Japan Day Parade 2024 Delights Thousands Along Central Park West

Konichiwa! was the call to all attendees of the 3rd Annual event, with jovial Ambassador Mikio Mori dressed as a shogun.

| 15 May 2024 | 02:57

Central Park West came alive with the joyous sight of Rising Sun flags, kimonos, Japanese fans, drummers and much more May 11 during the third annual Japan Day Parade. The weather for the event was mostly delightful, a bit windy, perhaps, with temperatures in the 50s, but the bright skies brought a warm glow to thousands of participants and spectators alike.

Wait, what’s that? You didn’t know there was a Japan Day Parade? If so, you’re not alone. Because of the event’s youth and its relatively small footprint—the parade’s line of march went south “only” from West 81st to West 67th Streets—the festivities are easier to miss than the major midtown parades, with their many road closures, heavy police presence and media attention.

The roots of the Japan Day Parade do go back, however, to May 2007, when Motoatsu Sakurai, then the Ambassador and Consul General of Japan in New York, organized an event called Japan Day @ Central Park. Created to highlight Japanese culture, history and art, and sponsored by New York’s prideful, dynamic Japanese business community, the event ran for thirteen years, through 2019. In its later years, there was also a popular running event attached, the Japan Day 4 Mile Run.

Derailed by COVID in 2020, and done remotely the next year, all that pent up energy hit the streets in 2022, when an estimated 2,400 participants and 20,000 spectators came out for the inaugural parade, and its associated street fair. The 2023 event was even more successful, with NYPD crowd estimates nearing 50,000.

In a statement promoting this year’s parade, and its theme of “Japan-U.S. Relations Blossoming This Spring,” Japanese ambassador Mikio Mori stated, “When I walk the streets of New York City, I am struck with all the ways our cultures mix. I see children playing Nintendo while commuters rush to work in Japanese cars, and office workers eating sushi for lunch. I see anime fans catching up on their favorite shows while they wait for the LIRR in Grand Central Station beside Yayoi Kusama’s mosaic. Indeed, all of these Japanese influences on New York have contributed to a rising interest in Japan in the United States.”

This interest is a two-way street too. Japanese newspaper giant, Yomiuri Shimbun has an office here, and their English language site, The Japan News (www.japannews.yomiuri.co.jp) includes a monthly “Letter from New York” column by Lower East Side-native Jacob Margolies, who is also the company’s General Counsel for America. If largely unknown to outsiders, it’s among the hidden gems of city journalism.

Internationally renowned New York-based artist and muralist, Stephen “ESPO” Powers is also making waves in Japan. Best known for his large-scale public art projects (the giant red and white painted “I Want To Thank You” sign on the south side of Pier 40 in Hudson River Park is one current example), Powers was invited by Japanese admirers to open a gallery and store in Tokyo. Named—naturally—ESPOKYO (www.espokyo.jp), it’s quickly became a hot spot the city’s Shibayu district.

Asked if ESPOKYO might someday participate in the Japan Day Parade, Powers good naturedly replied, “If called, we will serve.”

This year’s parade proper was preceded by some ceremonial introductions at the grandstand between 70th and 71st Streets. Hosted by Sandra Endo, news correspondent of KTVV Fox 11 television in Los Angeles, it began with a performance by Japanese drum group, Soh Daiko, which was followed by the U.S. and Japanese national anthems, performed by Sonya Balsara (presently playing Jasmine in Broadway’s Aladdin) and New York-based soprano Hirona Amamiya, respectively.

The introduction of this year’s Grand Marshal, Paralympic tennis champion Shingo Kunieda came next, after which came remarks by Ambassador Mikio Mori, and Koichi Yamaguchi, President and CEO of the America’s for the Sojitz Corporation, one of the parade’s major sponsors.

A variety of proclamations followed. Representing the city and state were Edward Memelstein, of the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, on behalf of Mayor Adams; Sibu S. Nair, Deputy Director of Asian-American Affairs, on behalf of Governor Hochul; New York State Assembly members Liz Kreuger, Linda Rosenthal, and Ron Kim; and a notably enthused Council Member Gale Brewer. From Japan, Yamaguchi city Mayor Kazuki Ito cut a striking figure in in a Japanese cloak-type dress.

Among the parade highlights: the crisp march of NYPD Asian Jade Society followed by always stirring NYPD Police Band; the giant Japanese flag carried by the Hunter College Japanese program and some delighted children; Ambassador Miko dressed “Shogun”-style waving from a white convertible; the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York, rousing all with their bright costumery, coordinated movements and intermittent chanting.

World Seido Karate also impressed, especially when they were pausing to give the crowd examples of their takedown moves; as did the black robe-clad, bamboo sword carrying members of New York City kendo club, whose mere presence inspired one to seize the day like a samurai— even if, for many, that mostly meant seizing some sushi, dumplings or noodles with chopsticks over at the street fair on 72nd Street.