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Higashi Honganji Obon Festival 2012

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 7, 2012 10:44am | Post a Comment


Obon
(お盆) is a Japanese holiday on which observers honor the spirits of their ancestors. Within Japan as well as the Japanese diaspora, Obon has been observed on different dates since Japan’s adoption of the Gregorian Calender in 1872.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Little Tokyo

In LA and Orange County there were also Obon festivities on different dates that took place not only in several Little Tokyo venues but also in Anaheim, Gardena, Little Osaka, Venice, and West Covina. I attended the Obon Festival at Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple (ロサンゼルス東本願寺別院).



Higashi Hongan-ji (or, 'the eastern temple of the original vow') is one of two dominant sub-sects of Shin Buddhism. LA’s congregation is the oldest Buddhist congregation in the city, founded as Rafu Bukkyokai in 1904 by Reverend Junjyo Izumida at 229 1/2 East Fourth Street.

 

The congregation moved around Little Tokyo and the Eastside several times over the decades that followed. In 1907 they relocated to a nearby location on San Julian Street. In 1911, the temple moved to a building on Savannah Street in Boyle Heights, which historically had a large Japanese-American population. In 1921, it became a Higashi Honganji branch temple. In 1926, staying within Boyle Heights, it relocated to 118 North Mott.


The temple with Little Tokyo Towers in the background


It remained there until 1976, when it moved back to Little Toyko in the shadow of newly-built Little Tokyo Towers, erected in 1975.


all-day bingo


somen-eating contest


taiko drummers


more taiko drumming


happyfunsmile


Local Mojo

The 2012 Obon Festival included all-day bingo, dance, drink, food, games, music, performances, a somen-eating contest, Obon Hatsubon services and a tea ceremony, among other activities. Performers and performances included Bodhi Tree Band, Bombu Taiko & Kitsune Taiko, Fujima Kansei Odori Kai, Garvey Ranch Park Dojo, Halau Hula ‘a’ ala Anuhea, happyfunsmile, hereandnow, Kinnara Taiko, Live 4 Today, Local Mojo, TAIKOPROJECT, and the Lumbini Kids (the children that attend the temple's daycare). It was free and open to the public.


Bon Odori

I missed the Manto-e lantern lighting ceremony, a tradition begun about 1,200 years ago. I also missed teamaster Matsumura Shachu’s Ogasawara-ryu Sencha-do Tea Ceremony demonstration. However, I did catch the Bon Odori (盆踊り) – literally “Bon dance” – a dance meant to welcome the arrival of spirits.

I also watched a performance by Higashi Zumba Class, which fuses Latin music (including Cumbia Trival!) with dance and exercise.


bake sale


plant sale

the farmers market

The temple also hosts (and hosted on that day) bake sales, plant sales, farmers market, bingo, and child care. Additionally there's a choir and a golf club, although I didn't see any sign of them on that particular day.

 
          Rodney Kageyama and Rex                                           Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

The festivities were MCed by well-known Nissei actor/director/costume designer/community activist Rodney Kageyama, veteran of San Francisco’s Asian American Theater Company and LA’s East West Players who is probably most recognized for his appearances in The Karate Kid Part II, The Next Karate Kid, Gung Ho (the film and TV series) and numerous guest appearances on TV.

Later in the day a group of friends showed up. As the Obon festivities wound down, we headed to Little Tokyo Shopping Center where, after killing a bit of time at Japan Arcade, we dined at Izakaya Honda Ya. As always, happy holidays… and 乾杯!

*****



California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Osaka, the Westside's J-Town

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 10, 2009 11:09pm | Post a Comment



This Los Angeles neighborhood blog entry is about Little Osaka. To vote for another neighborhood(s) to be covered here on the blog, click here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community(ies) to be covered, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Westside

Japanese-Americans
have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Gardena, Torrance, Boyle Heights, Pasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach, Monterey Park and Sawtelle. As far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka. The former is a well known spot downtown.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Osaka

The latter is a small district along Sawtelle Boulevard between Nebraska and Tennessee in the Sawtelle neighborhood (and former municipality) favored by Nisei, foodies, otaku, hentai, nipponophiles. With the rainy season just beginning, my ex-roomie Shimbles and I set out to explore the neighborhood.

