Oh the Places We Go




If you’re like me, Oshogatsu is a time get in the car and hit the road. If you were up late toasting in 2011, then you’d better set your alarm early. Don’t want to be late to celebrate New Year’s with relatives and enjoy feasting on ozoni, fried wontons and nishime.

Our Oshogatsu involves criss-crossing the Southland, with stops usually timed to bowl games. My grandmother’s house was first up and we’d eat ozoni and watch the Rose Parade. Recently, that part of our tradition was changed to early sushi brunch together at Todai in Westminster. Next up, is Auntie Mits’ where we would watch the Rose Bowl and enjoy her homemade manju and all the osechi fixings. This year, we will also go to my late stepdad’s home, who we lost this year.

Regardless of how the past year has been, we always start the new one fresh with this life-affirming ritual. It’s a tradition that is uniquely Japanese American and a testament to our families that hold us together through all of the good and bad times.

In 2010, nearly everyone felt the bad times: unemployment, a slow housing market and an economy that has only recently shown some signs of life. Little Tokyo was no exception. While Japanese Village Plaza was renovated and a shiny new yagura fire tower rose above First Street in August, other major properties in Little Tokyo remained unbuilt: their development still halted in the post-2008 slump. The plans for Nikkei Center scuttled and the Japan America Theatre to be closed for some needed renovation.

The community scored an important victory with Metro acquiescing to place its rail lines underground for the $1.2 billion Regional Connector project. However as the vocal opposition by Japanese business owners late in the process indicated, the disruptions caused by construction of the Regional Connector as well as High Speed Rail could potentially have a negative impact on J-Town’s businesses and residents for years to come. The death of Betty Sugiyama, pushed onto the tracks of the Gold Line station in November, was a chilling reminder that Little Tokyo is not in a protected bubble, but part of a larger, sometimes dangerous world.

A forum was held in January to “save Rafu”; the results, which were announced in November, were a bit of a wash. Rafu Shimpo is neither saved, nor is it not saved, it simply is. The newspaper is moving forward at its own pace for the time being and that in itself is something.

In an upcoming issue, the newspaper will publish the results of a survey, conducted by Ryoko Ohnishi with the cooperation of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. It shows the distinctly different demographics of Rafu’s readers of the online and paper editions, which parallel the changing shape of the Japanese American community. How to process and disperse information, how to build a community and what that word even means now, has changed. If Rafu or any other JA organization is simply staying in place, it cannot hope to keep pace with the changes that are happening around it.

There were also events that made us cheer, starting with figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who charmed the Vancouver Olympics with her artistry and sunny personality. Her appearance as parade marshal at the Nisei Week thrilled the crowds around Little Tokyo. Kip Fulbeck’s “Mixed” exhibition on multiracial kids at the Japanese American National Museum celebrated diversity within our sometimes-closed community.

The Nisei graduating class of 1941 and beyond were finally given their due at moving ceremonies on college campuses across the state. Each diploma represented a small measure of justice for a generation that weathered the Great Depression, forced incarceration and World War II with grace and dignity. It was an important lesson for today’s college students, who must bear the impact of the Great Recession.

But now as we eat our toshi koshi soba and mochi, it’s the time to look forward to the challenges of 2011. In Japan, people often wake up early to view Hatsunohide, the first sunrise of a new year. The turn of the year is a time to celebrate: to get together, to eat too much. The sun rises, better times are ahead in the Year of the Rabbit.


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