Best Feet Forward

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The brightly colored yosakoi dancers of Hiragishi Tenjin, a dance group from Japan. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The first weekend of the 2012 Nisei Week Festival ended big with dancers filling the streets of Little Tokyo on Sunday.

The Grand Parade featured about 60 units, including visiting performers and dignitaries from Japan as well as Nikkei queens and princesses, veterans, martial arts dojos, and more.

Temperatures, which reached the low 90s during the day, began to drop as the parade started, allowing the spectators lining the streets to make themselves comfortable.

Vets and Friends

Veterans of World War II from the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service rode in military vehicles as part of the Go For Broke Educational Foundation and Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council unit.

They were followed by Japanese American Korean War Veterans and special guest Hershey Miyamura of New Mexico, a Medal of Honor recipient. He was in town to sign copies of “Forged in Fire,” a book about his friendship with fellow veteran Joseph Annello, which began when they were prisoners of war.

Next was a group organized by the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee.

The grand marshal was Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), who introduced legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th/442nd and MIS. The bill was signed by President Obama in 2010 and the presentation ceremony was held in Washington, D.C. last year.

“It is so wonderful to be here … What an honor to be here with the Go For Broke regiments and MIS,” Schiff said. “What an extraordinary group of patriots. Thank you for including me.”

The parade marshal also had a World War II connection. Mary Kageyama Nomura, who was dubbed the “Songbird of Manzanar” when she was interned as a teenager, has continued to perform ever since. During the parade, she waved to well-wishers but did not break into song.

Music and Movement

The Nisei Week Foundation presented its own marching band, which played the popular Obon song “One Plus One,” complete with dance steps. The band is under the direction of Dave Yamamoto and Ted Yamada, with Bando Masayue as ondo drill team coach, assisted by Andrea Yamamoto.

The lineup also included the following groups. Many of the dancers performed to “Kawachi Otoko Bushi,” a familiar tune during Obon season, and the Hiroshima song “One World.”

– Nanka Fukuoka Kenjinkai Taiko Club, which played music of the Kokura Gion Festival in Fukuoka. The club’s Kogenkai was established in 2006 and authorized by the Kokura Gion Daiko Conservation Promotion Committee.

– Nebuta floats depicting brave warriors, an Aomori Prefecture tradition that has been part of the parade since 2007. The group, which included students, former students, parents, staff and others from Los Angeles Elementary School, consisted of marchers, haneto (jumping) dancers with colorful yukata, hats and bells, and ohayashi musicians playing flute, taiko and cymbals.

– The Nisei Week Public Ondo Dancers, who will also take part in next Sunday’s festival finale.

– Chikara Daiko, based at Centenary United Methodist Church. Founded in 1996 in conjunction with the church’s centennial, it was performing in the parade for the fifth time.

– Bombu Taiko, founded in 2002 at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple and instructed by Taikoproject.

– Hanayagi Rokufukumi Kai, a Japanese classical dance group that has appeared at various events, including Obon festivals.

– Madame Azuma Sumako II and Azuma Kikusue, co-choreographers of festival, with students of Azuma Kotobuki Kai, a school of Japanese classical dance.

– Rissho Kosei-Kai, a Buddhist group that has marched in each parade since 1992. Under the direction of Sachie Capron and Rev. Takashi Kodaka, the members carry mando and matoi — firemen’s standards from the Edo period — and play flutes, gongs and drums.

– Nippon Minyo Kenkyu Kai/Hoen Kai, Los Angeles branch, under the direction of Emi Hojoen.

– Nippon Minyo Kenkyukai/Kotobuki no Kai, Los Angeles headquarters for Nippon Minyo Kenkyu Kai in Nagoya led by Madame Imoto Hoshun-jyu.

– San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center’s Meiji Club, formed in 1999 and led by Masako Rodriguez. Dancers include actresses Tamlyn Tomita and Shuko Akune.

– Nippon Minyo Kenkyu Kai Hoshun Kai, led by Hashimoto Hoshunbi and Hashimoto Hoshunki, based in Little Tokyo and part of the main school in Nagoya.

– Genchi Minyo Kikuta Kai, based in Los Angeles and Oceanside, under the instruction of Yoshiko Yamaguchi.

– Japanese R&B star Ai, who will do a concert Aug. 24 at Club Nokia.

– Gina Hiraizumi, an actress whose first single for the U.S. market, “Never Say Never,” recently premiered at an event in Hollywood.

– Okinawa Association of America’s Geino-bu, which preserves the Ryukyu arts. The group is chaired by Richiko Nakashima.

– Awa Odori Tokushima Ren from Tokushima in Shikoku. The group, which is made up of Japanese and American dancers, is led by Machiko Fujii, who has been teaching in the U.S. since 2005. They were joined by Awakko Ren from San Francisco.