From around 400 BCE till the arrival of the Spanish, the area around what's today Little Osaka was known to the Tongva as Kuruvunga. In 1896, a neighborhood sprang up known as Barrett. The US postal service objected to the name, on account of its similarity to Bassett. In 1899, the name was changed to Sawtelle. In 1918, Sawtelle became part of Los Angeles. By the '10s, the area was largely populated by Japanese-Americans and the neighborhood was often referred to as "Soteru." From 1920 to '25, the population of Sawtelle grew rapidly, from 3,500 to 10,700.





In the 1920s and 30s, what's now Little Osaka (小大阪) was dominated by Nikkei-run nurseries which mostly served wealthy, white westsiders, although Sawtelle homes themselves often display more thoughtful landscaping than those in average neighborhoods. In 1931, a group of Japanese planted a Japanese garden (designed by Koichi Kawana) in Sawtelle's Stoner Park "for the promotion of better understanding." By 1941, there were 26 nurseries in the area. When Japanese-Americans were unjustly interred during World War II, the neighborhood went into decline. Today there are three nurseries remaining in Little Osaka; The Jungle, Hashimoto and Yamaguchi Bonsai.


Lianne Lin's I <3 Sawtelle

In the '20s, the large Kobayakawa Boarding House was built by Riichi Ishioka on Sawtelle Blvd, housing up to 60 people at a time. It remained in operation until the 1970s. When Japanese-Americans returned to the neighborhood after the war, Sawtelle Gakuin's auditorium was converted to a hostel. In 1946, Toshikazu "Tom" and Midori Yamaguchi opened the store Yamaguchi, a beloved institution in the neighborhood. Yamas remained in business until 2006, when their sons, Henry and Jack, sold it. In the late '80s, many of the existing buildings were destroyed to make way for strip malls and offices. In the '90s, the area began to bustle again, perhaps initially because authenticity-oriented foodies discovered the neighborhood's Japanese-American restaurants. Although most of the pre-war character of the neighborhood was by then erased, the JA character remained and the area began to be referred to as Little Osaka.



There are still multiple sushi, curry and noodle joints -- among others. I suspect the neighborhood may've acquired its nickname (instead of, say, Little Yokohama) because of how densely populated with eateries it is. Big Ōsaka, after all, is the city of kuidaore ("to become poor as a result of one's extravagance in eating and drinking"). Being a cold, rainy day, I had some extra hot curry and sake to warm myself from the inside out. Afterward we stopped by Beard Papa's, a chain founded in the original Ōsaka. I ate the brand new Cookie Crunch Puff. Although my sweet tooth is dwarfed by my bitter, salty, sour, spicy and umami teeth, it was delicious.


There haven't been any films shot in Little Osaka that I know of, except for a couple of short youtube docs, the area does have a connection to Japanese film. First it should be said that Amoeba has a very large selection of Japanese films -- one of the best in the city. However, if you can't find a Japanese movie at Amoeba, there's a good chance they have it at Video Addict, although probably without English subtitles.




Giant Robot
was started in 1994 by Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong as a magazine covering Asian and Asian-American pop culture. It not only filled a void in the publishing world, but its subject matter, its humor, attitude, observation and insight also made it one of the greatest magazines, period. They opened their first store in 2001, in Little Osaka. A few years later, they opened the art gallery, G2. We checked out the Post-It Show.

 


There are a lot of clothing joints in the neighborhood. As with the world outside of Milan, there are many more options for the ladies than the gents. And for the gents, most of the choices are kawaii t-shirts and outfits you'd see on kids in a jerk video.




As we left Little Osaka, we crossed Nebraska and saw this creepy Brujeria omen...



*****

Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold

(Before which the author's mother visits.)

Posted by Job O Brother, July 6, 2009 02:58pm | Post a Comment

That's my Ma, milking the cow. (The cow is the one with horns.)

This past week my dear, sweet Ma came for a visit. Her time here flew by quickly; we entertained ourselves with long walks, stories from her youth, and cooking-related reality TV. I also introduced her to one of my best friends in the whole world: absinthe.

