The 2018 Nisei Week Festival is in full swing! One of Los Angeles’ oldest ethnic festivals it offers the opportunity for people of all backgrounds to celebrate Japanese heritage and culture. Though named for second-generation Japanese Americans, Nisei Week is no longer specifically for Nisei, nor is this event contained within a single week. This year’s celebration actually started last weekend, but you can still check out some great events such as the Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship, the Rubik’s Cube Open, a car show, and the closing ceremony!
The theme for this year’s Festival is “Generations,” which pays tribute not only to the legacies of those who helped to build the local Japanese American community, but also to the contributions of Yonsei (fourth generation), Gosei (fifth generation), and all future generations. This theme also is a call for all generations to stand together and ensure that the success of Little Tokyo, Nisei Week, and the Japanese American community continues well into the future.
On Saturday, August 18, you can see the spectacle that is the 12th Annual Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship—the West Coast’s premiere eating competition. Major League Eating’s top competitors will once again try to devour as many gyoza as they can in 10 minutes. Last year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut reclaimed his title, consuming 377 gyoza in competition. Geoffrey Esper took second place with 317, while Matt “The Megatoad” Stonie came in third with 291. Chestnut still holds the current world record, which he set in 2014 by eating 384 Day-Lee Foods gyoza in 10 minutes. Will this be the year a new world record is set?
JANM will also be joining the fun on Saturday, August 18, with our annual Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the event is free and offers all kinds of fun for the whole family, including crafts, bubble making, taiko performances, tea ceremonies, live music, and so much more.
One of your first stops at the Natsumatsuri Family Festival should be at our crafts area. Our paper hats are a JANM tradition and we love seeing all the creative and unique ways visitors fashion their hats. You can also decorate some snazzy sunglasses to keep your eyes in the shade this summer. Then make your way to see our resident origami expert, Ruthie Kitagawa. Learn to fold a paper lantern, a colorful summer festival decoration!
When the little ones need a rest from all the festivities, they can go with mom or dad to check out our toddler roomDisney’s Big Hero 6 will be playing all day. Because we love Nisei Week, adults can receive half off general admission to the museum today, and all the rest of the days of Nisei Week. Just say “Nisei Week” when you arrive. But remember: Natsumatsuri Family Festival is free for everyone!
We hope to see you this weekend in Little Tokyo for all of the fun and traditions the neighborhood has to offer!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Upon landing at the airport, we received a warm welcome from the San Francisco Hospitality Committee. Once we arrived in the city, it was already time for our first official activity: lunch with representatives of Union Bank at Mifune restaurant. After lunch, we checked into the Hotel Kabuki and got ready to attend the Friendship Reception with the newly crowned 2016 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Court and their sponsors. We enjoyed getting to know the new court and watching Okinawan dance, taiko, and mochi pounding.
The next day, we started bright and early with a full breakfast at May’s Coffee Shop. Then we headed to the Japanese Tea Garden, where we learned the story of Makoto Hagiwara—the landscape architect who created the garden and is also credited with popularizing fortune cookies in America—along with some San Francisco history. Next, it was time for a Golden Gate Bridge photo op and a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we ate soup in a bread bowl from Boudin Bakery and watched the sea lions frolicking offshore.
That night, we attended the Royal Reception hosted by the 2015 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Court. We ended the evening at Pika Pika, a popular store in Japantown, where we took purikura (decorated picture stickers) in their photo booths with the other courts.
Sunday, April 17, was the big 49th Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival parade. We took photos with city officials in front of City Hall before climbing on the Union Bank float with the 2015 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Court. The Hawai’i court rode on their own float sponsored by Kikkoman. Starting at City Hall and ending in Japantown, the hourlong parade drew thousands of people. It was wonderful to see so many people come out to support the community. We finished watching the rest of the parade with the other courts while eating some delicious bento box lunches.
