Diary of a Nisei Week Princess, Part 7: Endings and Beginnings

Japan Night at Dodger Stadium, July 26, 2016.
Japan Night at Dodger Stadium, July 26, 2016.

 

It’s hard to believe that my year as a Nisei Week Princess is coming to an end. It seems like just yesterday that the seven of us were on stage at the 2015 Opening Ceremony, saying our introductions for the first time. It’s been an amazing year to say the least—from the trips to Japan, Hawai‘i, and San Francisco, to attending numerous community events. I’m lucky to have met so many people who truly care about the community and inspire me to continue giving back and sharing the Japanese American story.

In my speech from Coronation last year, I discussed how my birth mother named me Sora, which means “sky” in Japanese. The sky is something that connects everyone in this world, so giving me that name meant that she would always be connected to me. One of my greatest takeaways from my year as a Nisei Week Princess were all the connections I made with people from Little Tokyo and around the world.

Six members of the 2015 Nisei Week Court join hands with Terry Hara, past president of the Nisei Week Foundation, and his wife Gayle. The matching watches were a gift to the court from the couple.
Six members of the 2015 Nisei Week Court join hands with Terry Hara, past president of the Nisei Week Foundation, and his wife Gayle. The matching watches were a gift to the court from the couple.

 

I’m grateful for my six new sisters—Sara, Veronica, Karen, Michelle, Kelsey, and Tamara—who I’ve gotten to know inside and out. Through thick and thin, I know I can count on each of them. The seven of us all possess unique qualities and strengths, which makes us an unstoppable team when we work together. I can’t thank them enough for their friendship and love.

Sara was our fearless and humble leader, setting the bar high for future Nisei Week Queens and showing us what it takes be a great leader. Veronica did everything with a smile, stepping up when needed with grace and confidence. Karen looked out for each of us—we could always count on her to be there when we needed her. Michelle made us look good all year—whether through her graphic design or people-to-people interactions, she was a great representation of our court. Kelsey always kept us laughing and her love and dedication to the community outside of Nisei Week was beautiful to see. And Tam’s positive energy, her thoughtfulness and creativity, were always appreciated, especially during tough times.

Camryn delivers a speech at JANM as part of a ceremony for new US citizens.
Camryn delivers a speech at JANM as part of a ceremony for new US citizens.

 

I was also able to meet and listen to countless leaders in the Japanese and Japanese American communities through the Nisei Week Foundation, our sister organizations, the festival hospitality committees, and other helpful organizations. I learned so much from them, and look forward to learning more.

My year as a member of the court gave me more than I could imagine. I gained many new skills that I will carry for the rest of my life. Before starting this journey, I hated public speaking and would get extremely nervous before speaking in front of a large crowd. Now, I can confidently give speeches. This same confidence is also reflected in one-on-one conversations I have with community members and business leaders.

1955 Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate departs for Hawaii from LAX. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.
1955 Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate departs for Hawaii from LAX. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.

My hope for the soon-to-be 2016 Nisei Week Queen and Court is that they will cherish the experiences and connections they will make in the next year. They have many opportunities ahead of them to carry on the Nisei Week Foundation’s legacy, and to nurture the many relationships that have been established since the first festival was held in 1934. I have faith that each of these women will represent the community well in the next year. If I had to give them one piece of advice though, it would be to always keep red lipstick and a spare pack of bobby pins in their crown box.

I will miss seeing my court every week and constantly having a full schedule, but I look forward to attending many of the events we went to in the last year for years to come. I don’t know what’s in store for me next, but I know my experience as a Nisei Week Princess helped me to become a stronger and more confident individual.

The 2016 Nisei Week Japanese Festival kicks into high gear this weekend. On Saturday evening, August 13, a new queen will be crowned at the Coronation Ball. Then on Sunday afternoon, August 14, Little Tokyo welcomes the public to its Grand Parade. The festival will end on Sunday, August 21, with a community Ondo Dance. For more information including complete event schedules, visit niseiweek.org.

JANM will be joining the fun on Saturday, August 13, with our annual Natsumatsuri Family Festival, held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This popular event offers all kinds of fun for the whole family, including musical performances, a taiko workshop, crafts for the kids, temporary tattoos, free food samples, and more. Make a day of it in Little Tokyo!

