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Ema Lake: An Emerging Talent

In the summer of 2016, I was in the midst of planning a major fundraising event to help finance the Nikkei Legacy Park project in Greenwood, BC. The family plaques for those who lived through the internment were paid for by donors. Sakura trees and Japanese lanterns were also donated by families. However, I needed funds for the World War I monument to honor the 12 Japanese Canadian veterans who came to Greenwood. Three were military medal recipients: Masami Mitsui, Yasuo Takashima, and Kiyoji Iizuka. There were three interpretive panels to be made and a large park sign on the outside wall facing the highway. Landscaping costs would be the greatest challenge.

The fundraiser was a concert commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Internment. It was to be held in Richmond, BC, on April 29, 2017. The quest to find talented performers was on. I was lucky to have contacts through my sister Lurana. I secured the Sakura Singers immediately. Then, through word of mouth, I was able to book Koto-no-ne Kai and Tatsumi Ryu Dance Group. My friend, David Hamaguchi’s daughter, was a member of the Roku Shichi Taiko, so they came on board. I was still looking for more talent—especially younger performers to balance the age group.

(Photo courtesy of Mayu Lake)

In September, I found out that there was a Nikkei Talent Contest at Nikkei Place, so I attended. I was very impressed with the many talented contestants. There were hip-hop dancers, solo Japanese dancers, yo-yo masters, musicians, and singers. One person in particular caught my eye: it was Ema Lake, who was eight years old at the time. She sang the song “Naughty” from the play Matilda. I said to myself, she will win. Sure enough, Ema received the award for Most Memorable Performance, winning an expensive bicycle for her efforts.

I hung around after the show to see if I could approach the parents of three performers that I was interested in. As I was standing near the stage door, I found myself standing right next to Mayu, Ema’s mom! Was this meant to be? I inquired about Ema’s availability, and Mayu gave me her contact number and email. I was overjoyed.

I kept in touch with Ema’s mother. But when the time neared, she informed me that Ema had an audition during the week of the 75th Anniversary concert. My heart sank. I thought this would be the last time I would hear from the Lake family.

The Greenwood Board of Trade hosts Founders Day every year, but this time they added an extra day, July 9, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Internment. Again, I had to go in search of performers for a concert. I could only secure one performer from the previous concert: the Roku Shichi Taiko group, made up of energetic young women and men, confirmed. I struggled to book other performers.

Out of the blue, Mayu emailed me that her daughter Ema would like to perform. That made my day! Then at the last minute, Kelowna Kendo Club agreed to put on a demonstration. I was relieved that we would be able to showcase Japanese culture in a variety of ways. My sister volunteered to have the Tonari Gumi booth display Japanese and Nikkei crafts, calligraphy, kimono dresses, and origami.

(Photo courtesy of Mayu Lake)

Dressed in a beautiful cotton yukata for her first set, Ema wowed and charmed the crowd with her renditions of “Furusato,” Misora Hibari’s “Kawa no Nagare no Youni,” and Abba’s “I Have a Dream.” The second set was more in the vein of Broadway musicals. Again, she entertained the crowd.

At nine years old, Ema has a bright future ahead of her. Her family lives in Port Moody, BC. Her mother Mayu is from Gifu, Japan, and also loves to sing. Mayu’s husband Ben is from Port Alberni, BC.

Ema’s interest in music began at a very young age, when she sang karaoke with her mother. She learned Japanese songs by watching TV and movies, and would often sing along with cartoon shows like Anpanman. She studies musical theater and practices the piano and violin daily. In the fall, she will take voice lessons. In her spare time, she loves to ride her bike and read books. Her ambition is to either become a pilot or perform on Broadway.

After she won the Nikkei Talent Contest, Ema had entered the Kiwanas Fraser Valley Music Festival and won a Broadway First Timers gold certificate. Performing in Greenwood, Ema was excited to practice a wider range of songs. The family also learned a lot about Nikkei history in the process.

© 2017 Chuck Tasaka

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