She has a new iPhone, but her fear of technology had limited her use of it to – get this – making phone calls! I mean, what’s the point of a phone if all you do with it is call people? That’s so 1990’s! So I introduced her to all the things her new phone could do: map out directions, take photos, slay red dragons, make chocolate sprinkles, cure melanoma and make other kinds of chocolate sprinkles. She was quick to learn and I expect she will soon be filling my email inbox with pictures of my nephews, her tomato plants, and chocolate sprinkles.

In honor of her visit, I have assembled the following short list of things she loves, in hopes that you, too, may find some joy in them. If you’re not interested, don’t worry – she’s very easy-going and non-judgmental, and won’t take offense. I, however, will hunt you down like a dog and slay you. With my iPhone.

Glenn Gould


Chopsticks!

One of the most famous classical pianists of all time, and still controversial, Glenn Gould was the very definition of an eccentric genius. Most famous for his interpretations of J.S. Bach’s music for keyboard, Gould also championed modern composers, such as Alban Berg and Arnold Schönberg, while frequently disparaging more popular composers such as Frédéric Chopin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, finding their works often insincere and unsatisfying (a sentiment, incidentally, I share with Gould).


Gould died at age 50, leaving behind a rich and compelling catalogue of recordings and a few pairs of very rank smelling gloves.

In addition to some more traditional documentaries, there’s a film entitled 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould that provides an entertaining (perhaps more than deep) look at this musical prodigy.


He also provides the soundtrack for my Mother’s iPhone ringtone.

His Hand in Mine – Elvis Presley


Ma was raised in the church, where she played organ, piano and served as choral director. She also arranged flowers and… I dunno – probably designed the stained-glass windows, too. The church was in Florin, California, which had been mostly populated by Japanese farmers until, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forced the Japanese into concentration camps – an event that seems remarkably absent from our consideration of American history.


Florin, California (circa what I'm talkin' about)

Anyway, at this time in Florin, there was really nothing to do but milk cows, watch the strawberries grow, and participate in church functions, which is what so occupied Ma’s time. Playing music served as one of Ma’s few truly fun activities, and her association with old hymns remains a positive one, although her belief in the traditional tenants of Protestantism has been replaced by something more akin to Shirley MacLaine’s persuasions.

If you want to see Ma’s eyes glaze over in bliss (and you know you do) I suggest spinning this album from Elvis Presley.


Carlos Montoya

Another controversial, artistic genius Ma gravitates towards is the flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya.


"Mine! All mine! Ahahahahahaha...!!!"

Montoya is renowned as much for his agility at playing guitar as he was for his ability to fly. He could fly in the air of his own volition and remains the first and only human in history to do so. It was on Montoya that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster based their superhero creation, Superman. This resulted in Montoya suing the comic writers in a case that was ultimately settled out of court, with Montoya being paid off in raisins, his favorite between-meal snack.

The following song was composed by Montoya for his wife, Lois, who would eventually divorce him, complaining that his willingness to work for dried fruit made life with the musician “crazy-making” and “mostly fucked.”


My Ma may have returned to the glorious state of Northern California, but she remains an eternal houseguest in my heart …where she is currently building a pulpit and brand-new steeple.

Jon Moritsugu - Original BB in da house

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 14, 2009 02:38pm | Post a Comment

Jon Moritsugu and Amy Davis

Jon Moritsugu
is an American filmmaker who's enjoyed a long career of critical acclaim and underground fandom. Many of his films feature actress/wife/Scumrock co-writer/sometime bandmate Amy Davis. Although best known for his cult classic Mod Fuck Explosion, he's consistently and constantly made films that challenge and entertain with his unique style. As part of a series of interviews with groundbreaking Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry, he graciously agreed to be interviewed.

Eric Brightwell: Since it’s Asian/Pacific Island American Heritage Month, I’ll start with some questions related to that. First of all, how’s your APAH Month so far? Does it mean anything to you?

 
nori in its green glory                                                             "wok on over" and "taste the joy"... I don't get it!

Jon Moritsugu: APAH?... Ah... I did eat a buncha nori my mommy sent me... I think every day should be a day of awareness, be it racial, cultural, environmental or personal. No, but I digress...to me APAH is two for one Panda Express for me and the lady.