Before the festival was officially over, it was already time for us to head back to LA. Although I have been to San Francisco many times, this trip was truly special. I was able to see parts of San Francisco I had never seen before and fully experience the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and Japantown. We can’t wait to celebrate next year’s 50th Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival!
As soon as we landed in Honolulu, we were greeted by the local Cherry Blossom Festival Hospitality Committee, who immediately felt like family. After we checked into the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, we went straight to the beach, in spite of the fact that it was raining. Later that evening, we joined the 2015 Cherry Blossom Courts from Hawai‘i and San Francisco and the Hawai‘i Cherry Blossom Hospitality Committee for dinner.
Saturday, March 26 was the big event that we came to town for: the Festival Ball and coronation ceremony, where 15 contestants competed to become the 64th Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and Court. It was the first time I witnessed a coronation (besides our own), and unlike at Nisei Week, only six of the 15 contestants were selected as the Queen and Court.
It was nerve-wracking to watch these women perform taiko, walk in evening gowns, recite their speeches, walk in kimonos, and answer an impromptu question on stage. It was hard to believe I was in a similar position just seven months ago. All of the women did an amazing job and their months of training paid off. At the end of the night, we congratulated everyone and took photos with the newly crowned Queen and Court. We even met the Governor of Hawai‘i, David Ige! It was an exciting time to say the least.
On Tuesday we made our official visits to City Hall and the State Capitol. We learned about the history and culture of Hawai‘i and met with Lieutenant Governor Shan Tsutsui and Roy Amemiya, Managing Director of the City and County of Honolulu. We then visited Menehune Mac, a local confectioner, and KoAloha Ukulele, whose proprietors have led several popular ukulele workshops at JANM. At the Menehune Mac factory, we learned how they make their macadamia chocolates and then we made a box of our own! At KoAloha Ukulele, we made a ukulele keychain and listened to some Hawaiian tunes. I gained a greater appreciation for the uniqueness of the islands.
For some members of the San Francisco and Los Angeles contingents, Wednesday was the last day to enjoy paradise. The rest of us, however, spent a few more days shopping, going to the beach, climbing Koko Head Crater, eating more food, and hitting the town with the Hawai‘i Court before going back home on Sunday. We also managed to make some guest appearances on the Japanese-English radio station KZOO Radio, who interviewed us about our festivals back home.
Nine days have never gone by faster than my time in Honolulu for the 64th Cherry Blossom Festival. We created unforgettable memories and lasting friendships with our sister organizations. I am forever indebted to the Hawai‘i Hospitality Committee for planning an incredible week. I can’t wait until they come to LA for this year’s Nisei Week Japanese Festival, when I can reciprocate the spirit of aloha. Mahalo plenty to my new ohana!
It’s hard to believe that a little over a month ago, my fellow 2015 Nisei Week Court members and I (and many of our parents) were exploring Tokyo and Nagoya. It was a trip of a lifetime and unlike any other trip to Japan I’d experienced before. Even though I’d been to Japan a handful of times and studied abroad in Tokyo for one year, we still managed to do things I will probably never have the opportunity to do again.
After checking into the Hotel New Otani Tokyo at the crack of dawn on Tuesday, October 13, we wasted no time exploring the city, visiting the Tokyo Skytree restaurant and observation tower and the Ueno, Asakusa, Harajuku, and Shibuya districts all in one day. Three coffees and nearly 20,000 steps later, I thought my legs were going to fall off. The next day, we went to Tokyo DisneySea, a theme park located in Urayasu, Chiba, just outside the city. I couldn’t tell who was more excited (or who shopped more)—the parents or us. We all had a great time going on rides, shopping, and eating the specialty foods.
By Thursday it was already time to make our way to Nagoya—the main focus of our trip. Nagoya and Los Angeles have been sister cities since 1959—in fact, they are each other’s first sister cities, which makes for a special relationship. Nagoya’s biggest annual event is the Nagoya Matsuri, a festival held to spread Nagoya’s rich history and culture to the world—not unlike our own Nisei Week Japanese Festival back home. As official representatives of Nisei Week, our job was to spread goodwill and maintain strong relationships between the two physically distant communities.
