Annual Festival Returns to Carry Legacy of Late Vice President of Academic Affairs

The Student Services Square is lined with rows of plastic blue chairs and a dispersed audience awaiting the start of El Camino College’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

Opposite those seated is a podium and a group of students waiting in their own chairs to perform their haikus. The taiko drum group sets up their instruments.

Overhead are thick gray clouds that look set to open and rain. Airplanes fly overhead through the threatening weather, rumbling through the skies and drowning out the chatter of festival-goers.

Professors and administrators talk to each other while students laugh at each other’s jokes. A photographer makes his rounds as people leaf through their programs or circle the Japanese snack table.

Some people sit down with their friends or family, while others recognize themselves after working from home for two years. With the return of the festival, eager audiences await the start of the 20th annual festival.

Associate Dean of Humanities Scott Kushigemachi speaks at El Camino College’s 20th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival on Thursday, March 31. (Katie O’Brien | The Union)

Along with haiku readings and free Japanese snacks, a taiko band, Mujo Dream Flight, speeches from a few El Camino administrators, and a memorial plaque dedicated to Nadine Ishitani Hata.

Hata was vice president of academic affairs at the college that launched the annual festival with the help of the American Honda Motor Company, which donated cherry blossoms to the campus.

President Brenda Thames had many people to thank besides Hata, such as Donald Hata who usually speaks to honor his late wife but was unable to attend the festival at the last minute.

President Thames speaks at the 20th Annual El Camino College Cherry Blossom Festival at Student Services Plaza on Thursday, March 31.
President Thames speaks at the 20th Annual El Camino College Cherry Blossom Festival at Student Services Plaza on Thursday, March 31.

“I would also like to thank the El Camino College Staff and Student Diversity Office, the Humanities Division, the Foundation for sponsoring today’s celebration, and I would like to give special thanks to Scott Kushigemachi for his leadership in organizing this incredible event today,” said Tamise.

Associate Dean of Humanities Scott Kushigemachi invited Mujo Flight Dream, a taiko group that plays Japanese percussion instruments like drums, to perform at the festival.

The taiko group consists of Maxyn Leitner, a 28-year-old computer science graduate student, Yeeman “ManMan” Mui, a 36-year-old full-time taiko artist, and 38-year-old Sasen Cain.

“Asked about Cherry Blossom festivals, the first words that came to [the group’s] the spirits were: rebirth, gratitude and bursting,” Kushigemachi said.

The band describes itself as a mix of independent projects from each of the members.

“Mui founded a band called ‘Mujo’, I founded a band called ‘Dream Team,’ and ‘Flight’ represents Maxyn,” Cain said.

The group explained that they “play taiko all over the world,” especially members like Mui, who immigrated to America nearly 10 years ago from Hong Kong.

But although they performed all over the world, their performance at the festival was their “first performance as an ensemble” despite having performed together for years, Cain said.

Mujō Dream Flight performing their taiko performance at the Cherry Blossom Festival at El Camino College Student Services Plaza on Thursday, March 31.  The taiko group consists of Maxyn Leitner, a 28-year-old computer science graduate student, Yeeman
Mujō Dream Flight performing their taiko performance at the Cherry Blossom Festival at El Camino College Student Services Plaza on Thursday, March 31. The taiko group consists of Maxyn Leitner, a 28-year-old computer science graduate student, Yeeman “ManMan” Mui, a 36-year-old full-time taiko artist, and 38-year-old Sasen Cain. (Charlie Chen | The Syndicate)

Mui said the word “Mujo” means flow without judgment, they grew up with the concept and “channeled it into taiko because taiko and movement are impermanent”.

Mui currently teaches taiko lessons at Asano Taiko US in Torrance while Leitner and Cain made a five-song taiko video album titled “Facing Grief”.

During the event, students of Associate English Professor Rhea Lewitzki performed haiku poetry performances on the theme of “Seasons Reflection,” which explores how each student experiences the different seasons.

Associate English teacher Rhea Lewitzki's students present their haiku readings at the El Camino Cherry Blossom Festival on Thursday, March 31.  (Katie O'Brien | The Union)
Students of Associate English Professor Rhea Lewitzki present their haiku readings at the El Camino Cherry Blossom Festival on Thursday, March 31. (Katie O’Brien | The Union)

Kyree Thompson, a 20-year-old English student, had fun reading ‘Highschool Shade’, a spring-themed haiku about ‘pink roses, the smell of grass and a day after ‘school when you’re waiting to get picked up.’

Kyree Thompson poses with her certificate at the El Camino College Cherry Blossom Festival on Thursday, March 31.  Thompson was also awarded for his haiku readings.
Kyree Thompson poses with her certificate at the El Camino College Cherry Blossom Festival on Thursday, March 31. Thompson was rewarded for his haiku readings. (Katie O’Brien | The Union)

Kayla Stephansson, a 19-year-old undeclared major, said she felt a bit nervous and excited while reading the haikus.

Stephansson said the two haikus were about “a time in your life where you’re dealing with different emotions and different people.”

Kayla Stephansson poses with her festival certificate Thursday, March 31 after the festival wraps up.  Stephansson received the certificate for his haiku reading.
Kayla Stephansson poses with her festival certificate Thursday, March 31 after the festival wraps up. Stephansson received the certificate for his haiku reading. (Katie O’Brien | The Union)

For the final moments of the event, a memorial plaque was dedicated to the late Hata as those who knew the former vice president for academic affairs spoke about how unforgettable she is.

The current plaque is a temporary placeholder for a permanent plaque coming soon, as it is located under a cherry blossom tree near the communications building.

Today, El Camino has Hata’s presence to thank for the founding and tradition of the festival, as the support of students, classmates, artists and colleagues for each other keeps its own legacy alive.

With the festival returning after two years of COVID, eager audiences watch performances, such as Mujo Dream Flight's taiko drum performance, from the 20th annual festival.
With the festival returning after two years of COVID, eager audiences watch performances, such as Mujo Dream Flight’s taiko drum performance, from the 20th annual festival. (Katie O’Brien | The Union)

Angela Simon, a psychology professor for more than 20 years and a former colleague of Hata’s, said “tireless” was Hata’s favorite word of all time.

“Nadine is probably El Camino College’s most tireless warrior of all time,” Simon said.

Kevin E. Boling