Post by Diane Tanaka, Nisei Week Foundation Executive Board Member
The Nisei Week Japanese 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 Coronation, which is held the first day of the festival.
The festival continued for only seven years before World War II intervened and 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 Nisei Week.
Today the festival is run by the Nisei Week Foundation. Through solid support from the community,
local businesses and Japanese and American corporations, the Nisei Week Japanese Festival has grown in size and scope into one of the most recognized ethnic festivals in the United States.
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.