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J-TOWN BEAT: The Pokemon Ondo


(Published June 24, 2017)

Hello Obon season! There are seasons here in the Japanese American community and now it’s time for the don-don-don! of the taiko drums, bingo games and the tastes of grilled corn, Okinawan dango and udon.

Many folks, like my friends Meg and Dennis Igarashi, will be Obon-hopping throughout SoCal for the next couple months. Fresh from dancing at the Valley Obon, the first of the season, they shared a video of the “Pokemon Ondo” that looks like a lot of fun. From what I could tell, the dancers turn in circles and waddle around like Pikachu.

Christine Inouye, the choreographer extraordinaire at the Valley Japanese Community Center, said she chose the dance because her grandsons are really into collecting Pokemon. If you want to see the dance, Inouye has posted it on the Valley’s Facebook page along with other photos and videos from last weekend.

Christine Inouye

“I thought it would be fun for all the kids to have a dance just for them,” Inouye said. “I saw kids jump into the dance circle and everyone seemed like they were having fun so I was happy with my decision.”

It makes me think of the different styles of Obon dancers: the teachers and elders who are graceful and stately, the kids who embellish their moves with enthusiastic jumps and cheers, the groups in matching happi coats and folks like me who try to muddle through as best we can.

Obon is such a uniquely Japanese American tradition. Some dances have been passed down for generations, others like Nobuko Miyamoto’s “Mottainai” are the beginnings of new traditions. If you always dance to “Tanko Bushi,” there might also be some Bruno Mars or Pharrell Williams thrown into the mix. Each Obon festival is different.

Illustration by Gwen Muranaka

Grounding all of this is the sense of reverence, spirituality and loss. Since I lost my sister earlier this year, that sentiment rings truer than ever. Loved ones are gone, but the memories remain and they live on within us. I think a community like this one, that has lost so much and yet remains unbowed and unbroken, can understand this mixture of profound joy and sadness.

So it’s time once again to see old friends, eat some great food and enjoy a little dancing, either within the circle or watching from the outside. It’s that welcoming spirit of it all that makes the return of Obon something to look forward to every year.


A big thank you to everyone who sent names and congratulatory ads for our Celebrate issue which came out earlier this week. It truly is a massive team effort here at The Rafu and that extends out to the community as well. As it was stated in the edition, we are still accepting more names for publication in an upcoming edition.

I never knew the origins of the graduation issue, a tradition that goes back at least six decades, until reading Ellen Endo’s story. For a newspaper and a community just getting back on its feet after the incarceration, it was clear that the future would be determined by the success of its children. The celebration of Nikkei success is very much ingrained in the DNA of The Rafu.

Looking at back issues from the 1980s, we found a front page headline proclaiming the newest batch of high school Ephebians and collegiate Phi Beta Kappas, As a nerdy student, I remember wanting to have my name included in The Rafu’s honor roll. Now as a worker bee here at the paper, I can only marvel at all the work it took to compile and publish the listing.

Unfortunately, schools do not provide Ephebian and Phi Beta listings or contacts, as they once provided in years past. But it seems as long as there is a Rafu we will be doing our darndest to recognize the achievements of outstanding Japanese Americans.

* * *

So a brief tidbit on my almond duck quest. I heard from a few readers who also have fond memories of the Cantonese dish. I was lucky to sample a few bites of almond duck from Fu Sing, a new Chinese restaurant in Torrance that is following in the footsteps of the gone-but-not-forgotten Tin Sing Restaurant in Gardena.

It was delicious. The almond duck had large almond halves and a sprinkling of green onion on top, and morsels of duck within the breaded cube. I also enjoyed the gravy, which was hearty and also tasted of duck.

Hopefully we will be able to go there, order a full meal, and perhaps do a write-up in The Rafu. I’m sure my dad, the true almond duck aficionado, will want to give it a try.

Gwen Muranaka, English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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