By J.K. Yamamoto
Rafu Staff Writer
For more photos, please see our Nisei Week photo journal.
The streets of Little Tokyo came alive Sunday evening with dancers and musicians, seniors and kids, celebrities and queens, and mikoshi and sports cars taking part in the Nisei Week Parade.
“It’s a great day for Little Tokyo, a great day for the city of Los Angeles,” said Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary United Methodist Church, 2011 president of the Nisei Week Foundation, who rode with his wife Pam and son Nicholas.
He did not have an estimate of the number of participants or viewers, but said the crowds were similar in size to last year’s parade.
Serving as emcees were actor Rodney Kageyama, skating star Mirai Nagasu, dancer Miyuki Matsunaga, former Nisei Week Queen Kimi Evans, and the Rafu Shimpo’s own Mikey Hirano Culross. Evans noted that the first parade was held back in 1935.
One of the highlights was the participation of several Nisei veterans of World War II riding in jeeps and other vintage military vehicles. They participate in the parade every year but received special recognition this year because the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service will be receiving the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal. The Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council’s colors were carried by the Garfield High School JROTC.
Contingents of Japanese American Korean War and Vietnam War vets followed. Culross said he was glad to see the Vietnam vets, who were not welcomed with a parade when they returned home from the war.
Nisei Week Festival Marching Band, under the direction of Dave Yamamoto, made its debut this year. Members came from as far away as Sacramento, Oregon and Florida.
The 2011 Tanabata Festival, which is dedicated to the prefectures in northeastern Japan that were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, was represented by Yoshihito Yonezawa of Miyagi, Mike Kamimoto of Fukushima and Nobuyuki Baba of Iwate.
The winning Tanabata kazari (decorations) from the festival were displayed, including one from the Consul General’s Office that used the cartoon character Totoro.
Nagoya, L.A.’s sister city, was represented by City Assembly members Chizuko Nakata, Hiroyuki Tayama, Tadamasa Fujisawa, Yoshihiro Miwa and Kazuto Kato as well as exchange students. The Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Association, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was also represented.
Dogs from the Akita Inu Hozonkai marched, with many audience members reaching out to pet them.
Both ends of the age spectrum were represented by the winners of the Nisei Week Baby Show (Tiny Tots, Romper Stompers and Jet Setters) and 2011 Nisei Week Pioneers Kazuo Ikeda, Louis K. Ito, Yoshinori Kawaguchi, Eugene Toshio Murakami, and Rev. Paul and Florence Nagano.
The grand marshals were Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, who played an instrumental role in obtaining redress for Japanese Americans interned during World War II, and former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
“I want you to know how proud I am of being grand marshal of this parade,” Lasorda commented. “I’ve been the grand marshal for a lot of parades — Chicago, New York, Newark, Philadelphia — but I’m very, very proud of this one because it means a lot to me right here in Los Angeles.”
He added, “I was fortunate enough to receive the highest award the Japanese give, it’s called the Order of the Rising Sun … You can get awarded by local people, but to get that honor means the whole country honors you. I’m very grateful for that.”
Community service awardees who rode in the parade were Tammie Kanda of Toyota Motors Inc., Tracy Kato Kiriyama and Karen Yamamoto of Tuesday Night Project, Soji Kashiwagi of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, and Martha Estrada and Jay Birata of the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Youth from the Nikkei Games, a month-long sports festival, gave martial arts demonstrations as they marched.
The manga/anime crowd was represented by the Little Tokyo Cosplayers, who dressed as their favorite characters.
Actress and recording artist Gina Hiraizumi, who has just released a calendar and an album of Hawaiian music, signed autographs. The Ajuku Girls (Jordan, Yasmine, Jett, Ai and Rena B) were also there to celebrate the release of their single “Tokyo Drift.”
The Japanese American National Museum’s contingent included Bombu Taiko, CEO Akemi Kikumura-Yano, and cartoonist Stan Sakai, whose “Usagi Yojimbo” exhibit is currently on display.
The parade brought back a touch of “old-school” Nisei Week with cruising by the 2011 Nisei Week Car Show participants, led by producer Ken Miyoshi.
Rissho Kosei Kai and Rafu Mitsumi Kai carried mikoshi or portable shrines. Nanka Fukuoka Kenjinkai Taiko Club marched and drummed.
The General Public Ondo Dancers from San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center performed to the song “Ai wa Katsu.” The group’s co-presidents are Janet Yamamoto and Cathy Fujimoto, and the sensei is Masako Rodriguez.
Madame Mitsuhiro Bando, 2011 Nisei Week Parade ondo choreographer, participated along with the dancers of Bando Mitsuhiro Kai. Other performers included Boy Scout Troop 379 of Koyasan Buddhist Temple; Chikara Taiko, based at Centenary United Methodist Church; Nippon Minyo Kenkyukai, under the direction of Emi Hojoen; Kikuta Kai, which consists of groups in Los Angeles, Oceanside and Vista; Nippon Minyo Kenkyukai/Hoshun Kai; and Awa Odori Tokushima Ren.
Miss Kimono L.A. Alpha Takahashi rode with L.A. Kimono Club President Keizo Ray Suio and advisors Hayahiko Takase and Fumi Akutagawa.
Visiting “royalty” included Hawaii Cherry Blossom Queen Jennifer Sur and court; Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Jeddie Kawahatsu and court; and Seattle Japanese Community Queen Frederica Mackert and court — all of whom took part in the Nisei Week coronation the night before. Actress Tamlyn Tomita, who emceed the coronation, was also on hand.
Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Shirley Zhang and Miss Korea Southern California Joanne Ryu represented their respective communities.
2010 Nisei Week Queen Lani Nishiyama and her court were followed by newly crowned 2011 Nisei Week Queen Erika Mariko Olsen, First Princess Mimi Mitsuko Yang, Miss Tomodachi Kay A. Yamaguchi, and Princesses Leeann Fumiko Fujinami, Jessica Makiko Kanai, Michi Renee Lew, Melissa Ayumi Nishimura, and Amber Akemi Piatt.
Bringing up the rear were Aomori Prefecture’s Nebuta Festival floats and dancers, featuring students from Los Angeles Elementary School (carrying kites) and San Fernando Japanese School (carrying kingyo or goldfish). Jumping dancers and flute, taiko and cymbal players brought the parade to a noisy conclusion. This was the group’s fourth Nisei Week appearance.
Other dignitaries included:
Alhambra Mayor Gary Yamauchi
Deputy Consul General Yusuke Shindo
Japanese American Cultural and Community Center Chairperson Sandra Sakamoto
Japanese Business Association President Koichi Kinoshita
Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California President Toshio Handa
Kenjin Kai Kyogikai President Chogi Higa
LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara
Little Tokyo Business Association Chairperson Frances Hashimoto
Los Angeles Assistant Fire Chief David Yamahata
Los Angeles City Councilmembers Jan Perry and Tom LaBonge
Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich
Pure 02 Vice Presidents Masayoshi Suzuki, Eishichi Iwata and Oshitono Tanaka