By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
A warrior is being assembled in Little Tokyo. At the Aomori Prefecture building just off of Third Street, volunteers and master craftsmen from Japan are hard at work on a Nebuta float for the 75th annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival in August.
Designer Hiroo Takenami traveled from Aomori with a team earlier this month and is working on the float that depicts Minamoto Yoshitsune, a famous general from the 12th century, as he crosses the Tsugaru Straits towards Hokkaido.
A legend says that Yoshitsune was chased by his enemies and he escaped over the waters as his horse transformed into a dragon. Takenami captured this dramatic scene first in a painting, now displayed at the Aomori Prefecture building. The painting is the inspiration for the Nebuta float, a towering sculpture of wood, wire and paper.
The main elements of the float were constructed in Japan. During this trip, Takenami and his team are working on the base that depicts the turbulent ocean waters. The Nebuta artists painstakingly bend wires by hand to create the skeletal framework that is covered with paper. Local volunteers are helping to glue paper onto the wood and wire frames, which will then be painted.
Takenami was in Los Angeles until March 20 working on the float and he will return in August for the final assembly. He also traveled to L.A. in 2007 and supervised the first appearance of the Nebuta floats in the Nisei Week Grand Parade.
When the float drives down the streets of Little Tokyo it will be lit from the inside by LED lights and accompanied by haneto dancers and musicians.
The Nanka Nebutabayashi Hozonkai, sponsors of the Nebuta float, are currently seeking sponsors for the float.
“The Nebuta floats are a popular, centuries-old festival tradition hailing from Aomori-ken in northern Honshu,” said Toshiaki Toyoshima, president of Nanka Nebutabayashi Hozonkai. “By bringing Nebuta floats to Little Tokyo, we educate the greater Los Angeles community about Japanese culture in unique, engaging and memorable way.”
For more information, contact the Nanka Nebutabayashi Hozonkai at [email protected] or (213) 265-7898.
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo