The 54th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival’s theme is Kizuna – Strength through Bonds of Community and Friendship. The 2021 Festival gave us the opportunity to celebrate the kizuna spirit with our Festival partners, cultural performers and exhibitors, nonprofit organizations, and community and corporate supporters. In lieu of the Grand Parade, the Festival’s Executive and Organizing Committees will present a special finale presentation, “What Kizuna Means to Me” on 2021 Virtual Festival Day 4.

We invited the yosakoi teams of Kazanami (華鎖波) Yosakoi Dance Showcase to share their thoughts on our 2021 Festival theme, by describing how they apply kizuna in their personal lives and in their local communities. We also asked our Bay Area yosakoi groups, Ito Yosakoi in San Francisco and Uzumaru in San Jose, to share how they support our respective Japantowns. Please visit both Japantowns to shop and dine in their small businesses, and volunteer for nonprofit organizations especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, so we may preserve the culture and heritage of our Japantowns for generations to come.

Q: What does kizuna mean to you?
Komainu Yosakoi Lyon こまいぬよさこいリヨン

Tiphanie Dejean, team leader of Komainu Yosakoi Lyon writes:
Usually, Kizuna (絆) represents the strong bond that ties people together through a shared passion. But recently, its meaning has reached new heights; it doesn’t simply mean connection between people but refers to a new kind of energy, or impetus. Connecting people from all over the world is now necessary to keep our passion alive and to spread positivity and happiness. By joining this event, we really want to help support the Japan lovers community and encourage all the event organisers to keep going. You’re not alone, and we’re not alone. We will get through this and emerge even greater than before!

Ito Yosakoi 糸よさこい

Daniel Rolandi, team leader of Ito Yosakoi writes:
I grew up in a place that seemed diverse at face value but in reality, people hung out or spent time with people in pockets — whether it’s people of the same ethnicity, same religion, same political alignment, etc. But looking back, I realize there were specific circles of people where those attributes no longer matter and those were contexts where people devoted their time and energy into working on or training something together — specifically, these were martial arts, choir groups, science competitions, and card games.

Thus to me, those were the moments of kizuna, bonds, can manifest in its purest form. It’s when people are laser-focused on improving themselves or others, or producing work of the highest quality.

Hopefully through our yosakoi activities, we can provide opportunities for yosakoi practitioners to connect and even yosakoi fans to bond together from their audience seats, wherever they are.

Jeremy Chan, sub leader of Ito Yosakoi writes:
I feel a deep sense of gratitude to Japantown and the Japanese American community for cultivating such a welcoming space that has supported me both personally and professionally. I founded Ito Yosakoi as a way to give back and support Japantown. Our name Ito (糸 thread) comes from the bonds woven together between members in a community. I have felt that sense of interconnectedness not only in how people in the Japanese American community support each other, but also how they support and advocate for other communities.

Shirley Omori, dancer of Ito Yosakoi writes:
I am participating from San Diego with Ito Yosakoi, part of Kazanami. Kizuna means meeting new friends from around the states on Zoom and sharing the joy of dance with not only local communities but other communities as well. Ito Yosakoi has been invited to participate in a matsuri at UC San Diego virtually. The potential to join with others is amazing. I also joined the Center since I am taking Ito Yosakoi lessons. It has been meaningful to me to be able to connect with others virtually during this pandemic.

Pikes Peak Yosakoi Ōbirin パイクス・ピークよさこい桜美輪

Laura Powell and Anna-marie Pico, team leaders of Pikes Peak Yosakoi Ōbirin write:
Kizuna (bonds) along with the activities of Kazanami are important to us, because they are connecting everyone throughout the country and internationally. Through this bond it’s as if we have nakama (fellow comrades) all over the world we can learn from, visit, and perform together. We feel that kizuna built through Kazanami provides a platform for different people in different areas to have a reason to come together. This is the best antidote to a pandemic.

