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Nisei Week Opens With Streamers and a Grand Parade

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, August 17, 2009, at 01:45PM
Sake Ed Fuentes

Breaking of the sake barrel is an imported tradition at the the Tanabata Festival––opening Nisei Week 2009.

Classic and revised Japanese tradition mingled with contemporary Japanese-American pop culture for the opening weekend of the 69th annual Nisei Week Festival.

It began with a gentle opening ceremony of streamers and grew into a Saturday and Sunday sampling of culture, food, sumo wrestlers, car shows, anime and martial arts, before closing out with thousands watching the annual Grand Parade.

Nisei Week officially opened Friday with the Tanabata Festival opening ceremony, the Japanese Star Festival that even Junochi Ihara, Consul General of Japan, admitted to not being familiar with. "To learn about Tanabata, I had to use Google," said Ihara to the opening day crowd the Japanese American National Museum.

Behind the stage, in front of the Geffen Contemporary, sprigs of bamboo with wishes on notes arched over streamers, sometimes reflecting their creators. USC students used cardinal and gold, LAPD deployed blue mixed with cut strips of yellow crime scene tape, while Japanese-American War Veterans used red, white and blue streamers at the Go For Broke monument located nearby.

Over the weekend, many from out of town joined in the festival that hopes to keep Japanese Americans in touch with cultural roots, and keep Little Tokyo an important cultural site for remembrance.

Late Sunday, Kenji and Hideko Yamamoto were among those waiting for the Grand Parade. They first met while growing up on Terminal Island, and both found each other at Manazer, the interment camps where Japanese-Americans were relocated during World War II. "We got married at the camp," they said at the same time.

"We were fortunate," adds Kenji. "We were recruited by Charles Seabrook, and left before the war to work at Seabrook Farms. There was shortage of workers, and after the war, we came home."

After living in San Pedro, they moved to Boyle Heights in 1965 to live in an apartment once owned by Hideko's family.

The parade itself was a test of endurance for families with children. Two hours in, Robert Herrera held his 4 year old daughter as his wife Sue Yamada Herrera prepped to make an exit. "We want her to feel at home with both cultures," said Sue. "She got tired before the floats came."

The parade opened with a precision motorcycle team from LAPD, with maneuvers that included breaking quickly enough to leave rubber on the parade route for effect. Festivities were delayed for a few moments when one of the motor officers went down on 2nd street. An ambulance was brought in, but the officers injuries appeared minor.

Behind the drill team were 1,500 parade participants, including dancers, dignitaries, and war veterans dating back to World War II. They marched from the staging area at Central to 2nd street before circling around Little Tokyo via Los Angeles street and then 1st.

The marathon parade's pace was designed to allow the children-sized illuminated floats to begin the route at dusk. The timing left a few entries in the dark, but once the Nebuta and its two paper warriors leaned into, then away from the crowd, to mark the finale of the Grand Parade, cameras began flashing.

Nisei Week events continue August 22 and 23, with events that include an eating contest, car show and Ondo (Community Dance Celebration).


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