Musical Shows ‘What It Is to Be a JA’

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Ojiisan (Merv Maruyama) and Alan (Kurt Kuniyoshi) kick up their heels in a performance of "Nihonmachi: The Place to Be" last Saturday in Little Tokyo. Seated (from left) are Shaun Shimoda, Loryce Hashimoto and Walter Nishinaka. The performance, held to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Fugetsu-Do Confectionery, was a benefit for the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Ojiisan (Merv Maruyama) and Alan (Kurt Kuniyoshi) kick up their heels in a performance of “Nihonmachi: The Place to Be” last Saturday in Little Tokyo. Seated (from left) are Shaun Shimoda, Loryce Hashimoto and Walter Nishinaka. The performance, held to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Fugetsu-Do Confectionery, was a benefit for the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIYAKO KADOGAWA

What a great story “Nihonmachi: Place to Be” told. I wish my grandkids would have seen it to know what IT IS to be a JA.

Overflowing, all-you-can-eat varieties of omanjyu and made-in-front-of-your-eyes warm shoyu-mochi wrapped with crisp sheets of nori and hot tea were the most welcome “topping” to this presentation at Aratani Theatre this past Saturday afternoon. One of the most favorite anchormen, community support-minded David Ono, was the MC.

I saw this play with lots of nostalgic music by the Grateful Crane Ensemble twice already. This is by far the best. Of course, the venue was the biggest.

Brian Kito of Fugetsudo (and the president of Little Tokyo Public Safety Association, aka Little Tokyo Koban) sponsored this presentation to celebrate his store’s 110th anniversary. It was a wonderful way for the audience to support LTPSA, which is in dire need of help to continue its VITAL role in Little Tokyo.

Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do, honors present and past employees prior to the performance. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do, honors present and past employees prior to the performance. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

So many favorite melodies from the past were well woven into the play. What a great finale when the entire audience joined in singing “Ue wo Muite Arukou,” the Kyu Sakamoto song, but hear this: without being asked!

The story about a family business that celebrates 100 years in Little Tokyo (ten years ago) is told by the ghost of the founder, Jiichan, talking to the present Sansei grandson, whose Nisei father is thinking of closing the mochi and mochigashi store. The history of JAs is told simply but with depth of emotions, showing what effects the big historical events had on the business and the people.

For example, the effect of mass, forced, unjust incarceration into concentration camps for four long years is told poignantly. The hardship and indignity the Issei and the Nisei endured before, during and after World War II due to racism is countered with how they overcame those adversities.

Any young JAs would be proud to know of their heritage of the stoic, honorable Issei and Nisei, including the great accomplishments and sacrifice in lives of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion.

I give big credit to the writer and the director of this historical play, Soji Kashiwagi and Darryl Kunitomi respectively. There is a lot of JA history telling with much humor and a lot of nostalgic music. What a great educational event disguised superbly as entertainment.

We should all go to see it again and be sure to bring our grandkids.

Brian Kito, joined by his wife Tomoko and son Korey, is acknowledged by the audience with a round of applause. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Brian Kito, joined by his wife Tomoko and son Korey, is acknowledged by the audience with a round of applause. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

The trip down memory lane included a protest in the 1970s against redevelopment in Japantown. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

The trip down memory lane included a protest in the 1970s against redevelopment in Japantown. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

 

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