Sunday, April 6, 2008

Little Tokyo Blossoms -- Figuratively

The Militant took the (M) Red Line Sunday to the Civic Center station and walked down to Little Tokyo to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival Southern California which took place this past weekend.

Unlike other Little Tokyo Festivals, like the summertime Nisei Week, a decades-old tradition celebrating Japanese American culture, and the Tofu Festival, a fundraiser event benefiting the nonprofit Little Tokyo Service Center, the Cherry Blossom festival is a relatively new festival, organized by the Japanese American cultural organization Ryoma, which only started the event in 2002 in Pasadena and moved it to Little Tokyo just last year.

Inspired by more well-known Cherry Blossom festivals, the SoCal version also celebrates the arrival of Spring (yay, Winter sucks) and the blooming of the sakura, or flowering cherry tree. Which is a wonderful concept, only...that...there aren't very many of them in Little Tokyo.

Luckily the Militant was able to spot at least one sakura on the festival grounds (pictured above), tucked unceremoniously behind the Kid's Crafts tent on the northeast corner of 2nd and San Pedro. Fortunately there are more sakura planned for the neighborhood, as the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension's Little Tokyo / Arts District station will have a row of them right next to the light rail platform.

Speaking of Metro, the festival, which had the transit agency as one of its sponsors, was very good at promoting transit usage to the festival, and even provided an incentive to Metro riders -- anyone who produced a rail ticket or day pass at the information booth got a free poster. In the Militant's case, he got a watercolor reproduction of a pond of koi goldfish signed by artist and actress Kellye Nakahara Wallett. Other events should learn to follow suit and give a little something extra to Metro riders.

The rest of the festival, which didn't have the requisite Wells Fargo and chicken satay tents (it was, though, sponsored by US Bank and Union Bank of California and did have the requisite funnel cake and kettle corn vendors) had the aforementioned Kid's Crafts pavilion (with origami lessons), Ondo dances (pictured left), local nonprofits and organizations, a martial arts exhibit with live demonstrations, a Hawaiian Village (Many Japanese Americans, and other Asian Americans historically cherish the islands as a geographical and cultural gateway to the US), a main entertainment stage and food vendors hawking the usual festival fare (minus the satay) and Japanese favorites like sushi, takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and yakisoba. Though there weren't very many Japanese food booths, this event was located in Little Tokyo after all - so many restaurants were within short walking distance.

Parts of the festival also spilled into Japanese Village Plaza, which also had its own entertainment stage just outside of one of the Militant's favorite desert shops. One-Man Band Arthur Nakane, who has to bee seen to be believed, performed there to the delight, disbelief and "WTF?" of the crowd.

Though the sun played peek-a-boo all day, and the Militant lost his sunglasses after leaving the subway station (d'oh!), not to mention the apparent lack of the event's namesake trees, it was clear that Spring had finally arrived. With the Militant looking forward to the Songkran Festival in Thai Town next weekend (check out that promo!), Militancy is once again in full bloom.

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