If you walked around J-Town recently, you might have seen some extremely tired folks doing a bit of a zombie shuffle. With so many events in such a short amount of time, there has been little time to rest, and you can see it in the eyes of the volunteers.
Last Thursday in the Centenary parking lot, I saw Joyce Chinn, heart and soul of Nisei Week, looking relaxed — at last. We embraced, both relieved that we had made it through another one.
The year before a big anniversary is the best time to try out new ideas and see what is working and what isn’t. There was some of that this year, with the big 7-5 awaiting us in 2015. Next summer will surely be an eventful one. Not only is Nisei Week marking its diamond anniversary; it will also have been 70 years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I’ve come to realize that Nisei Week is one important way we mark the passage of time here in Little Tokyo. It’s part of what makes this festival such a central part of the Japanese American experience in Southern California.
In the late hours after the coronation, photographer Mario Reyes and I were back at the Rafu office, still on the clock well past midnight.
“Twenty-eight,” Mario said with a wistful sigh, his camera equipment set aside. “Twenty-eight coronations.”
It struck me that I’m getting into the double digits myself — a newbie by comparison. Can you imagine? Twenty-eight queens, with equal numbers of dance numbers, costume changes, and buckets and buckets of tears — no doubt much of it courtesy of Tamlyn Tomita, so energetic and emotional as coronation emcee.
The next morning we were back in Little Tokyo for the queens’ reunion at the Japanese American National Museum. A terrific slide show, created by Alan Miyatake’s daughter Sydney, showed photos of Nisei Week courts through the decades. Besides changes in hem lines and hairstyles, the recent courts are thankfully no longer asked to parade around in swimsuits and leotards.
In that way Nisei Week highlights changing attitudes in society at-large. The growing power of women in the JA community, the changes in both geography and demographics in Little Tokyo: it’s all there amid the smiling faces and ondo dancers.
It may be presumptuous, but I have a suggestion for next year’s Nisei Week.
How about a time capsule?
To commemorate its 30th anniversary, the Honolulu Festival in March opened a time capsule that contained messages written by local students 10 years ago. Among them was Reece Matsumoto, who now attends USC studying business administration, according to the Honolulu Festival website. This year the festival again filled the time capsule with messages that will be opened in 2024. More than 11,000 students participated.
I can imagine the Camp Musubi and Kizuna kids taking this on as a fun project. Imagine their reaction when they read them again years later. A child writing their thoughts down today will be a leader of the community in the future.
I’m curious what other people would put into a time capsule to represent Little Tokyo. If there are any ideas, I’ll publish them in an upcoming column.
My list would include these things, naturally enclosed in a “mottainai” bag from Sustainable Little Tokyo.
• Metro announcement on Regional Connector construction and road closures.
• Listing of restaurants, including a list of those recently opened and closed.
• Uchiwa fan carried by one of the public ondo dancers.
• A recording of “Sho Tokyo Ondo,” “One Plus One” and Pharrell’s “Happy.”
• Empty wrapper from Mitsuru’s imagawayaki. The missing imagawayaki having been immediately gobbled up while it’s still warm.
It’s a given that a copy of The Rafu would be included in my time capsule, even though future generations may not know about Rafu or even what a newspaper is.
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When the National Guard was called in on Monday to try to quell unrest in Ferguson, Mo., it brought back memories of 1992 when the National Guard were here in Little Tokyo during the L.A. riots.
Mario has a great photo in our office of one of the guardsman, carrying a rifle and walking briskly by the fire tower in Japanese Village Plaza.
I was working at Pacific Citizen at the time and I recall walking by the troops, who were staged on Los Angeles Street, across from what was then the New Otani Hotel. A window had been broken at the Otani, but there was little damage in Little Tokyo. The troops I saw seemed bored and were soon gone. By the time the National Guard was in J-Town in ’92, the anger and rage that had been brought out from the Rodney King verdict had burned through the city, taking with it millions in property and 53 lives. It was shattering to see first-hand the effects of racism, police brutality and pent-up anger manifest in violence and destruction.
In Los Angeles it took six tortuous days and nights for the violence to end, but the wounds took much longer to heal. Some things never came back. So far in Ferguson efforts to restore order have failed.
Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson at the funeral of 18-year-old Michael Brown told his grieving parents, “I am sorry. I wear this uniform and I should say that I am sorry.”
Understanding, empathy and yes, justice for all, will be what breaks this fever of violence, injustice and unrest.
Gwen Muranaka is English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo and can be reached at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.