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Golden Age for Niseis Celebrated in L.A. : Festival: Weeklong ceremonies mark 50th anniversary of festival in L.A. The events pass on Japanese culture to children of immigrants and others.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three 16th-Century warlords stepped out of the pages of Japanese history and rode horseback through the streets of Little Tokyo on Sunday afternoon as the Nisei Week parade marked the 50th time the weeklong festival of cultural events has come to Los Angeles.

On a float and on foot, authentically costumed ladies of the court and marching samurai followed the Japanese folk heroes--all part of a company of Japanese actors who had come to join the Japanese-American community in Southern California as it celebrates its heritage with traditional Japanese dancing, theater, art, music and food.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Nisei Week Japanese Festival. The event was organized to pass Japanese culture down to children of Japanese immigrants, hence the word “Nisei,” or second-generation Japanese-American.

The festival, the largest Japanese-American cultural event in the United States, also served to gather a Japanese community that is spread throughout Southern California, and to stimulate business in Little Tokyo. It did a good job of both:

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Masaru Ota, 72, began attending the parade when he lived in a downtown boarding house in 1939. “It’s getting better,” he said. He likes the fact that more non-Japanese seem to be coming to Nisei Week events.

More than 1,000 people took part in Sunday’s parade. The 150 parade entries included large dance troupes, forming seas of gracefully moving women, some of them in pink and blue kimonos and swirling fans of orange and gold.

Among the spectators--whose numbers police estimated at 10,000--was Imperial Princess Sayako, 21, who watched from the fourth-floor balcony of a bank building. The only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko is on her first U.S. visit at the invitation of Nisei Week officials.

Ota had brought his relatives from Japan, including his sister, Harumi Omai, 69, a councilwoman from Hiroshima. Omai was born in Baldwin Park but returned to Japan when she was young.

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“Everything has changed so much,” she said in Japanese as Ota interpreted. “The old Niseis had such a hard time. I can see now that they have achieved success. I’m very impressed by the parade. You don’t even see this many dancers in Japan.”

Some of the music was classical Japanese and some was straight out of American jukeboxes.

Three generations of the Oki family were there to hear it. Seventeen-month-old Aimee Oki was so taken by the beat of the rock ‘n’ roll classic “Louie Louie,” played by the Banning High School Band, that she started rocking out in her baby stroller.

Her father, Rick Oki, a chimney sweep from Ventura County, said he came to the parade for his children’s sake. His 3-year-old daughter has her own kimono and wants to dance in the parade someday.

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Bill Mattucci, 59, brought his 7-year-old grandson to give him a glimpse into other cultures.

“Kids these days don’t even know where Sacramento is,” said the former Navy man who was stationed off Japan for a time. “For me, I’ve been around. But for him, it shows that people have different habits than in his world. I try to get my grandchildren interested. Like I say, they’re very narrow-minded.”

Nisei Week concludes next Sunday. During the week, throughout Little Tokyo, performers and artists will be presenting ceramic displays, the art of bonsai, arts and crafts, martial arts demonstrations, a tea ceremony and a children’s performance of Kabuki theater.

As Frances Hashimoto, Nisei Week chairwoman, said: “Nisei Week is a great way to promote Japanese culture, and I guess when it does that, it promotes Japanese-American relations.”

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