Summertime is Festival Time!

The unofficial Tanabata tree in the Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo. Photo: Carol Cheh.
The unofficial Tanabata tree in the Japanese Village Plaza,
Little Tokyo. Photo: Carol Cheh.

The word matsuri means “festival” in Japanese, and during the summer (natsu), many different festivals are held all over Japan. Individual festivals are often tied to local prefectures, and can go on for days at a time. Family and friends convene to enjoy parades, games, music, food, and dancing.

Two of the biggest and most popular Japanese festivals are Obon, discussed here last week by Mitchell Lee, and Tanabata, a “star festival” that has its origins in an old folk tale about star-crossed lovers. As the legend goes, a prince and a princess once fell so deeply in love that they spent all their time together and neglected their duties. Their angry king separated them by putting them on opposite ends of the Milky Way. They were only allowed to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.

The word tanabata literally means “the evening of the seventh,” and Tanabata usually begins on July 7, although dates can vary from place to place. In many ways, it is similar to Obon, since the two have fallen so close together historically. One distinguishing feature of Tanabata is the writing of wishes on tanzaku (small pieces of paper) and hanging them on bamboo in hopes they will come true. In Little Tokyo, there is a tree in the Japanese Village Plaza that becomes covered around this time of year with colorful pieces of paper bearing people’s wishes, representing a local adaptation of a favorite custom.

A family poses in traditional garb at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri photo booth. Photo: Daryl Kobayashi.
A family poses in traditional garb at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri photo booth. Photo: Daryl Kobayashi.

Every summer, JANM celebrates the season with its own Natsumatsuri Family Festival, which borrows well-known elements from Japan’s various summer festivals, including Obon and Tanabata. One of the museum’s biggest and most anticipated events all year, Natsumatsuri blends contemporary festivities with Japanese and Japanese American traditions.

This year’s edition, happening on Saturday, August 9, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., will include taiko performances and lessons, a lecture on obon, a participatory bon odori dance, omikuji fortune telling, a karaoke competition, Hello Kitty photo opportunities, live painting by Perseverance artists, a variety of craft activities for the kids, and much more. It’s free to all visitors, so be sure to bring your family and friends for a great day out!

UGLARworks Art Collective: Telling Stories Through Art

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UGLARworks painting a mural on S. Western Ave. and W. 2nd St. as part of their 2012 Public Works billboard project. Photo courtesy of UGLARworks.

Murals are hard to miss in Los Angeles. From the larger-than-life orchestra players who loom over the Harbor Freeway to the paintings on the side of your local store, they’re woven into so many parts of our landscape.

Artists Chris “Horishiki” Brand, Espi, and Evan Skrederstu—who all contributed to JANM’s Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World exhibition—started collaborating on art in the early 2000s as members of UGLAR (Unified Group of Los Angeles Residents). Altogether, the group comprises six local artists: Skrederstu, Brand, Espi, Steve Martinez, Jose A. Lopez, and Ryan Gattis. Later, their name was changed to UGLARworks as a nod to the Works Progress Administration, which supported the creation of many of the great public murals of LA. UGLARworks’ art can be seen throughout the city, whether on billboards or in the galleries of the Wende Museum. They’ve been honored by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and reviewed in the Los Angeles Times.

The members of UGLARworks consider themselves storytellers as well as artists. In 2008, they created The Ulysses Guide to the Los Angeles River (the original source of the acronym UGLAR), a book that showcases the wildlife and art of the iconic LA River. Narrated by the fictional Angeleno character Ulysses L. Zemanova, the dense book includes stories, interviews, and artwork. With the addition of writer and visual artist Gattis in 2012, UGLARworks now focuses on creating constantly unfolding narratives in their art that reflect their urban environment.

Come watch Brand, Espi, and Skrederstu paint a new artwork live at JANM’s Natsumatsuri Family Festival on Saturday, August 9, 2014 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. The UGLARworks members will also sign copies of the Perseverance catalogue following the painting.

