Growing up J-Town #JT-030

M

y Dad’s death and funeral coincided with Nisei Week, the signature festival for Japanese American’s in the LA. Every August since 1934, except for a few years in the 40s during the war, the community of Lil’ Tokyo sponsored a summer festival called Nisei Week. It is a week during which Japanese Americans put on display its heritage with exhibits on a variety of things from calligraphy to flower arrangement to karate. The festivities started with a Nisei week pageant at which one nubile young Japanese American lady would be crowned Miss Nisei Week, and ended with a parade and carnival.

This year, I was with my family. We visited my brother at the JA National Museum and had lunch together, after which we walked around town as we waited for the parade to begin. One of my sons, Chip–for chipmunk–wanted to get some CDs and so we went to some music stores. We headed toward Mitsuwa in which there is an Asahiya Bookstore. Or I should say, was. It had closed it doors for more than a few months. M wanted to eat some Soba and I told her of a place in Weller Court Called Daisuke. While it was there, it was under new management and the menu had been drastically altered. I was hoping for a yamakake soba–soba noodles with grated tororo potatoes. But I had to settle for regular cold soba.

As three o’clock approached we headed out to the street to see the parade on this last Sunday of the festival. It was the first time I had seen the parade since the early 1980s when I worked at the confectionary store. Since the mid-80s, I had lived elsewhere and had not seen it in twenty years and so was quite curious. When I lived in Japan during the early 90s, my father was actually in the parade as a Lil’ Tokyo Pioneer as a cultural leader through his Senryu poetry and as a recipient of the Japanese National Cultural Medal of Honor. However, as the parade began, I was struck by the crowd. Or I should say, the lack thereof. There was a time when the crowds stood six to seven people deep from the curbside, but that day, you could easily park your butt on the curb and watch the parade go by. And reflecting this withering J-Town, the parade looked tired and shabby.

One group of Japanese dancers had to stop in the middle of their Bon Odori routine when the generator running the loud speaker died. One young man in his official Nisei Week happi–the colorful buttonless cotton shirt worn my sushi chefs–tried to revive it by slapping it and cursing at it, while the dancers from five-year olds to retirees stood helpless in the hot August sun. Another float broke down and again young men in their official Nisei Week garb rushed to help, if only to push it to the side of the road. These events only confirmed my opinion of a community in decline. And for me it was indeed a sad sight, for I remember when Nisei Week was truly an event. When any and all JAs came to J-Town to hang, to see and be seen.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The death of my father and my last visit to Nisei Week has triggered intermittent memories over the past few months. And when I lied in bed with a fever last week, these memories reconstituted themselves in a deluge of images in my feverish brain. And so, while the images are still fresh in my mind, I thought I would indulge myself by a jotting down these memories before they fade away forever.

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