VOX POPULI: Once Upon a J-Town Bugler



An offhand memory recalled the monthly 1930s Saturday night family visits to Little Tokyo “Nihonjin-machi.” One thing comes to mind. I was told it was crowded because Japanese farm families from rural areas of San Fernando and Monrovia and Terminal Islanders came for their weekend shopping of dry goods, Japanese groceries, eating at chop suey/Japanese restaurants, taking in a movie at Fuji-kan or a stage show at Yamato Hall, and/or enjoying opportune get-togethers with friends scattered far out.

It also occurred to me the suburban families had to drive the long distance only on surface streets without recourse, having been turned away by their local “hakujin” retail outlets. Facing up to the put-down challenge of “shikata ga nai” syndrome spurred an ensuing pro-active  inception of the Nisei Week Festival, with an ultimate incentive of invigorating the Japanese community as a whole and offering work for contemporary Nisei (including college graduates) struggling in a biased society.

For the Saturday night Nisei Week parade, both sides of First Street from Los Angeles Street to Central Avenue were decorated with light-filled paper lanterns providing a decidedly festive mood to the annual event. The floats, ondo dancers, mikoshi (portable shrines) with carriers, parade dignitaries in open cars, and the Koyasan Boy Scout Drum and Bugle Corps composed a nucleus for the festivities. Aside from the parade, exemplary was the Koyasan troop assisting the L.A. police in crowd and traffic control.

As for the drive into Little Tokyo, notable was an elderly Japanese bugler wearing a makeshift military uniform on the corner of First and San Pedro. Eccentric in appearance, yielding somewhat, his bugle resonated strained notes, interspersed with a bellowing hardly discernible but with solicitude, “WON, Won, won…” while shaking his tambourine.

Transpiring thoughts recalled the military service bugle signaling reveille and retreat — a raising and lowering of the flag. Held to affectionate sway was the alluring and relaxed site of the Presidio of Monterey Army Language school overlooking Monterey Bay; especially because (back in 1948) there were no guards at the gate, with freedom to go in and out like a college campus except for reveille. Unique regarding reveille was the honking of seals in the bay that woke us up — prevailing over the (late) bugle call.

Alas, an ironic fate lays bare persistent bugle calls for endless internment of military personnel dying on foreign soil and the grim revelation of innocent people terror-stricken by suicidal and unyielding religious groups. Hereon, the singular yielding “once upon a J-Town bugler” may well evoke a bit of nostalgia for prewar residents and visitors of “Nihonjin-machi” — with his “Won” (winning) message coming to light. Anjali.

Vox Populi is a forum for the community. Contributions to Vox Populi may be sent 701 E. Third St., Suite 130, Los Angeles CA 90013 Attn: Editor, or emailed to [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


Leave A Reply