Obon: Dances for the Dead

Obon Festival, Tokyo, 2011. Photo by bhollar via Flickr.
Obon Festival, Tokyo, 2011. Photo by bhollar via Flickr.

Obon is a Japanese holiday to honor deceased ancestors, much like the European Halloween or the Latin American Día de los Muertos. Rooted in Buddhist traditions, Obon ensures that we express gratitude for the hard work of the generations before us.

The Ullambana Sutra, a Buddhist text, tells the story of a monk named Mokuren who was initially unable to help his suffering mother’s spirit pass on. In response, the Buddha created a ritual and offering for the living to assist their ancestors’ souls and bless relatives who are still living. These practices became the basis for the modern-day Obon festival.

Obon festivals are held in July and August, in Japan and Japanese immigrant communities throughout the world. The original sutra appointed the fifteenth day of the seventh month as the holiday, but there are variations in date because of differences between the Gregorian and lunar calendars. The festivals feature food, music, and most importantly, dancing!

Bon Odori, San Jose Obon Festival, 2012. Photo by --Mark-- via Flickr Creative Commons.
Bon Odori, San Jose Obon Festival, 2012.
Photo by –Mark– via Flickr.

 

When Mokuren’s mother’s soul found peace, it is said that he reacted by dancing. Obon dancing, or bon odori, is an important part of Obon festivals throughout Japan, with certain regions even having their own unique dances. Dances have been also developed abroad by Japanese emigrants living in countries such as America or Brazil. Live music, including taiko drumming, typically accompanies the dancing.

In Japan, some families return to their parents’ homes to celebrate Obon. These celebrations often include cleaning up family gravesites and offering food to ancestors. Another custom involves floating lanterns down a river in hopes that the lights will help guide souls that remain on this earthly plane.

Even though Obon is based on Buddhist beliefs, no one is excluded from celebrating. Obon festivals are important community events, and celebrating the departed doesn’t require any special religious belief. The Obon dances and food here in America may be different from those in Japan, but all the festivals maintain the same reverence for family and community.

Visitors get in the Obon spirit with a communal bon odori dance at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo by Russell Kitagawa.
Visitors get in the Obon spirit with a communal bon odori dance at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo by Russell Kitagawa.

 

JANM’s Natsumatsuri Family Festival on August 9, 2014 will feature a lecture on Obon traditions by Rimban Bill Briones of Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and a participatory bon odori dance. Come learn more about Obon and celebrate your ancestors!

This post was written by Mitchell Lee, one of JANM’s 2014 summer program interns. Mitchell is a student at UCLA, where he is majoring in Japanese and Asian American Studies.

Omikuji: Telling Fortunes the Japanese Way

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Women tie their omikuji to the wire rack at a Japanese shrine.
Photo: Jesslee Cuizon (jessleecuizon.com) via Flickr.

Omikuji are Japanese paper fortunes found at shrines across Japan. Traditionally, you shake a cylinder until a numbered bamboo stick falls out. The number on the stick corresponds with a paper fortune, which is then given to you by the priest or shrine maiden. Today, many shrines have boxes that allow you to randomly select a fortune yourself.

The paper you receive will predict your upcoming luck with one of several ratings, ranging from dai-kichi (great blessing) to dai-kyou (great curse). Oftentimes your luck will be further broken down into forecasts for specific categories like “romance” or “travel.”

If your fortune is good, the custom is to keep the paper slip close to you, like in a purse or wallet. If it’s bad, many fold up the strip and tie it to a pine tree or rack of metal wires that is provided at shrines. Traditionally, a pine branch is used because the Japanese word for “pine” (matsu) is phonetically the same as the verb for “to wait,” although written in different characters (kanji). The hope is that the bad luck will wait by the tree instead of coming back home with you.

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JANM volunteers hand out omikuji at the 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Tokumasa Shoji.

 

You can get an omikuji any time, although many people specifically include it in Hatsumode (the first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese new year) or seek it out before major life events like exams. Omikuji are not commonly found in the United States outside of Japanese enclaves. However, you’ve probably seen what some say is its modern-day incarnation—the fortune cookie!

