By Peggy Taylor
“Hallelujahs” from the Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir and thunderous pounding from Soh Daiko taiko drums reverberated through the gilded residence of Japanese Ambassador Mikio Mori last Friday as the press was given a sneak preview of the second Japan Day Parade. It will be held on Saturday, May 13th at 1:00 p.m. along Central Park West from 81st to 67th Streets, following the opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m. between 70th and 71st.
As singers, dancers, anime characters, martial arts aficionados and sword fighters slice and slash their way down the route, they will pass 72nd Street where a street fair featuring Japanese cuisine, calligraphy, water balloon yo-yo fishing, and origami, will be in full swing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This year’s Grand Marshal will be Olympic gold medalist, author, and philanthropist Kristie Yamaguchi whose foundation, Always Dream, provides high quality books for low-income families. This year’s Parade will feature a live performance by the cast of the 2.5-Dimensional show, “Live Spectacle NARUTO,” the stage adaptation of one of the most popular manga (Japanese comics) series of all time.
Ambassador Mori, Parade Honorary Chairman, recalled the success of last year’s parade, which attracted 2,400 participants from 80 different groups, while 20,000 cheered from the sidelines. “The Parade’s success proves that New York loves Japan and that Japan loves New York,” he said. “We hope to build on last year’s success and bring the parade to new heights.” He also highlighted the Parade’s role in “creating cross-cultural connections,” noting the return of AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) groups, the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, the Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir, and kimono-clad Americans performing traditional Japanese folk dances.
According to Kumiko Yoshii, the Parade’s Executive Producer, 98 sponsors and donors from local and international companies are participating and approximately 90 groups are scheduled to march or perform in the $1.5 million budgeted Parade.
Echoing the Ambassador’s championing of “friendship, diversity, and solidarity,” New York State Senator Luis Sepúlveda, spoke of his love of Japan and his desire to retire there, even though he is Puerto Rican. He jokingly offered to give the Japanese tips on achieving the one-million participants currently enjoyed by the 65-year-old Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Gale Brewer, New York City Council Member and former Borough President, needled Sepúlveda about the fact that the Puerto Rican Day parade, “which I love and attend annually, doesn’t take place in my district, whereas the Japan Day Parade does. I love your parade, but the fact that the Japan Day Parade is on the West Side is very special to me.”
Is there a theme for this year’s parade? “Not really,” said Kumiko Yoshii, the Executive Producer. “The Parade will celebrate the entire breadth of Japanese culture, from traditional to modern. It will highlight how Japan matters, what we are contributing to America and celebrate the friendship between New York and Japan.”
After the performances by the choir and the drummers, we reporters mounted a magnificent winding staircase and retired to the Ambassador’s opulent dining room, for wine, sake, green tea, and three of the fifteen dishes which will be offered at the street fair. Mark your calendars so you can savor them as well even if not in such palatial digs. They’ll taste just as good on the street, in the open air.
You can even win a pair of round-trip airline tickets to Japan by joining the Parade’s “Social Media Post Contest.” Post a picture of a delicious Japanese dish or one of you enjoying that dish in a participating Japanese restaurant and label it “We love Japanese food,” #mayisjapanmonth. Three pairs of round-trip tickets will be awarded.
I went to last year’s Parade and found it a colorful, exciting, high-spirited delight. Take my advice. Go. You’ll be charmed and won’t regret it.