By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
A dance party broke out on Friday night in Little Tokyo. As the Tanabata Festival kicked off, the crowd of 300 in front of MOCA had a little surprise of their own, bursting into an upbeat flash mob dance of the traditional obon classic “Tanko Bushi.” Marisa Kosugi of Minyo Station sang the lyrics to the coal miners song and taiko drums kept the beat for the impromptu street performance. In fact, the flash mob dance had been in the works for a few weeks, with dancers meeting in the evenings after practice for the Nisei Week ondo to work on their moves.
The performance was a lively kick-off to the second annual Tanabata Festival, which has already become a fixture in the Nisei Week calendar. Tamlyn Tomita and Yuko Kaifu served as emcees and exhorted the crowd to call out “aloha!” and “ohayogozaimasu (good morning)” to viewers of a webcast which was being seen live in Japan.
Brian Kito, chairman of the Tanabata Festival, unveiled a large Tanabata Kazari and the crowd got a chance to view the 186 ornaments which will be on display all weekend. The participants include 41 kenjinkai organizations, as well as community groups and schools. The ornaments will be judged in a contest which sparked some good-natured trash talking among officials, Councilmember Jan Perry and Consul General Junichi Ihara, whose offices have entries this year.
Tanabata has its origins in Japanese culture, but as Tomita pointed out, the festival in Little Tokyo has become a uniquely Japanese American tradition, bringing together Japanese, Japanese American cultures as well as other groups to Japantown.
The festival, sponsored by the Nisei Week Foundation, Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai and Little Tokyo Public Safety Association, will continue until Sunday.