Whether you have an important decision coming up, or are just looking for a little guidance, an omikuji opportunity is coming soon. Visit the omikuji table at JANM’s free Natsumatsuri Family Festival on Saturday, August 9, 2014 and see what’s in store for you!

The Thrill of Taiko

Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

Taiko drumming is energetic, rhythmic, and exciting—the thundering of a taiko drum will catch someone’s attention regardless of how near or far they are.

The word “taiko” literally means “fat drum” in Japanese. Historically, taiko drums have been used in Japan for religious ceremonies and local festivals. In feudal times, a one-drum act was typical, but in the 1950s, kumi-daiko—an ensemble made up of different types of taiko drums—was introduced. This is the style that remains popular today.

In a taiko ensemble, the biggest drum is called an o-daiko, the mid-sized drum is a chu-daiko, and the smallest is called a shime-daikoKumi-daiko can accommodate a variety of musical styles, including jazz and pop.

Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Tsuneo Takasugi.
Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Tsuneo Takasugi.

 

When Japanese immigrants introduced taiko to the United States in the early 20th century, its practice was a way to secure their cultural identity and also to have a collective voice as an ethnic group. Today, taiko drumming can be seen in many different contexts, whether they are traditional Japanese festivals like obon (honoring the dead) or musical revues. Just this past weekend, JANM was proud to host and co-present the 2014 World Taiko Gathering, which united players from around the world for workshops, concerts, and jam sessions.

In just a few weeks, taiko will return to JANM when East LA Taiko presents a free performance during our all-day Natsumatsuri Festival on August 9, 2014. A Los Angeles–based group founded in 1991 by Maceo Hernandez, East LA Taiko is a great example of kumi-daiko’s adaptability. The group incorporates Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms and ska-punk flavors alongside traditional Japanese beats, fusing them into a uniquely LA sound. Hernandez, who has trained in Japan, is a veteran taiko drummer who has performed worldwide. In recent years the group has partnered with singer-songwriter Lysa Flores, who brings her own Latin flare to their performances.

Taiko drums are versatile and thrilling instruments. To experience taiko is to experience more than just drumbeats—it’s to hear the hearts, minds and souls of the players.

This post was written by Dina Furumoto, one of JANM’s interns through the 2014 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program. Dina is a student at Cal Poly Pomona, where she is majoring in Sociology.

Celebrate Summer at JANM’s Natsumatsuri Family Festival

2014 Natsumatsuri Family Festival

Here at JANM, we are gearing up for one of our biggest events of the year—the Natsumatsuri Family Festival, on August 9, 2014.

Free to all visitors all day (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), this exciting festival will include a taiko performance, beginners’ taiko lessons, a traditional bon odori dance, a karaoke competition, Japanese-style fortune telling, and so much more.

“Natsumatsuri” literally means “summer festival” in Japanese. It is a much loved annual tradition in Japan, where a variety of gatherings all over the country celebrate the season with games, ceremonies, displays, dancing, and food.

To help you get in the JANM Natsumatsuri spirit, First & Central will be spotlighting different aspects of the big day and its various activities. Follow our staff members and interns as they explore taiko, omikuji, the UGLARworks art collective, obon, and the meaning of the festival itself.

Check out the complete schedule of events: janm.org/natsumatsuri2014

Los Angeles Summer of Learning is here!

Are you a student in the Los Angeles area? Are you a parent of a student in the Los Angeles area? Have you heard of Los Angeles Summer of Learning? Well this is something that you should definitely know about!

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Los Angeles Summer of Learning is a great new initiative that seeks to engage young people with hands-on learning activities at museums, parks, libraries, and other organizations during the summer months. Think of Los Angeles as one giant summer classroom where students can earn digital badges for participating in fun and educational activities throughout the city.

JANM is proud to participate in this initiative with our 2014 Natsumatsuri Family Festival on Saturday, August 9th. Students can earn a digital badge by coming to our popular annual summer celebration and checking out an array of traditional Japanese and Japanese American performances, crafts, talks, workshops, and special events. Admission is FREE all day!

To participate in Los Angeles Summer of Learning, all you have to do is sign up on the website and browse for activities that interest you or your children. You will be on your way to earning digital badges in no time! To get your Natsumatsuri badge, be sure to come to JANM on August 9th and ask for your badge claim code at our survey table.

