By CHISATO ITO
I’m a college student from Japan. In January, I contacted Rev. Mark Nakagawa to ask if I could come to Los Angeles to volunteer with the Nisei Week Japanese Festival. I passed some examinations at my college, and was given a scholarship to study the festival. My thesis topics are “Why does Nisei Week continue for such a long time?” and “How do the Japanese Americans who participate in the festival relate to Japan and Japanese culture?”
The biggest impression was having the opportunity to spend time with many local students. When I first came to Little Tokyo, I didn’t know what kind of volunteer work I would be doing. I was going to join the “Nebuta” that my host family helped to create. In addition, I worked as a volunteer at the Nisei Week office with local friends.
At first I was timid because I didn’t have confidence in my English, so I was worried about whether I could communicate with them. “I cannot listen and talk in English, I feel like I have nowhere to go,” I would say. When I said things like this, friends around me gave warm words of encouragement. They already accepted me with open arms.
I understood one answer to my questions about why the Nisei Week festival has continued: it is the warmth of the community that I experienced. Rev. Nakagawa, Joyce and Greg Chinn at the office, local friends, people who joined the Nebuta together, my host family, people of Little Tokyo, I can’t write the names of all of them. Many people are so kind and friendly. When I had an interview with the Rafu’s Japanese section before the festival, I said I was impressed by the strength of the connection with people and the bond of the community. I realized that this is a big reason why the festival has continued.
At the time of closing ceremony, I participated in the Ondo with my friends. I was surprised that so many people joined in, from children to adults. Even if the generations have changed, they have inherited an old thing, and they taken it in as a new thing. Therefore I think this festival is a big event that many people can take part in.
While I spend time with my friends, I realized that Japanese Americans respect their parents and grandparents very much and are proud of them. Many Niseis showed up at the Grand Parade this year, and celebrated with much enthusiasm. I believe that it was an identification of a blood relationship called “Japan” inside Japanese Americans.
After Nisei Week, my friends asked me whether I will come here next year. I was really glad to hear that because I felt I was accepted as a member of this festival. I hope to join this festival as a member of the Nisei Week family next summer vacation again, and I want to meet my friends and people who I met this year.
Chisato Ito is a resident of Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, and a third-year student at Musashi University in Tokyo. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.