– Hiragishi Tenjin/Yosakoi Soran, which combines traditional yosakoi, a style of dance from Kochi Prefecture, and Hokkaido’s “Soran Bushi,” a fishermen’s song. Invited by Nanka Dosanko Kai, an association of Hokkaido natives in Southern California, Hiragishi Tenjin is one of the most popular groups in Sapporo’s Yosakoi Soran events, which attract thousands of people. Speaking for the group, Yumiko Murai and Shoichi Nakai said that they arrived the night before from Japan and planned to leave for Las Vegas right after the parade.

Nikkei Royalty

Meeting the public just a day after the coronation, newly crowned Nisei Week Queen  Emily Folick rode on a float with her court — First Princess Crystal Hanano, Miss Tomodachi Kaitlynn Sakurai, Princess Sara Fujimoto,  Princess Lauren Arii, Princess Marci Asao, and Princess Erika Fisher. Folick said she was “so proud to represent our community.”

Another float carried the 2011 Nisei Week Court: Queen Erika Olsen, First Princess Mitsuko Yang, Miss Tomodachi Kay Yamaguchi, Princess Leann Fujinami, Princess Jessica Kanai, Princess Michi Lew, Princess Melissa Nishmura, and Princess Amber Piatt.

They were joined by three Nikkei courts from out of town:

Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce Cherry Blossom Festival — Queen Erin Morimoto, First Princess Edrea Katsunuma, Miss Popularity Teri Nakakura, Miss Congeniality Heather Smith, Princess Tomomi Ida, Princess Nicole Kinney, Princess Cari Tasoe.

Japanese Queen Scholarship Organization of Washington (state) — Queen Yuna Nishimoto, First Princess Taryn Imanishi, Princess Nicole Lee, Princess Sylvie Shiosaki.

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival — Queen Asaki Osato, First Princess Megumi Yoshida, Princess Miki Fukai, Princess Chihiro Hirai, Princess Manami Kidera.

Riding in the Los Angeles Kimono Club car were 2012 Miss Kimono Mina Matsumoto and runner-up Nana Kamimura.

JAO Miss Optimist Whitney Itano, a 2009 Nisei Week princess, was in a rickshaw pulled by JA Optimist Club President Hayato Tamura, a former Nisei Week president.

Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Lauren Zhou Weinberger, First Princess Eileen Kwan and Second Princess Jane Yap represented the Chinese American community.

Local Luminaries

Nisei Week’s 2012 honorees were recognized in the parade, each in his or her own car with family members and friends.

Community Pioneers — architect Yasumasa Hirayama, Japanese Community Pioneer Center; kendo instructor Arthur Ichiro Murakami, Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council; minyo singer and musician Matsutoyo Sato, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California; ikebana and tea ceremony instructor Kazuko Shimbashi, Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California; and Okinawan sports and dance proponent Yasukazu Takushi, Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai.

Community Service Award — Terminal Islanders (Minoru Tonai, president; Charlie Hamasaki, vice president; Yukio Tatsumi, past president), Tigers Youth Club (Andrew C. Lee, president), and OCO (Orange Coast Optimists) Farms Feed Families (Glenn Tanaka of Tanaka Farms).

Nisei Week Baby Show — Tiny Tot Princess Emi Yumori and Prince Rex Shimada, Romper Stomper Princess Audrey Nobuyuki and Prince Dylan Lee, Jet Setter Princess Isabelle Idian and Prince Ryan Shimada, pageant committee co-chairs Corey Estes and Walter Nishinaka, and Aki the Akita, Nisei Week’s mascot.

Nisei Week Kitchen Masters Competition — Chef Kimmy Tang, winner of the inaugural event. She is the founder of 9021Pho in Beverly Hills.

Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship — Naoyuki Kamiya, 2011 amateur champion with Day-Lee’s mascot. The 2012 competition will be held next Saturday.

The Nisei Week banner was carried by members of Koyasan Buddhist Temple’s Boy Scout Troop 379.

Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary UMC, president of the Nisei Week Foundation, said, “Thank you, everyone, for coming out today and braving the elements. It’s a great day, a great-looking crowd. Thank you for supporting the 72nd Nisei Week Festival. Be here next Sunday for the closing ceremony and ondo dance.”

Cultural Exchange

Los Angeles’ sister city in Japan, Nagoya, was represented by Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who rode in a car with Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge accompanying him on a bicycle. On Second Street, Kawamura sang the Elvis Presley hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and greeted Nagoya residents in the audience.

The Rotary Clubs of Los Angeles and Nagoya were also on hand. Representatives included Jay Richardson (L.A. president), Torao Oshima (Nagoya president), Ichiki Mizuno (Nagoya secretary), Miyuki Richardson (L.A.), Kyoko Oshima (Nagoya) and Yumi Mizuno (Nagoya).

Students who had just arrived from Japan through LANSCA (Los Angeles-Nagoya Sister-City Affiliation) rode in a fire truck.

Participating on behalf of the Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Association were local ambassadors David Delgado and Christina Gonzales, and visiting ambassadors Kentaro Yoshikawa and Natsumi Osumi.

