By MIYA IWATAKI
Join friends and fun at the Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest 10th Anniversary Celebration and Awards Program on Saturday, May 20, at 2 p.m. at JANM’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.
This year will be our first in-person event since 2019! The event will be hybrid – both in-person and virtual.
Ten years ago, the Little Tokyo Historical Society imagined a short story contest that would honor the specialness of and enhance awareness of Little Tokyo by challenging both new and experienced writers to create a story capturing the spirit and essence of Little Tokyo and the people in it. The response was positive.
The next year the contest added a Japanese-language category. The following year introduced a youth category. Discover Nikkei, a project of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), has now become a valued partner of Imagine Little Tokyo.
“Each year, this contest has challenged people to imagine a short story capturing a fictional Little Tokyo – past, present or future. To celebrate our ten-year benchmark, a one-time-only $1,000 cash prize will be awarded to the winning author in each category,” announced well-known mystery writer Naomi Hirahara, committee co-chair.
Popular stage and screen actor Tamlyn Tomita will emcee the awards ceremony. She made her screen debut in “The Karate Kid, Part II” and has had featured roles in major films such as “The Joy Luck Club,” “Picture Bride,” and “Come See the Paradise.” Her list of film credits also includes “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Tekken,” “Living Out Loud,” “Only the Brave,” “Four Rooms,” and “Gaijin 2.”
On TV, Tamlyn will be seen in Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and two more series yet to be announced. She was most recently seen in “Cobra Kai,” “Star Trek: Picard,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Man in the High Castle,” and more. She has also performed on the stage.
Tamlyn is always on the search for ways to create or balance images and stories about Asians. Keeping herself busy in an industry that has been slow to receive actors of an ethnic demographic, she is selective in the roles she chooses, steering away from images that perpetuate stereotypes.
“For our 10th anniversary, we wanted to pull out all the stops,” said Miya Iwataki, committee co-chair. “Tamlyn embodies the principles and respect we want for Little Tokyo and the JA community, and we are proud to have her host our program.”
After a lull during the pandemic, this year 139 submissions were received from writers across the United States and internationally from countries as far as India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Uganda, Pakistan, Canada, and more!
Winning Stories Brought to Life
Each year the winning stories in each category are brought to life with dramatic readings by popular actors. Theatre actor and community favorite Greg Watanabe will perform a live reading of the winning story in the adult category. Greg recently appeared on Broadway in “Allegiance.” He was also just seen in an encore performance of “Tales of Clamor”at USC’s Bing Theatre.
Other credits include Off-Broadway appearances in “Ballad of Yachiyo”and “Golden Child.” Regionally, he performed in “Cambodian Rock Band” (Victory Gardens, City Theatre, Merrimack Rep),“Romeo and Juliet” (OSF), “The Summer Moon” (A Contemporary Theater, South Coast Rep), “Extraordinary Chambers” (The Geffen Playhouse), “The Happy Ones” (South Coast Rep), and “Hold These Truths”(Virginia Stage Company). Some television credits include “Madam Secretary,” “Criminal Minds,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Reno 911.”
The committee is thrilled to have Mayumi Saco, one of Japan’s top-tier voice and theatre actresses, read the winning Japanese story. She is well-known in the Japanese market as the voice of major Hollywood talents in blockbuster films such as Scarlet Johansson in “Iron Man 2”; Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “Zero Dark Thirty”; Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya”; Emma Stone in “Battle of the Sexes”; Keira Knightleyin “The Imitation Game”; and Zazie Beetz in “Deadpool 2.”
She is also highly sought-after for her versatility in voicing characters in many popular U.S. drama series, including “Sharp Objects,”“Maniac,”“Lucifer,” “The Good Doctor,” “Sense8,” “Star Wars: Andor,” “Star Trek: Picard,” “Magnum P.I.,” and “Loki.”And, Saco has now become a known presence in the field of anime and game voice work, including“Spirited Away,” “Vinland Saga,” “Go! Princess PreCure,” “Blade of the Immortal,” “Ghost of Tsushima,” and “Resident Evil 6.”
