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Nisei Week: Festivals within Festivals

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2009, at 07:10AM
The Ondo 4 Ed Fuentes

From 2007: Frances Hashimoto, who helped lead the Nebuta float's return to the US; Councilwoman Jan Perry; character actor and Nisei Week committee member Rodney Kageyama; and LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara, now Nisei Week Foundation President-Elect.

The official opening ceremony for the 69th Nisei Week Japanese Festival is this Friday, August 14th, at 4:30pm. It begins with the Tanabata Festival, a new addition to Nisei Week, and will be held on the closed block of Central Ave fronting the Japanese American National Museum and Geffen Contemporary. The festival within a festival will be Saturday, August 15 to Monday, August 17.

The Nisei Week itself is nine days of Japanese-American culture being celebrated throughout Little Tokyo, and runs until Sunday, August 23rd. It actually had an early start with karaoke Contests being held at four Little Tokyo venues beginning August 10th and ending with a final saki and sing-off on August 14th.

And that is characteristic of Nisei Week. It's an ongoing collection of festivals, fairs, contests, exhibitions that and includes the traditional sumo and martial arts demonstrations, Street Faire & Anime Festival, and the 3rd Annual gyoza eating contest.

The always popular Nisei Week Ondo (Community Dance Celebration) and Closing Ceremony is on the final day, Sunday, August 23rd.

Nisei is the term for second generation Japanese-Americans, and it was a group of Little Tokyo's Nisei businessmen who began the festival in 1934 to offset the depression. It was halted during World War II, when Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps. By 1945, Little Tokyo has been chipped away into "Bronzeville" as African-Americans opened businesses in the shops left empty by the US goverment relocating Little Tokyo residents.

After the war, Nisei Week became the way to show a new resolve to the meaning of being Japanese and American, yet it wasn't until 1949 started up once again, making 2009's edition the 60th consecutive year for Nisei Week.

Now as Little Tokyo is being chipped away in different ways, organizers have continued to adapt and create programming for the nine days in August. The popular Tofu Festival ran its course once it was forced into the street due to development. To help counter that, the 2007 Nisei Week Grand Parade introduced the illuminated Nebuta Japanese floats.

Once again, the warrior float and other pieces return this year––in a slightly smaller scale––for the August 16 parade. Community members will also join with their own illuminated floats.

That adds a new meaning to Nisei Week. It's not just about a legacy of second generation business men hoping to bring a wave of spending to Little Tokyo. The Nebuta and Tanabata traditions are direct descendants from Japan, and many are hoping they find a long time home in Little Tokyo.

Nisei Week Japanese Festival / Kodomo (Children's) Japanese Festival

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