EB: It seems like in the past two decades, there’s been a fairly healthy explosion in the number of Asian American movies (albeit mostly within the indie sector). With the diversification within the works of Asian-American filmmakers, do people still tag you with the “bad boys” thing? Who were the “good boys of Asian American Cinema?” Wanye Wang and Peter Wang? What do you think about the current state of Asian American film?



JM: The current shade of Asian American film is pissy wissy yellow dolloped with EXTREME neon chartreuse. I dunno what people label me as...maybe Old Bad Boy? Original BB in da house? I am still labeled as a BAD ASS and I guess to me Wayne Wang and all the Eat a Bowl Of Freckled Rice types of Asians are the good boys.

EB: Do you get the sense that the role and representations of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry are changing at all?



JM: I think M Night Shyamalan was one of the only curry-scented yellow men doing something original in the field and he totally lost it... I do like Bobby Lee and Sandra Oh as far as actors go... And right on for Justin Lin (Director) for getting inside and making H-wood films. The opportunities now for Asians are so much more plentiful than twenty years ago...time to burn the rickshaw at both ends!


from Terminal USA

EB
: Do you get much feedback or criticism about your atypical and maybe oblique way addressing Asian American identity? I’m thinking specifically of Mod Fuck Explosion, Terminal USA and Scumrock, which each seemed to approach the issue from fairly different directions.



JM: I don't get much negative feedback because in these modern times my stuff is pretty au courant. 10 or 20 years ago, I did get bad reviews. Now, I get normal feedback and I think perhaps the critics have chilled out and/or the world has gotten a lot weirder.


Mommy, Mommy, Where's My Brain?

EB: One thing I’ve heard more than once about your films (i.e. Der Elvis, Mod Fuck Explosion and Hippy Porn) is that they bait a subcultural audience and then defy their expectations. Is there a deliberate agenda to confront people’s preconceived notions with the titles?


Trailer from Mod Fuck Explosion

JM: There is a deliberate DESIRE to confront all narrow minded people who live, breathe and DIE for their COOL. I was all the asshole characters in my movies...I AM MILES MORGAN. "RED DOT DON'T PLAY ME" (from Scumrock) is a total picture of me as RECORD GEEK...UBER RECORD GEEK.


a clip from Fame Whore
 
EB: In the past you’ve been an outspoken proponent of the democratization of filmmaking that has resulted from cheaper, more accessible means of production. But as a result, it seems to me that more and more often independent films seem designed to show how well they can imitate Hollywood. On the other hand, Hollywood seems to have effectively transformed Indie film into a genre with its own set of clichés (e.g. quirky ensemble casts, hand drawn titles, &c) Where do you and other underground filmmakers fit in?  

JM: Hollywood has actually made it easier, not harder, for the freaks like me to get a deal. I feel I could get a deal tomorrow. I know I could keep making films even if I don't get one. I can make a film for 50 million or for 5 grand. There are pros and cons, but ultimately life for folks like myself is better now than in 1985 when I started out. There are so many more venues, cheap equipment, and DIY ways for all filmmakers to get their work out there.


Trailer from Scumrock

EB: In interviews, everyone always asks you about your use of music, but you’ve been in several bands yourself, right? What bands have you been in and what’s the current state of your musical endeavors?

JM: Here are some bands I've been in:

SPRAY RAY URBAN BAND (1982-83)
THE URBAN BAND (1983)
SEX DRUMS (1984-85)
ALIEN BUFFET (1985)
BIG SKID (1986-87)
HATE FAMILY (1986-87)
FURBALL (1988-1990)
NONOBOY (late 90s - I don't remember...)
DREAM CHILDREN (2006-2007)
LOW ON HIGH (1993-2009)


LOW ON HIGH is me on guitar/vox/drums and my wife/leading lady Amy Davis on bass/vox. This is where the action is right now. We have a song on a new SWISS compilation w/ folks like SKULLFLOWER as well as a full-length album coming out later this year. LOW ON HIGH also has a 4-song 7" single coming out soon in France on SHIT IN CAN RECORDS.

For Sale at all Amoeba locations and other fine stores:



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