The winning Youth story will be read by Mika Dyo. She is a Japanese American theatre artist and storyteller, dedicated to amplifying the voices of silenced communities. She recently played Sue Hasegawa in the 2022 film “No No Girl,”for which she won Best Actress-Feature at the Austin Revolution Film Festival. She recently received a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from Cal State Long Beach and hopes to continue to share stories of the Japanese American community. She is grateful for the love and support of her family.
Every story submission is read by experienced readers who discuss and forward the top submissions to an esteemed panel of judges. The judges for the Adult Category featured:
Iris Yamashita, Academy Award-nominated writer for “Letters from Iwo Jima” (directed by Clint Eastwood). “Letters”received a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay. Her debut novel, “City Under One Roof,” the first in a mystery series, was just released in January and has received early acclaim with Iris being hailed as “a major new talent” by Publishers Weekly.
Renowned actress and playwright Jeanne Sakata, who was most recently featured in Anna Deavere Smith’s acclaimed play “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” at the Mark Taper Forum of the Center Theatre Group. She is recognized for her celebrated solo play “Hold These Truths,” the gripping story of Gordon Hirabayashi’s fight against World War II incarceration based on the principles of the Constitution.
Alden Hayashi, a Sansei born and raised in Honolulu now living in Boston. After writing about science, technology and business for more than 30 years, Alden has recently begun writing fiction to preserve stories of the Nikkei experience. His first novel, “Two Nails, One Love,” was published by Black Rose Writing in 2021.
Youth judges were:
Eloise Wong of The Linda Lindas. In May 2021 the L.A. Public Library posted a video of The Linda Lindas playing “Racist, Sexist Boy” at a “TEENtastic Tuesday” event. The song was about anti-Asian hate based on an experience their drummer had when a schoolmate made racist comment during the COVID pandemic. The video became a viral social media hit.
On May 22, Epitaph Records announced they had signed The Linda Lindas. The next month, the band made their late-night TV debut on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Their album was released later in the year. This year The Linda Lindas performed at the 22nd Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
And it all began when Kevin Awakuni, also a Youth Category judge, brought The Linda Lindas in to perform at the Los Angeles Public Library. Kevin is the current lead librarian/coordinator for the L.A. Made series, and in the Exploration and Creativity Department of the L.A. Public Library.
The third youth judge is Kathryn Otoshi, a children’s book author famous for her series “One, Zero, and Two,” which speaks out against bullying. She is also an illustrator. Her latest book is ”Calling the Wind,” based on the “wind telephone” in Japan — an unconnected telephone booth in Iwate Prefecture where visitors can hold one-way conversations with deceased loved ones.
All three youth judges reflect a sensibility to issues on the minds of young people today.
The Japanese-language judge’s panel has three prominent members:
Yuko Kaifu, president of Japan House Los Angeles, who began her career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in Japan, working in various departments and countries. She moved to L.A. to work with the Consulate General of Japan. In 2007 she became JANM’s vice president of international programs, then in 2016 became president of Japan House, a public diplomacy institution launched by MOFA. She serves on many international boards and cultural institutions in Southern California.
Keiko Fukuda, born in Oita, Japan, worked for a publishing company after graduating from International Christian University. She moved to the U.S. in 1992 and became the chief editor of a Japanese community magazine. She is currently a freelance writer, doing articles and interviews for Japanese and U.S. magazines. Fukuda is the author of “Nihon ni Uramete” (Born in Japan), published by Hankyu Communications.
Born in Osaka, judge Mitsuyasu Sakai got his master’s degree at Kansai University and began working as an engineer and writing articles about science fiction novels and movies as a critic. He became a full-time writer for TV anime shows, then began work as script writer and SFX supervisor for shows from “Outlaw Star” to “Star Wars: Visions.”He studied movie/TV production at USC School of Cinematic Arts and produced his first short film funded through crowdfunding.
Free Event — Register Now
Budding writers, book lovers, poets, community – all are welcome! The Imagine Little Tokyo 10th Anniversary event will be a vibrant celebration of Little Tokyo, its history, its culture, and those who love it. The talent, commitment and heart put into this program make it a “can’t miss” event. Join us for community and conversation. Register today by going to the JANM website at www.janm.org and going to the events page to register free for the in-person or virtual RSVP. Or click on https://www.janm.org/events/2023-05-20/10th-annual-imagine-little-tokyo-short-story-contest-awards-ceremony