The Koriyama Children’s Choir from Fukushima Prefecture sang the Japanese version of the Beatles’ “Ob La  Di, Ob La Da.” It was a busy weekend for them, having performed at the Tanabata Festival on Saturday morning and at Centenary UMC on Saturday afternoon. The latter concert was a thank-you for aid provided to Fukushima after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Another side of Japanese culture was shown by the Little Tokyo Cosplayers, led by Patrick Saul, who have been part of the parade since 2006. Cosplayers dress as their favorite anime, manga and video game characters; the elaborate costumes are mostly hand-made.

Toei Animation, known for “Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon,” brought one of its well-known characters, Luffy from “One Piece.” Sakura Ichiban brought two “Japanese heroes born in the USA to save Earth,” one in futuristic samurai armor and the other with a sakura-themed outfit.

Political, Community Leaders

The LAPD was represented by Deputy Chief Terry Hara, past president of Nisei Week Foundation and a candidate for City Council (9th District); Senior Lead Officer Jack Richter; and several patrol cars. “Thank you, everyone, for being here,” said Hara. “It’s a very, very warm day, but seeing the crowd out here today, we appreciate your support.”

City Councilmember Jan Perry, who has represented Little Tokyo for more than a decade, rode in the parade for the last time as a member of the City Council. She is running for mayor, and the election will be held next year before the next Nisei Week.

City Councilmember Jose Huizar of the 14th District said, “Omedeto, everybody, konnichi wa. Happy Nisei Week. Thank you for celebrating 72 years of Japanese culture in Little Tokyo.”

Consul General Jun Niimi rode in the parade for the first time. Other dignitaries included:

– Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, accompanied by his wife Christine, son Michael Jr., and daughter Mary Christine.

– Alhambra Mayor Gary Yamauchi.

– Pasadena City Councilmember Gene Masuda, who was elected last year.

– Trudy Nodohara, president of the Little Tokyo Lions Club.

– Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Emile Mack with his wife Jenny Kawada Mack and daughter Miya. Mack is a candidate for City Council (District 13).

– LAFD Deputy Chief David Yamahata, Battalion Chief Mark Akahoshi, and Assistant Chief (retired) Roy Kozaki.

– Kazuhiko Fujii, president; Akira Katsuta, vice president; Eiichi Suzuki, director; and Yuriko Shikai, secretary, of Pure 02.

– Yoshihiko Masuda, president of the Japan Business Association of Southern California, and his wife Itsuko.

– Haruo Takehana, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California.

– Greg Kimura, the new president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum, accompanied by volunteers carrying giant origami to promote JANM’s “Folding Paper” exhibition.

– Gregory Willis, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s new president and CEO.

– Hisamori Iwashita, president of the Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai, with his wife Yumiko and grandsons Dylan and Joshua Minesaki.

– Jack Naito, president of the Orange County Japanese American Association.

– Father Richard Hoynes and young adult leaers Chris Kokawa and Mindy Sato from St. Francis Xavier Chapel (formerly Maryknoll Church), which will celebrate its centennial in November.

– Shin Koyamada and Nia Lyte of the Shin Koyamada Foundation. Koyamada is an actor, producer, philanthropist and martial artist.

– Mike Verdugo and George Mori, co-chairs of this year’s Tanabata Festival, with a display of kazari (decorations).

– Snoopy from Knotts Berry Farm.

Sports and Cars

The Nikkei Games had one trailer with basketball hoops — everyone was invited to shoot — and another where judo matches were held. The games, which also include softball, baseball, golf, bowling, volleyball, track and field, karate and kendo, continue until Aug. 26.

The sports contingent also included karate pioneers Fumio Demura and Takayuki Kubota; the El Toro Judo Club; Shorin-Ryu Karate; Industry Sheriff’s Kendo Dojo; and three dojos of Nippon Kenpo of America – Alhambra (led by Martha Valdez and Sandra Peharec), Pico Rivera and East L.A. (Luis Cobian and Miguel Zuniga), and Temple City (Do Mar).

The entries from this year’s Nisei Week Car Show, produced by Ken Miyoshi, cruised through the streets, recreating a favorite pastime of younger Japanese Americans.

Auto Club Speedway’s unit included the official pace car, a 2013 Ford Taurus Sho; a 1948 Chevy Woody Fleetmaster; and Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zuker in an IndyCar. The Indycar World Championships, featuring Japan’s Takuma Sato, will be held in Fontana on Sept. 15.

Though not a sports team, the Rafu Mutsumi Kai needed strong volunteers to carry a heavy mikoshi (portable shrine) on their shoulders. Formed by Takashi Shimizu, the group has participated in the parade since 1993 and has also been part of the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco.

Serving as emcees were actor Rodney Kageyama and 1994 Nisei Week Queen Kimi Evans on First Street and dancer Miyuki Matsunaga and Mikey Hirano Culross of The Rafu Shimpo on Second Street.

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An album of parade photos will be posted separately.

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