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Little Tokyo's Grand Parade Rich in Tradition

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, August 19, 2010, at 07:17AM
IMG_6226 Ed Fuentes

With brightly colored plumes, an army gets ready to lead Nebuta Festival through Little Tokyo's Nisei Week Grand Parade.

Little Tokyo’s 70th Nisei Week Festival got underway this past weekend with a set of events highlighted by the Grand Parade. The large crowd was ready for a long night.

That’s what happens when a parade is timed for a 5:30 start, hoping to hit dusk as the lanterns for the parade within the parade, the Nebuta Festival, turn the first corner at Central and 2nd.

Families staked out spots by placing chairs along the opening part of the route.

“It’s more about my daughter’s grandparents,” said Rachel Itano, who dressed her 4-year-old in a kimono. "I say that, and then I am the one having the great time."

While the parade is a mix of Japanese tradition and pop-culture, it's the Japanese-American war veterans that lead the procession. They are placed before the civic dignitaries and visiting courts of queens and princesses from other Japanese-American festivals around Southern California.

“They let us up front so we can get to bed early,” joked a Korean War veteran to his buddies, all waiting in a jeep before rolling into Little Tokyo.

Larger army vehicles carried the remaining elders who served during the years Little Tokyo was emptied by government relocation. As always they were welcomed with a big cheer. Behind them, still youthful, the men who served in Vietnam marched down the route.

Then came the mash-up of old and new Japanese traditions: dancers with kimonos made to shimmer in the sun, Taiko drummers in the back of flatbeds, Anime fans dressed in costume, a club for the Japanese-bred Akita, a car club with their souped-up imports and enough mikoshi shrines carried on the shoulders of volunteers to ensure divine spirits stay in Little Tokyo.

As dusk began, the newest tradition of the Grand Parade made its awaited appearance: the lanterns of the Nebuta Festival. Smaller lanterns lead two fierce warriors that bobbed and weaved down the street, leaning into a crowd who cheered and took photos.

The Nebuta float circled Little Tokyo as if looking for someone suited to match its strength. At 1st and Central, the final bows went to a last batch of parade watchers waiting at the end of the route near the newly restored Fire Tower.

In that group is a war veteran who decided to wait on his bedtime. The warrior made of paper floats to where he is sitting. As the lantern approaches with a frown, the veteran stands with a smile. They bow to each other.

Nisei Week festivities continue this weekend with Competition Day events on Saturday and the Ondo and Closing Ceremony on Sunday. More information at


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