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From Sendai to LA--Workshop Support Arrives in LA from the Home of the Tanabata Festival

A genuine love for Japan, felt in Los Angeles

The Tanabata Festival became the new talk of the town during the 2009 Nisei Week, the Los Angeles Japanese American community’s biggest annual festival. In preparation for an encore display in this year’s festival in August, volunteers gathered on the weekend of May 14th at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo for a Tanabata ornament-making workshop.

For this workshop, Koichiro Narumi, the 6th generation general manager of the Narumiya Kamishoji Company, and the company’s Tanabata project coordinator, Ranko Yamamura, came from Sendai City—the home of the Tanabata Festival—as workshop advisors.

From left: Koichiro Narumi, Ranko Yamamura, Brian Kito

When asked about his connection to the Los Angeles Tanabata Festival, Narumi-san recounted, “At first, Brian [Kito, of the LA Tanabata Festival Planning Committee] came to Sendai alone to purchase materials and learn how to make the ornaments. So for last year’s festival [in Los Angeles], it seems they made the decorations just by copying an example. So for this year, [Miyagi Prefectural Association of Southern California Chairman, Yoshihito] Yonezawa-san and Brian asked for our support, so we came over here for the very first time.”

Upon asking if Narumi-san had felt any differences between Sendai’s historically long-standing Tanabata Festival compared to the LA’s Tanabata Festival, Narumi-san had this to say:

“Oh, I was really surprised at the level of dedication of the people of Los Angeles. Even though everyone says it’s their first time [making the ornaments], they learn very quickly after a little bit of instruction. They’re highly skilled; it’s hard to believe that they’re amateurs. I also volunteer in my hometown, Sendai, and I really feel the same kind of passion for the community from Brian and everyone else. I’m looking forward to telling everyone back in Sendai about all of the Japanese Americans in Los Angeles, coming together as one to work on the Tanabata ornaments.”

Narumi-san, who believes that the “Core of Tanabata” lies in working with your hands and communicating with members of the local community, has been volunteering for ten years teaching a class designed by the residential association of a local housing complex. From grandparents to grade-school children, people of all ages continue to attend the class.

“It’s great to see the grandfathers and grandmothers working together on an ornament with their grandchild, to be able to create a space for them to interact. That’s what I hope to contribute to the community through what I do.”

Chairman of the Miyagi Prefectural Association of Southern California, Yoshihito Yonezawa, hard at work. (Left)

Little things lead to big things: Working together brings great pride in the completed ornament

Narumiya welcomes their 127th year in business this year. Of the 21 employees who handle papers and packages for printing, three workers are Tanabata specialists. Born as the 6th heir of the company, Narumi-san has been helping make Tanabata ornaments since childhood. He has been working with Yamamura-san, who accompanied him to Los Angeles this time, for 30 years now.

“We met Yamamura-san because her daughter and I happened to be classmates. She was the chairperson of the PTA, and my parents asked her if she could help out with our business. She’s been a part of our team ever since,” explains Narumi-san.

We asked Yamamura-san about the allure of creating Tanabata ornaments: “Cutting and working with the paper; in other words, starting from nothing, and ending up with the completion of a great ornament,” she said. Narumi-san adds, “If it’s plain printer paper out there, it’s hard to tell whether or not it was made by our company. But the Tanabata ornaments go out into the world in multidimensional shapes, so it brings joy to us along with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that it was made by our company.”

We also heard from Brian of the Planning Committee: “We are so fortunate to welcome Narumi-san and Yamamura-san all the way from Sendai, to be able to hold this workshop here. If you participate as a member of the Los Angeles Nikkei community, no matter how small a piece you contribute, it will come together in the end as part of a great ornament. Little things, when combined together, can make big things happen, and that is the heart of what it means to be a community. I hope everyone will take great pride in the completed ornaments,” he said.

“Tanabata ornament making is merely a tool for sparking communication in the community. The main key is cooperation, the act of working together as one,” emphasized Narumi-san. After the workshop, the two visitors from Japan will rush through a quick sight-seeing tour before returning to Sendai, but both say they would love to be back in Los Angeles to see the completed ornaments on August 13th at the Nisei Week Festival.

A Tanabata ornament from Sendai swings around in the LA wind.

* * *

2nd Annual Los Angeles Tanabata Festival
August 13 - 16, 2010
at Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA

If you would like to participate in Tanabata Festival, “Kazari kits” are now available for purchase at the Koban in Little Tokyo
307 E. First Street Los Angeles, California 90012. Tel: 213.613.1911

For more information >>

*All photographs are courtesy of the author.

© 2010 Keiko Fukuda

Los Angeles Nisei Week sendai tanabata tanabata festival