You can read more about Los Angeles Summer of Learning here.

Highlights from Natsumatsuri

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One of our special visitors...she's been coming to JANM events for over seven years!
One of our special visitors. She’s been coming to JANM events for over seven years!

Wow! We had such an incredible time at this year’s Natsumatsuri Family Festival on August 10, 2013. Nearly 4,000 guests came to enjoy a day full of cultural performances, demonstrations, activities, and crafts. A big thank you to everyone who made it out (and extra kudos to those who came from as far away as Bakersfield and Frazier Park—that’s a whole lot of driving!).

Take a look through this event recap and see if you can spot yourself!

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Screenprinting kaeru origami and taiko totes!

This year, we added a few new perks to thank our Members and Courtyard Kids. Museum members were able to use special “fast pass” lines for some of our most popular activities, including the yukata dress-up and the screenprinted tote bags. Members also got prime seats at our Aratani Central Hall performances and demonstrations. To all of our members who came out for Natsumatsuri, thanks again for your support!

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Japanese mariachi Roger del Norte, performs for the crowd.

Speaking of Central Hall events, we had a day jam-packed with great performances! Roger del Norte and Lupita Infante stole the show with a Japanese-Spanish mariachi duet, accompanied by the band MEXICAPAN. It was standing room only for Roger and Lupita, and the crowds didn’t let up for the L.A. Matsuri Taiko performance that finished up the day.

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JANM President/CEO G.W. Kimura with the visiting courts.

Long before that, we kicked the day off with a visit from the Nikkei courts of San Francisco, Honolulu, and Seattle. The queens and princesses came by for a meet n’ greet with JANM President/CEO G.W. Kimura, followed by a tour of our Common Ground: The Heart of Community exhibition from our knowledgeable docents.

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A visitor and his mom work on their wacky paper hat.

As you probably noticed, this year’s Natsumatsuri was all about celebrating summer with some old and new traditions! From learning to play taiko drums with volunteer Hal Keimi to listening to Rev. Bill Briones of Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple explain the history of Obon in both Japan and the United States, we went back to the roots of traditional Japanese festivals. (The wacky paper hats craft is a much-loved tradition of our own!)

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What’s your fortune? One visitor is about to find out!

We’re big believers in interactive activities fun at JANM. This year, we invited visitors to make self-portraits and fans upstairs, while we once again hosted the “What Are You?” photo activity and omikuji fortunetelling downstairs. Traditional Obon dancing lessons and airbrush tattoos were also big hits.

What was your favorite part of the day? See below for more photos!

Thanks to our wonderful volunteer photographers for documenting the day: Russell Kitagawa, Nobuyuki Okada, Richard Watanabe, Tsuneo Takasugi, Shoji Tokumasa, Richard Murakami, June Aoki, Caroline Jung, and Daryl Kobayashi.

Natsumatsuri: Yukata

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Photo: Chris Gladis

What better way to get into the spirit of summer festivals than with some new duds? Try on a yukata with the help of Suehiro Kimono Agency and get your photo taken at our Natsumatsuri Family Festival this weekend on Saturday, August 10!

Yukata are traditional Japanese garments for both men and women. Unlike kimono, they are worn for casual occasions, especially during the summer for special events such as obon or firework displays. They are unlined and made of cotton—making them nice and cool for those long, hot days.

In Heian-era Japan, court nobles wore linen yukata after bathing, a practice later adopted by the public with the popularization of public baths. Today, they are often brightly colored with fun patterns such as florals or geometric designs. Many young women coordinate their yukata color with that of their obi, or sash—some even wearing a more transparent obi on top for decoration. Some go all out and also wear geta, or traditional wooden clogs, and a kanzashi, a cute hair ornament.

2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival
FREE ALL DAY!
Saturday, August 10, 2013
11AM – 5PM

2PM – 5PM: Try on a yukata and have your picture taken!
Suehiro Kimono Agency will dress you in a yukata so you can have a special picture to take home! Yukata are traditional light Japanese garments worn during the summer to keep cool.

For full schedule of activities: janm.org/natsumatsuri2013