Cherry Blossom Time: Hello Kitty and Rally Thongs by Ben Fong-Torres
It was Cherry Blossom Festival time here in San Francisco in mid-April – the 44th such celebration in Japantown,and, once again, my buddy George Yamasaki served as the public address announcer, telling the crowds gathered along Post Street about the various contingents, floats, and dignitaries, from mayors and mayoral candidates to Hello Kitty and anime characters.
After 40 years of handling commentary duties on his own, George, an attorney and a pianist who accompanies me on my occasional singing sortieson unsuspecting audiences, asked me to sidekick. That meant reading a fewof the descriptions from the script, and dashing onto the street and doing a couple of interviews.
Mayor Ed Lee was one of them, and I wanted to ask him for the best and worst aspects of h is time in City Hall, which began in February as an interim appointment and ends when the next elected mayor takes office in January. Mayor Lee, who’s proven to be an effective and popular chief executive, waxed so rhapsodic about the “best” stuff that I gave up on the worst. Still, as we passed the VIP seats, where a bevy of beauty queens and princesses were perched, I asked, “Is the second best thing getting to walk by all these lovely women?” No, he said. But only because some of them had already dropped by City Hall for a photo op.
Later, State Sen. Leland Yee strode up to chat. We’d seen each other at various community events, including a Jerry Garcia Day concert, where he reminisced about the good old days in Berkeley. “Hey,” he said, “how come you keep looking younger and I keep looking older?” “It’s all the drugs you didn’t take,” I said. I’m so diplomatic, I should be in high office. But not too high …
Yee was one of several office-holders jockeying for position in an already crowded election for our next mayor. Supervisors David Chiu and Ross Mirkarimi and city attorney Dennis Herrera were among the others. Also doing The Wave: Supervisor Eric Mar and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting. There’s been some talk about the emergence of Asian Americans as political leaders; this parade was positive proof. Most of the dignitaries, including Japan Consul General Hiroshi Inomata, reminded the crowds of the continuing need to provide relief funds to victims of the Japan quake and tsunami.
Despite the numerous politicians, the parade had plenty of color, from dynamic taiko drummers (senior and junior ensembles), Soulit, a “funktronic” band from Tokyo, lots of pretty women, from Miss National Asia and the Cherry Blossom Queen and her court to a lovely folk dance group led by Michiya Hanayagi, who’s performed in all 44 parades. There were some awesome looking guys, too, none more eye-opening than the finale, the Taru Mikoshi. That’s a portable shrine, populated by several men dressed in traditionally scanty outfits (think sumo wrestlers) and carried along the street by a hundred strong fellows. On occasion they’d stop and rock the shrine, the men atop the story-high structure hanging on by ropes. As our script said: “The more it rocks… the more blessings will fall upon the spectators.” As I said, looking up at the barely-clothed men: “Here we see the original Rally Thong.”
No respect at all…