In honor of Veterans Day, the Covenant Ballet Theatre of Brooklyn is paying tribute to World War II Japanese Americans veterans with a two-week free online viewing of “The Nisei Project,” from Friday, Nov. 11 until Friday, Nov. 25 at 9 p.m. ET, airing on its website ( and the Covenant Ballet Theatre’s YouTube channel. 

The narrative ballet was conceived and choreographed by CBT founder and artistic director Marla Hirokawa, in honor of her late father and veterans from the World War II Japanese American segregated units of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. 

The ballet tells the story of a young Japanese American boy whose happy multicultural upbringing is shattered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II and finds himself caught between two worlds.

Covenant Ballet Theatre is hosting a free online viewing of “The Nisei Project” until Friday, Nov. 25. (Photo courtesy of Covenant Ballet Theatre)

Hirokawa’s choreography is performed by Japanese and American performers and fuses traditional ballet technique with swing, jazz and modern contemporary dance and utilizes the traditional narrative ballet form to create a tale that ranges in emotional scenes facing discrimination and separation to intense, action-packed battle scenes.

Hirokawa was born and raised in Hilo and studied at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa for two years before transferring to the University of California in Irvine, where she received a degree in dance. Upon graduation, Hirokawa settled in Brooklyn and opened Covenant Ballet Theatre in 1987, with the belief that serious ballet education combined with maximum inclusion is needed to advance the ballet art form, train youth and improve the lives of those within its embrace. 

“The Nisei Project” was created in 2001 and was performed in O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Maui and Hawai‘i island in 2003. In the final scene of each performance, living U.S. veterans are brought on stage to be honored and thanked. While the “The Nisei Project” toured the islands, over 200 Nisei and other veterans were honored during its two-week tour. Through the CBT’s educational component of the project, over 2,000 youths experienced dance for the first time and learned about their state and country’s history. 

In 2014, the ballet was restaged for the New York International Fringe Festival and featured a six-piece band, including traditional Japanese koto and shakuhachi instruments and a revised score with ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro’s “Go For Broke” composition and multi-platinum singer-songwriter Harold Payne’s song, “Quiet Heroes.” 

“Bringing this story to the stage was extremely personal and emotional for me,” says Hirokawa. “I hope that all who view it experience and embrace the impact of this legacy. Being able to share this ballet is a way I feel CBT can give back to the community. 

For more information, please visit To view the free showing of “The Nisei Project,” please visit or visit the Covenant Ballet Theatre’s YouTube page and click on “The Nisei Project.” 


Abstract art is not for everybody – or perhaps more accurately stated, it is not appreciated by everybody – and Maui-born Nisei artist Tadashi Sato experienced that mixed reaction from the public firsthand when his commissioned mural for the War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku, Maui, was unveiled in October 1963.

Some considered the 65-foot oil on canvas painting titled “Build Thee More Stately Mansions” an artistic triumph. Others thought the work unsuitable for public art paid for with taxpayer monies. One newspaper headline from this time in history read, “Mauians Puzzled by War Memorial Mural.” Although abstract art had existed for decades by this time, many in the public were unaccustomed to understanding or appreciating this innovative artform. The disagreement triggered a statewide public art controversy, but the mural remained in place until it had to be taken down in 2002 due to water damage. Sato cut out salvageable pieces of the mural and composed them into a display, playing on the theme of fragmentation. Sato died on Maui in June 2005 at the age of 82.

“Tadashi Sato: Atomic Abstraction in the Fiftieth State, 1954–1963” exhibit on display at The Art Gallery at UH Mänoa until Sunday, Dec. 4. (Photo by Kevin Kawamoto)

Today the public can view selections from the mural that Sato salvaged in an exhibition of Sato’s work at The Art Gallery at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa until Sunday, Dec. 4. Called, “Tadashi Sato: Atomic Abstraction in the Fiftieth State, 1954–1963,” the exhibition “examines the work of Tadashi Sato (1923–2005), one of the most significant and visible Hawai‘i-born painters of the twentieth century,” according to the gallery’s press release. Sato was a World War II veteran, having served in the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. His artistic career evolved in New York City and Honolulu, where he met other Asian American artists – some of whose works are also displayed at the UH Art Gallery. These other artists include Bumpei Akaji, Satoru Abe and Sueko Kimura.