Uzumaru 渦丸

Anna, sub leader of Uzumaru writes:
私にとって絆の意味は、楽しいことも悲しいこと共有できる結びつき。 To me, “kizuna” means having a connection/relationship where we can share happy things and sad things. [Translated by Ito Yosakoi]

A dancer of Uzumaru writes:
コロナがある中で生きていかなければならない、祭りも沢山の人が集まるので、ステージの上に出る側と見てくださるお客様、そして運営してくださる方、全ての方が楽しみたいと言う気持ちを一つに絆を結んでつくあげていきたいなと思います。そんな意味での絆! Even during this time where we have to live with Coronavirus, people gather at events and festivals to enjoy themselves and have fun. I want to take all those feelings from the audience who watch the stage, the organizers, and everyone else and make a bond with each other. That’s the meaning of “kizuna!” [Translated by Ito Yosakoi]

Mikako Kanazawa, dancer of Uzumaru writes:
In whatever generation or time, “kizuna” is important. If we lose “kizuna,” then we cannot have world peace. [Translated by Ito Yosakoi]

Ito Yosakoi hosted “CasaNomi,” a social gathering for Kazanami on Zoom with Uzumaru 渦丸, 10tecomai Yosakoi Dance Project, Tatsumaki Yosakoi, and MinnesoDance in March 2021
Q: Share how you support Japantown, such as supporting small businesses or volunteering for nonprofit organizations.
Ito Yosakoi 糸よさこい

Anish Thakkar, dancer of Ito Yosakoi writes:
When I lived in San Francisco, it was clear how the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn affected neighborhoods like Japantown. While the threat of the virus – especially since I work with elderly patients – compelled me to stay inside, I also had a strong desire to give back to the community. This led to me volunteering on a semi-regular basis at Kimochi Nutrition & Hot Meals Program. Prepping and handing off meals to seniors in the Japantown community was a fulfilling experience, and I was able to get out of my own head through service. It was bittersweet leaving San Francisco for Los Angeles, but I’m hoping to find similar opportunities to give back in Little Tokyo!

Daniel Rolandi, team leader of Ito Yosakoi writes:
Since 2017, Ito Yosakoi has been fortunate to be invited to several festivals and events around Japantown, such as the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, Nihonmachi Street Fair, Osaka Matsuri, Children’s Day, and so on. By providing entertainment to such festivals, we help attract foot traffic and thus more potential patrons to local restaurants and businesses.

Thus giving my best to organizing and dancing in Ito Yosakoi, it indirectly supports San Francisco Japantown, haha!

Some things more direct are when I eat or shop at Japantown, attend community meetings such as the redesign of the Peace Plaza meetings, Japantown Cultural District meetings, etc.

Jeremy Chan, sub leader of Ito Yosakoi writes:
I currently serve on the board of the Japantown Task Force and the National Japanese American Historical Society, and I also serve on the organizing committee for Japantown for Justice. As part of my roles in these organizations, I have advocated during the Board of Supervisors meetings for measures that protect Japantown’s small businesses.

As a former Nikkei Community Internship intern for the National Japanese American Historical Society, I led cultural and historical walking tours of Japantown, and I continued to volunteer with NJAHS to lead these tours. In Spring 2019, I also gave a tour to visiting Kazanami teams so they could learn more about Japantown. Most recently, I gave a tour for the California College of the Arts design students who are working on a Japantown urban design project.

Jeremy Chan of Ito Yosakoi leads a San Francisco Japantown walking tour for visiting yosakoi teams during the 2019 Festival
Uzumaru 渦丸

Anna, sub leader of Uzumaru writes:
Dined at restaurants, sharing on social media (about the dining experience). [Translated by Ito Yosakoi]

A dancer of Uzumaru writes:
Japantownで買い物をする!! そしてInstagramなどに楽しいところだと言うことをシェアしてきました!
Shopping at Japantown!! And then sharing on Instagram and others about what an interesting place Japantown is. [Translated by Ito Yosakoi]

Mikako Kanazawa, dancer of Uzumaru writes:
レストランで食事(to go)
Shopping at shops, getting takeout from restaurants. I can’t do much aside from putting money into the community, but I think I’ll do whatever I can. [Translated by Ito Yosakoi]

We look forward to two virtual programs for 2021 Virtual Festival Day 4 on Sunday, April 18th, including the 2021 Kazanami Yosakoi Dance Showcase, followed by What Kizuna Means to Me.