2014 / Nisei Week marking 74th anniversary

2014 Nisei Week Queen Candidates Okamoto Kitty Aki
2014 Nisei Week Queen candidates posed with mascot Hello Kitty, Aki Dog, and Mike Okamoto, chairman of 2014 Nisei Week at the opening event on July 13 at the Japanese American National Museum. (Cultural News Photo)

2014 candidates are (from left on back row) Tori Angela Nishinaka-Leon (representing Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute), Lindsey Emiko Sugimoto (West Los Angeles JACL & Venice Japanese Community Center), and Ashley Akemi Arikawa (Japanese Restaurant Association of America), (from left on front row) Tiffany Akemi Hashimoto (Gardena Evening Optimist), Dominique Ariadne Mashburn (Orange County Nikkei Coordinating Council), and Melissa Sayuri Kozono (East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center).

Nisei Week marking 74th anniversary

The Nisei Week Foundation was established in 1999 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to oversee and organize the Nisei Week Japanese Festival.  The Foundation’s mission is to promote Japanese and Japanese American heritage and traditions while bringing together the diverse communities of Southern California through arts and cultural education. It does this by producing the Nisei Week Japanese Festival, a nine-day event that is one of the longest running ethnic festivals in the United States.

In 2014, the Nisei Week Japanese Festival is observing its 74th anniversary. The festival was established by the Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) in 1934 during the Great Depression. It was originally created to attract business to the Little Tokyo area and to promote goodwill. This first festival included a poster contest, an essay contest, radio broadcasts, a fashion show, various cultural exhibits and demonstrations and an “ondo” or “traditional Japanese street dancing” parade.

A queen pageant was added in 1935 with Alice Watanabe as the first Nisei Week Queen. Candidate selection was by nomination and the queen was selected by popular vote. Friends could cast a vote for their favorite candidate when making a purchase at one of the many businesses in Little Tokyo. Today, queen candidates are selected by various Japanese American community organizations. The Nisei Week Queen is selected and crowned at the Coronation Ball, which is held the first day of the festival.

The festival continued for only seven years before World War II intervened and the Japanese Americans were incarcerated for the duration of the war in U.S. concentration camps located in remote areas of the United States. In 1945, Japanese Americans began to return to Los Angeles, but it was not until 1949 that the community was able to restart the Nisei Week.

With the Foundation’s leadership and through solid support from local businesses and corporations and a growing number of Japanese firms doing business in the U.S., the Nisei Week Japanese Festival has grown in size and scope into one of the most recognized ethnic festivals in the United States today.

The most unique aspect of the festival is that it is completely planned, organized and run by hundreds of volunteers from the Japanese American community. Members from businesses and corporations, community-based and religious organizations, college groups, fraternities and sororities volunteer thousands of hours each year.

The Nisei Week Foundation depends on and appreciates the generosity of its volunteers and donors to continue the important Nisei Week Japanese Festival tradition. For more information on the Nisei Week Foundation, festival or to become a volunteer or donor, please call (213) 687-7193 or email   info@niseiweek.org    www.nieiweek.org