By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The winners of the annual Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest were recognized Wednesday during a reception at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
All submissions must have something to do with Little Tokyo, but there is no requirement for entrants to be of Japanese ancestry or Southern California residents, making for a diverse group of finalists. Contest chair Bill Watanabe said he was surprised at how far-reaching the contest has become, with entries coming from out of state and outside the country.
Michael Okamura, president of Little Tokyo Historical Society, which sponsors the contest, gave opening remarks and Watanabe introduced the finalists.
In the youth category, the winner was 18-year-old Linda Toch, a Cambodian American from Corona, for “Kazuo Alone.” She was presented with a check for $400. The other youth finalists were Sarena Kuhn for “Midori’s Magic” and Madeline Parga for “Noboru.” A total of 13 stories were received in this category.
Toch’s story, which was read by writer Traci Kato-Kiriyama (who was also one of the judges), was a love story involving an elderly man and the historic Aoyama Tree in Little Tokyo.
The winner in the new Japanese-language category, introduced by author Sunny Seki, one of the judges, was Miyuki Sato for “Mitate Club.” She was unable to attend as she lives in Hokkaido, but she was able to hear the reading and address the audience through the Internet. Sato said she was inspired to write about Japanese Americans after seeing Delphine Hirasuna’s “The Art of Gaman” in Hiroshima. The traveling exhibition features artwork created in the World War II internment camps.
The other Japanese-language finalists were Yuriko Kondo for “Little Tokyo Juggler” and Michie Wakabayashi for “Man in the Hotel.” Seki said that although only six submissions were received in this category, he was hopeful that the number will increase with better outreach.
Seki said that although there were only six Japanese-language submissions, he hoped that with better outreach there will be many more in the future.
Sato’s story, which was read by actress Megumi Anjo, is about the discovery of correspondence between an American girl, Susan, and her friend Kazuko, who was in camp. “Mitate” is an important concept in traditional Japanese culture that means to see something as resembling something else, such as a rock garden’s white pebbles resembling water.
The winner in the English-language category, introduced by Chris Komai, one of the judges, was Nathaniel Campbell for “Fish Market in Little Tokyo.” He also was unable to attend because he lives and writes in Fairfield, Iowa, but was able to participate in the event via Skype. Campbell thanked the Little Tokyo community for providing him with inspiration.
The story, which was about the fishermen who provide the fresh fish for Little Tokyo’s sushi restaurants, was read by actor Kurt Kuniyoshi.
The winners in the English and Japanese categories will each receive $600.
First runner-up in the English category was Jerome Stueart for “For a Look at New Worlds,” in which a descendant of Astronaut Ellison Onizuka visits Little Tokyo and tries to learn more about its history before he leaves for Mars. Stueart was unable to attend.
Honorable mention went to Kent Morizawa for “The Tempura King,” a story about a son following in his famous father’s footsteps.
The other English finalists were: Avril Adams, “The Last Movie House”; Erica Birrell, “The Distant Moon”; Don Fenton, “All Along This Road”; Swan Gray, “Under the Sakura Trees”; Ruben Guevara for “Masao and the Bronze Nightingale”; Janice Morrill for “Floating Home”; Dan Akira Nishimura for “We’ve Only Just Begun”; Kiyoshi Parker for “Alice and the Bear”; Chester Sakamoto for “Both Alike in Dignity”; and Hans Weidman for “Queen of Manzanar.”
A total of 43 English-language stories were submitted.
The other judges were: Youth — Kristin Fukushima, Amy Uyematsu; Japanese — Yukikazu Nagashima, Eijiro Ozaki; English — Todd Shimoda, Tritia Toyota.
In addition to Watanabe, Okamura and Seki, the contest committee members were Naomi Hirahara, Miya Iwataki, Emiko Mita, Gwen Muranaka, Sindy Saito, Tiffany Tanaka, Chris Tashima, Nancy Uyemura, and Jayson Yamaguchi.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)