We took the shinkansen (high-speed rail) from Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station and checked in to the Nagoya Creston Hotel. Our welcome dinner that night (which included geisha performances!) was hosted by Pyua O2, a Nagoya-based business association whose members would accompany us for much of the rest of our time there.
The next day we paid official visits to Matsuzakaya department store, Mitsukoshi department store, and Nagoya City Hall, where we met Mayor Takashi Kawamura and his staff. After these visits, Pyua O2 took us to the unique and world-famous Osu Shopping District, which has a 400-year history and is home to over 1,200 businesses. That evening, we attended the Sister City Reception, where we met representatives from Nagoya’s other sister cities and performed two Elvis songs, “Love Me Tender” and “Hound Dog”—the latter with the help of Mayor Kawamura, who was dressed as Elvis!
Saturday was the start of the Nagoya Matsuri. During a special Sister City event, we had the pleasure of reprising our modern dance number from Coronation at a shopping mall called Oasis 21. That night, we had dinner at a restaurant owned by one of the Pyua O2 members and sang the night away with karaoke.
Sunday was our last and possibly most memorable day in Nagoya. We squeezed in a short tour of Nagoya Castle before we had to get ready to be in the parade! I couldn’t believe the number of people in attendance—thousands and thousands. The best part was seeing all the children smile as we waved at them. We finished the night eating wagyu shabu shabu with Nagoya city officials.
The next morning we went on an overnight trip to Gero Onsen, a hot spring resort, accompanied by Pyua O2. Along the way we stopped in Takayama and other spots in Gifu Prefecture. On Tuesday morning, we headed back to the Creston Hotel, and then it was time to say goodbye. Even our tour guide was crying! Our time in Nagoya wouldn’t have been nearly the same without the hospitality of Pyua O2 and Nagoya’s city officials.
For the rest of the trip, everyone in the group went their separate ways. Some went back home to Los Angeles while others extended their stays with excursions to Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. I decided to go back to Tokyo on my own to spend time with friends I didn’t get to see earlier in the trip.
To say we all had a great time would be an understatement. It was such an honor to represent the Nisei Week Foundation and to continue the good relationship between Nagoya and Los Angeles. We had the best food anyone could possibly eat, met the nicest people, and created lasting memories with each other and our families. We’re all looking forward to seeing the members of Pyua O2 and Nagoya city representatives at next year’s Nisei Week Japanese Festival!
Camryn Sugita is blogging about her year as a Nisei Week Princess. If you missed previous entries, you can catch up here on part 1, part 2, and part 3.
Camryn Sugita, now officially a Princess of the 2015 Nisei Week Court, continues her account of her adventures. If you missed her earlier Princess Diary entries, you can still catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.
After we were officially announced as Nisei Week Queen Candidates, we still had a few more events, trainings, and dance rehearsals to attend before Coronation—our big night and the start of Nisei Week. The dress rehearsal the day before Coronation felt surreal; in less than 24 hours, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s (JACCC) Aratani Theatre would be filled with hundreds of people and only one of us would be crowned as Nisei Week Queen.
I could barely sleep that night because I was so worried that I might drop my fans during the odori dance, forget a line in my speech, fall down the steps during the modern dance, or choke on my Q&A. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous for our private, one-on-one interviews with the judges, which took place before the public ceremony. Each of us spent five minutes with all of them, during which they could ask us anything. At this time, we also voted for Miss Tomodachi (the Nisei Week equivalent of Miss Congeniality).
At the big event, we were introduced by our Mistress and Master of Ceremonies, Tamlyn Tomita and David Ono. We all walked onto the stage in our kimonos to perform the opening odori dance with folding fans. Hearing the loud cheers helped calm my nerves and I couldn’t help but crack a smile. I am glad to say that I did not drop my fans.