According to the art gallery’s publicity information, this is the first major exhibition of Sato’s works in over twenty years and “features never-before-seen artworks and archival materials to demonstrate that Sato’s painting was the site of significant and ongoing public conversations in Hawai‘i pitting abstraction against representation, debating the value of public art and speculating on which audiences would be for art in the new state of Hawai‘i.” Perhaps Sato’s best-known work is Aquarius (1969), the 36-foot glass mosaic at the heart of the Hawai‘i State Capitol.

Also on the UH Mänoa campus in the John Young Museum of Art is an exhibition called, “The Graphic Works of Tetsuo Ochikubo, 1956-1970,” which also runs until Sunday, Dec. 4. Waipahu-born Ochikubo (1923-1975), who, like Sato, served in the 442nd RCT during World War II, worked with various artistic mediums, but this exhibition focuses exclusively on this printmaking and is the first solo exhibition in almost 50 years, featuring a selection of previously unexhibited documents. He worked with a type of printing process called lithography and taught the process to students in both New York and Hawai‘i. He was among the founders of modern art in Hawai‘i and, like Sato, became nationally and internationally recognized for his artistic achievements along with their contemporaries Akaji, Abe and Kimura mentioned above, as well as Harry Tsuchidana, Jerry Okimoto, Edmund Chung, James Park, Toshiko Takaezu and the pioneering Hawai‘i-born Japanese American artist Isami Doi who served as both mentor and inspiration to many up-and-coming Asian American artists of their generation.

The Art Gallery at UH Mänoa, 2535 McCarthy Mall, Rm 141, open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, winter break and state holidays. Free admission. John Young Museum of Art at UH Mänoa, 2500 Dole St., open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and holidays. Free admission. 

-Written by Kevin Kawamoto


The Chrysanthemum Festival is returning after a two-year absence to share Japanese culture and fund scholarships and the historical preservation programs of its sponsor, Maui’s Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans. 

The annual event was created in 1953 as the Chrysanthemum Ball, a ballroom-dance affair, by the Maui AJA Veterans Inc. as a way to fund its community service in areas such as youth sports and scholarships.

The festival will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Kihei Community Center. Exhibits and entertainment will start at 4:30 p.m. with dinner at 6 p.m. and the program to follow at 7 p.m. During the program, court members and their escorts will perform two dances choreographed by ballroom dance instructors Jeffrey and Lydia Dela Cruz. Four Maui high school teens are vying for the crown of the 68th Chrysanthemum Festival – the queen is the contestant who raises the most money through ticket sales. Proceeds from the festival support the Sons and Daughters’ historical preservation projects, which are done for the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center and the Maui Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans/Maui AJA Veterans Scholarship Program. This year’s contestants are: 

Chrysanthemum Festival contestants (clockwise from top right): Kaitlin Kitagawa, Ava Takahama, Emi Sado, Brie-Ann Fukutomi. (Photos by Nagamine Photo Studio)

  • Brie-Ann Fukutomi, a sophomore at Baldwin High School, daughter of Daryl and Dawn Fukutomi of Wailuku.
  • Kaitlin Kitagawa, a senior at King Kekaulike High School, daughter of Kathy Suzuki-Kitagawa and Glen Kitagawa of Makawao.
  • Emi Sado, a junior at Maui High School, daughter of Kristina Toshikiyo and Michael Sado of Kahului.
  • Ava Takahama, a junior at Kamehameha Schools Maui, daughter of David and Michelle Takahama of Makawao.

Contestants also represent the Sons and Daughters and the NVMC at various events throughout the year.

Admission to the festival is free; and tickets to the dinner are $15. For ticket or event information or to contribute to a contestant’s efforts, call Leonard Oka at 808-249-2163 or 808-385-7670.


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