By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
RAFU STAFF INTERN
One year ago, Yoshihito Yonezawa approached Brian Kito to ask him for help in achieving one of his dreams. After inviting Kito to the Miyagi Kenjinkai picnic, Yonezawa showed him several tanabata kazari that his own family had made. After that, Kito was hooked.
“I realized that his family was willing to put in the time and effort to make these,” said Kito, who eventually became chairman of the Tanabata Festival committee.
This past weekend, Yonezawa’s dream became a reality with the inception of the first annual Los Angeles Tanabata Festival.
Located near the Japanese American National Museum, close to MOCA and the Go For Broke monument, the display of 240 kazari streamers danced in the wind, while thousands of people came to view the work of numerous community organizations.
“We’re really pleased with the participation from the community,” Kito said. “I think how it came out was much more than we expected.”
Kito said that the committee had originally envisioned the festival to include a display of kazari on light posts throughout Little Tokyo. However, he said that due to complications of which kazari to choose for that display, as well as the additional cooperation that would be necessary, the committee decided to mount all streamers on bamboo poles from the Huntington Library near the museum.
In addition to the display, the festival also featured various food booths that sold items such as yakisoba and shave ice, as well as tanabata-themed clothing.
However, it was not the impressive display that made the biggest impression on Yonezawa.
“The Nikkei community gathered and the American people gathered to make these,” he said. “If we do this each year, I think people will come together.”
The idea of bringing the community together was a major theme of the festival, Kito said, referencing the diversity of entries ranging from the Keiro Nursing Homes to the LAPD.
“We know now this can be a successful project with community involvement,” he said. “They make this possible.”
In addition to the American visitors, residents of Sendai, Japan were also able to view the festival via a live webcam set up near the kazari. Kito said that on Saturday alone, the Web site with the live video received 750 hits.
The display will be taken down Tuesday morning and the kazari will be given back to each group. However, the committee will retain the large streamers from Sendai for use in future festivals.
“I’m wowed just looking at it,” he said. “What we put together, we couldn’t have made it any better.”