Next it was time for Verbal Communication Skills; each of us had to give a two-minute speech on a topic of our choice. I chose to talk about being adopted as a baby from Toda, Saitama, Japan by a loving Japanese American family and then growing up in Torrance. While I was in college, I studied abroad for a year in Tokyo, where I was able to learn about my roots firsthand. This speech was the first time I openly shared my adoption story, and I couldn’t have been happier to do it on stage in front of my friends, family, and community.
After our speeches were over, we had to change into our modern dance costumes while Kyodo Taiko performed and the judges and visiting dignitaries were introduced. We performed an elaborate choreographed routine to “Sparkling Diamonds” from Moulin Rouge—and that wasn’t all! We were joined on stage by special guests that included 2015 Nisei Week Foundation President Terry Hara, JACCC Director of Marketing and Development Helen Ota, and 2004 Nisei Week Queen Nikki Kodama, to name just a few, and we all closed out the sequence by dancing to Pitbull’s “Celebrate” from Penguins of Madagascar. It was definitely a performance to remember.
After the intermission, it was time to get down to serious business—the evening gown walk, followed by the question and answer session. Each candidate was interviewed individually while the others were swept away into a soundproof room. David and Tamlyn warmed us up with random funny questions before posing the same serious question to each of us, which I will paraphrase here: “The Nisei generation made its mark in significant ways. In the future, what do you think your generation will be known for?” In my answer, I paid respect to the contributions of the Nisei and then I challenged the audience to join with me in sharing their stories and giving back to the Japanese American community.
After the 2014 Nisei Week Queen and Court came on stage to bid their final, official farewell, it was time to announce the outcome of the evening’s competition. The first person to be named was our Miss Tomodachi, Karen Mizoguchi. Next was the First Princess, Veronica Ota. And finally, Sara Hutter was named as Queen! Michelle Hanabusa, Kelsey Kwong, Tamara Teragawa, and I were crowned as Princesses. I am so honored to be given the opportunity to represent the community, and proud of myself for taking on this challenge.
But Coronation was just the beginning for us! After such a whirlwind day, we had to be up bright and early the next morning to begin our official visits as a court to establishments in Little Tokyo and elsewhere in downtown Los Angeles. Throughout the week we stayed at the DoubleTree Hotel and paid visits to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors office, Sushi Gen, Southern California Flower Market, Keiro Senior HealthCare, and of course, the Japanese American National Museum, among other places. We also met with community leaders and posed for many photos—every day was jam-packed!
One of my favorite visits was to Little Tokyo Nutrition Services, where we ate lunch with some of the senior citizens who live in Little Tokyo Towers. I love being able to learn more about this community and meet some of the many people who keep its spirit alive.
Stay tuned to First & Central for more Nisei Week Princess adventures in the months to come, including an exciting trip to Japan!
One of JANM’s own staff members, Events Assistant Camryn Sugita, was selected as a queen candidate for the 2015 Nisei Week Japanese Festival, representing the Gardena Evening Optimist (GEO) club. She has agreed to do a series of occasional blog posts about her experience, offering insight into the Nisei Week Court process and what it means for the princesses and the community at large. Read her first entry here.
A couple of days after I submitted my application, I received an email confirming my interview. The interview only lasted 30 minutes with a panel of six interviewers. I was told I would hear back the next day about whether or not I was selected.
After what seemed like the longest day of my life, I finally received an email at 4 p.m. The first two lines read, “Thank you so much for taking the time to apply and interview for the Miss GEO candidate position. It was very nice interviewing you and getting to know you.” I immediately thought I hadn’t been selected.
