NEW YORK (AP) -- People of Japanese descent are gearing up for their first-ever parade in New York City, taking their place among the lineup of groups that celebrate their heritage with marches through the United States' most populous city.
Set for May 14, the Japan Day parade comes amid activism following a wave of anti-Asian attacks during the coronavirus pandemic, and solidarity is part of the parade's message. But planning began well before the emergence of COVID-19.
Organizers initially aimed to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but the virus postponed their plans.
"That creates big momentum to make it better, to celebrate the recovery from the pandemic, as well as appreciation from the Japanese community to the city of New York," Ambassador Mikio Mori, the Japanese consul-general in New York, said at a press preview Wednesday.
The parade stands to boost visibility for the New York metropolitan area's Japanese and Japanese American community. At roughly 56,000, the New York area has the nation's fourth-largest Japanese population, behind those of Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.
There has been a Japan Day festival in Central Park for some years, but organizers felt they could reach more people by bringing it onto the streets.
Counting more than 1,700 participants, the parade of dance troupes, music ensembles, martial arts groups and more is set to proceed along Manhattan's Central Park West, a boulevard also used in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Actor, author and activist George Takei will be the grand marshal.
Tak Furumoto, for one, is looking forward to it all.
Born in a California camp where people of Japanese descent were incarcerated during World War II, Furumoto grew up partly in Hiroshima -- where his grandparents had survived the United States' atom bomb in 1945 -- and partly in Los Angeles. He joined the U.S. Army, fought in Vietnam and dealt for years with post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange, he said.
"We have overcome so many difficulties ... to bridge the gap between Japan and the United States," said Furumoto, who now runs a real estate agency. The parade "brings out that us Asian Americans are a very vital and important part of New York."