By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu staff writer
Since 1934, Nisei Week has been an integral and palpable part of the unification and growth of the Japanese American community—from the crowds the parade annually attracts to Little Tokyo’s streets, to the community service of the Nisei Week court, to the recognition it has given to others within the community.
“I’m so impressed,” Consul General Junichi Ihara said at the Nisei Week Awards dinner held at the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens in Little Tokyo Monday night. “I’m more and more impressed as I repeat the experiences with you and this community and the Nisei Week Festival. I am very proud of being in Los Angeles.”
It was a star-studded evening featuring plenty of big names throughout the community who came out to lend their support and congratulations. Kenji Fukuoka, president of the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, gave a boisterous and rousing speech. Wilson Liu, president of the Little Tokyo Business Association, recalled his 28 years working with Nisei Week. And Yuichi Okura, president of Japan Business Association, expressed the JBA’s pride in working with the Nisei Week Foundation.
Over the past decade, the Foundation has hosted this awards dinner with the sole purpose of honoring those various individuals and organizations that have striven towards the shared goal of community betterment.
Two individuals and three organizations were honored amidst the tangible excitement of mistress of ceremonies Tamlyn Tomita, the guidance of Nisei Week President Hayato Tamura, and the blessing of newly crowned queen Lani Nishiyama.
As was intended, the honorees symbolized the wide range of commitment, talent, work ethic and passion that the JA community possesses.
Long-time community leader and Nisei Week supporter Hideo Kikuchi was honored as the parade’s grand marshal, while U.S. Olympian and national champion figure skater Mirai Nagasu was honored as the parade marshal. At the age of 88, Kikuchi represents the rock solid foundation and the tenacity of the elder generation. In juxtaposition is the enthusiasm and hope of youth that the 17-year-old Nagasu readily exemplifies.
“I think it’s fun to just work hard and be recognized for what I love to do,” Nagasu told the Rafu Shimpo. “Hopefully I can be a role model to all the little girls that just dream to be anything.”
The Nisei Week community service awardees included: American Airlines, who has sponsored Nisei Week for many years working hand in hand with the community; the Orange County Sansei Singles, who have provided a forum for community interaction for the past 24 years; and the Nikkei Federation, who has shown a devotion to the development of youth through its Rising Stars program.
“We’ll be going on our 8th year with Rising Stars,” said Brian Takeda, president of the Nikkei Federation. “We train close to 200 students and are just beginning to see the benefits from our alumni. We’re planting seeds for the future.”
And really, that’s what the awards are all about. Honoring the past and present in an effort to push forward into the future.
“That’s what will make our community strong,” said Sandy Sakamoto, chairperson for the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. “It evolves as we go forward. I know [the youth] will bring new editions, new thinking and new creativity to the process.”