Then in the second paragraph it stated, “You were selected as the 2015 Miss GEO!” My jaw dropped and I screamed, which probably wasn’t a good idea since I was working at JANM’s front desk at the time. I couldn’t wait to tell my family, friends, and co-workers, who had all encouraged me throughout the interview process. A week later, I had my crowning at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, where I was able to meet members of GEO and give my first, very rough, speech. It was a night to remember!
At the end of April, I attended the Nisei Week Queen Candidate orientation with my parents, where I met the other girls and our advisors, the Queen and Court Program Committee. Less than a week later, we had our first training session: kimono rehearsal, in which we learned how to properly put on, walk in, and fold a yukata (casual summer kimono). Some of us had a hard time at first, but now we can all put them on with ease.
Since June, we’ve been meeting at least three times a week for various classes and trainings. The sessions are three to four hours long and have included odori (Japanese dance) rehearsals, modern dance classes, etiquette training, professional development, and a variety of cultural lessons. Many hours are devoted to practicing our introductions and learning to walk properly in heels. My favorites, however, are the cultural lessons. The first one was in basic karate—by the end of the lesson, we were each able to break a board in half!
All of these classes prepared us well for our first big event—the Nisei Week Japanese Festival Opening Ceremony on July 19. At this official kickoff, we all gave our introductions and were presented as candidates for Nisei Week Queen. But the fun doesn’t stop there! We still have lots of trainings to go before Nisei Week.
Nisei Week takes place August 15–23. The new Nisei Week Queen will be selected at the coronation ceremony on August 15. Who will be crowned? Visit niseiweek.org for more information, and stay tuned to this blog for more diary entries!
One of JANM’s own staff members, Events Assistant Camryn Sugita, is a candidate for the 2015 Nisei Week Court. She has agreed to do a series of occasional blog posts about her experience, offering insight into the Nisei Week Court and what it means for the princesses and the community at large.
I always knew about Nisei Week growing up. As a Japanese American in Los Angeles, it was just one of those things you grew up going to. I remember seeing the Nisei Week Court featured in the Rafu Shimpo, sitting on a float in the parade, wearing beautiful dresses and crowns. I never thought that one day, I would be doing that.
I was working at JANM on a busy Saturday when I bumped into an old friend’s mom. She didn’t even recognize me at first. We chatted and caught up with one another, then toward the end of our conversation, she said, “You should apply for Nisei Week Court! You would be the perfect candidate!” The idea caught me so off guard that the only reaction I could come up with was to reject it. I kept saying, “I don’t know, I don’t think so,” but she wasn’t backing down. She insisted on putting me in touch with a former Nisei Week princess. By the end of the conversation, I was saying “I’ll think about it.”
And I really did think about it. All I knew about Nisei Week Court was what I remembered from childhood, so I did some research and spoke with two former Nisei Week princesses about their experiences. I discovered that being part of the court meant so much more than just sitting on a float in a beautiful dress; for 74 years, they have acted as representatives of the Los Angeles Japanese American community, helping to promote its image and build positive relationships worldwide. Members of the court receive training in public speaking, etiquette, and Japanese history and culture; they also have opportunities to travel to different cities, meeting all kinds of people and learning to be leaders of their community.
It quickly became apparent to me that becoming a Nisei Week princess is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well as an extreme honor. I became really inspired and excited to apply for the position, and hoped that I would be able to get an interview.
This year the Nisei Week Grand Parade took place on Sunday, August 11th. Dances, songs, and performers traveled throughout Downtown Los Angeles in the Little Tokyo District, filling the streets with Japanese and Japanese American culture and tradition. Once again, the Japanese American National Museum was proud to be a part of this year’s Grand Parade, and also proud to be a part of the Ondo & Closing Ceremony on Sunday, August 18th.
Here are some photos from the Japanese American National Museums’ participation in both the Grand Parade and the Ondo & Closing Ceremony! A big “thank you” to the National Museums’ staff members, volunteers, and friends for being a part of the Grand Parade, and for your hours of practice in preparation for the Ondo & Closing Ceremony!