedro and Second street.
Obachans and Jiichans filled lawn chairs along the parade route whiles kids in yukatas fluttered about, all smiles and energy. And, perfectly reflecting artist Kip Fulbeck’s Hapa Project, an eclectic mix of Angelenos flocked to Little Tokyo to soak up and enjoy a Nikkei tradition celebrating its 70th birthday.
Fittingly, to open the parade, the 100th and 442nd veterans rode out in Army jeeps and trucks, showered with cheers and applause from the crowd. Familiar faces followed them. Councilmember Jan Perry, dressed in a bright green yukata, waved to the crowd. Counsul General Junichi Ihara rode in on a coffee-colored classic car. LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara, smartly dressed in his uniform, was all smiles. And Supervisor Michael Antonovich sported a striped red shirt and a cowboy hat.
Of course, there were plenty of new faces as well. Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s lovable white beagle, rolled down the parade route on a Knotts Berry Farm stagecoach. Parade marshal and Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu tossed gifts to the crowd. And the Ajuku Girls, a new American J-Pop group, preened for the cameras.
The 2009 Nisei Week Queen Dana Heatherton and her court wore lovely green dresses and bid farewell to the community they served so well over the past 12 months.
“Soak up every minute, wave your heart out, and make the most of it,” Heatherton said giving one last tip to the incoming queen and court.
As day faded into dusk, the newly crowned Nisei Week queen Lani Kume Nishiyama and her court glided down the streets of Little Tokyo on an American Airlines float, and seemed to heed Heatherton’s advice as they were all smiles and waves.
“It’s such an honor to be here,” a beaming Nishiyama said. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”
Along with the 2010 court’s smiles, the Nebuta festival floats illuminated the night and a hundred people wearing the colorful haneto costumes danced and sang to the shakuhachis and drums.
While the crowds have continued to dwindle over the past few years, an influx of non-Japanese Americans are discovering Nisei Week and finding meaning from it in their own ways.
Take for example Katsushi and Kanako Mikami, who provided lessons in the hayashi music to the Nebuta group last year, and recently returned from Aomori to wed at the Centenary United Methodist Church—the same place where they worked with the Nebuta group and where their love first blossomed. The same place where the Japanese American community has come together to celebrate its heritage for the past 70 years.
Click here for parade video.