by Elizabeth Chan, staff writer, Inside AX – Anime Expo
For the last weekend of Nisei Week, there were still a ton of things going on and brilliant sights to see. This weekend the main attractions were definitely at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center Plaza and the Ondo Parade on 1st Street, but there were a few interesting things at the Japanese Village Plaza as well.
The whole area was in full festival-themed swing with booths set up by the various shops selling delicious festival foods. Mitsuru Cafe, which normally sells festival foods like takoyaki, karaage skewers, dango, and other goodies year round, especially had gotten into the spirit by erecting a booth just outside their shop to cater to visitors. There was also various forms of entertainment throughout both weekends taking place at the small stage in front of Nijiya Market. Other shops, including the local Sanrio store, even had their own festival-style set ups outside their shops to entertain visitors to the plaza.
There were also a few pop up stands selling Nisei Week and Little Tokyo goods, and the regular karaoke that takes place regularly at the stage area returned during the evening hours for some public entertainment. Since many of the things in the plaza are regular sights and things that can be obtained from Japanese Village Plaza regularly, even if you missed Nisei Week, you can stop by for a small taste of festival year round.
Just across the street from Japanese Village Plaza is the Japanese American Culture & Community Center (JACCC). The plaza is often a place where festivals, performances, and other gatherings take place and is surrounded by the JACCC itself and the newly renovated Aratani Theatre.
During Nisei Week, the JACCC had many of its rooms open to the public for the viewing of various exhibitions. This weekend featured a Bonsai Exhibition provided by Nanpu Kai, a Samurai Exhibition from sword specialist Tetsugendo and Samurai Store, Kimekomi Dolls from Yukari-kai, and a Japanese calligraphy workshop and exhibition from Beikoku Shodo Kenkyuu-kai.
The most popular of these attractions was definitely the Samurai Exhibition. The collaboration between Tetsugendo and Samurai Store was pretty fascinating. These were not simply displays of private collections of swords and armor to begin with. Both of these groups that brought these items to the exhibition are also stores from whom you may buy samurai wares for yourself to take home.
Scattered across the room were various educational placards telling visitors about the swords and different parts of the swords. One of the proprietors even went into further detail and spoke to guests personally explaining the holes in the hilt, where one was actually for a hairpin decorated with the warrior’s family crest. This beautifully decorated accessory not only worked as an easy hair tie for impromptu formal situations, but in the field after a battle, could also be used as a marker to show who struck down another warrior. The hairpin would be slipped into the foot of the corpse and the samurai could walk away confidently knowing that anyone who came to inspect the body afterward would know that he was the one who slain him.
Samurai Store had provided samurai armor to the exhibit and had a helpful chart to point out the different parts of an authentic set of armor. They had two full sets on display and a lighter set that visitors could try on for a picture opportunity, as well as a chart to the side of the full armor sets displaying the options their store offered in the way of individual plates and thread options to manufacture your very own custom piece of samurai armor.
The Kimekomi Doll display was also another delight for the weekend as these dolls are exquisitely handcrafted pieces made up of a combination of porcelain, wood, and fabric. According to placards placed around the exhibit explaining the dolls, the dolls’ faces are baked several times before finally having their features hand painted on while the bodies are made through a “press-wood” process that utilizes molds with fabric delicately laminated onto the bodies to help the doll retain its shape. This lavish art form originates from Kyoto around the middle of the 18th century.
Just outside the building with all of these amazing exhibitions, the JACCC Plaza was bustling with competitions and demonstrations of traditional Japanese performance arts. The highlight of Saturday was definitely the Gyoza Eating Competition that featured both professional eaters and amateur competitors. One amateur competitor came from the audience as the final seat was auctioned off for a donation of $400 to the Nisei Week Foundation. The winner of the final seat was a man visiting Los Angeles from Australia. The competition itself lasted a fierce 10 minutes of eating that resulted in a World Record amount of gyoza being eaten with time kept by a local boy named Tanner whom the announcer had met previously at another competition in Chicago. The top 3 were Joey Chestnut in 1st place with 266 gyoza, Matt Stonie with 234, and Pat Bertoletti with 233.
Watching other people eat would also obviously make spectators hungry as well, but to the side of the stage were a few booths serving up gyoza provided by the competition’s sponsor, Day-Lee Foods, and Hawaiian style festival goodies. One tasty treat for a hot summer day was the previously mentioned shaved ice with condensed milk.
The following day was a massive gathering of several taiko groups from all over Southern California with a wide age range of participants with the college level drummers from Senryu Taiko of UC Riverside to the age 35+ drummers of Myo-On Taiko. Each of these groups brought their own particular flair to their performance that drew large crowds for hours all through the day. Many of these players get into taiko drumming for various reasons and at various stages. Myo-On, for instance, is a testament to show that it is never too late to learn, while the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center’s Kishin Daiko, which was definitely one of the larger and more elaborate groups, has many members with experience in UC Irvine’s resident taiko club, Jodaiko. Other than Nisei Week, these taiko groups generally do performances all around Southern California and you are likely to catch them throughout the year at various festivals and gatherings.
Immediately after the Taiko Gathering, was the Ondo Parade and Closing Ceremonies on 1st Street. The Closing Ceremonies consisted of various remarks about this year’s festival and the introduction of Minyo Station, who performed the live music for the Ondo Parade. They also announced the names of various raffle winners. The Grand Prize for this year’s raffle was a round trip ticket to Tokyo plus $2000 in cash.
No summer Japanese festival is complete without the communal aspect of group ondo dancing, and this year’s was spectacular with many Japanese American community groups out in the streets and dressed up to represent their group during the parade including the Nisei Week Court, President, and mascot. While there were many spectators, everyone was encouraged to join in on the dancing and not just watch. The dances are very easy to learn from just watching someone else who knows the dance, and the movements repeat so that you get the hang of it. All of the songs for the year are also announced on the Nisei Week website in advance and workshops for the more shy are held by the JACCC during the weeks leading up to Nisei Week.
The songs for this year were: Tanko Bushi, 1+1, Kagoshima Ohara Bushi, Shiawase Samba, Asadoya Yunta, Aizu bandai san, Sho Tokyo Ondo, and Tokyo Gorin Ondo. Tanko Bushi, 1+1, and Shiawase Samba are three of the favorites that are generally played at every festival, while Sho Tokyo Ondo is the signature dance for Little Tokyo. Kagoshima Ohara Bushi, Asadoya Yunta, and Aizu bandai san are three examples of songs from various localities in Japan. Kagoshima Ohara Bushi obviously comes from Kagoshima, Asadoya Yunta is from Okinawa, and Aizu bandai san is from Fukushima. Tokyo Gorin Ondo was a dance created for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was chosen to be part of the song set for this year because of the London Olympics.
Nisei Week was packed full of various forms of cultural fun right until the end. If there’s something that you missed, please come out to check out all of the festivities next year. Below you will find a gallery of the different sights IAX was able to capture, but is by no means a satisfactory summary of events.