by Gordon Y.K. Pang / firstname.lastname@example.org
Some kids see firefighters or doctors in action and want to grow up to do the same.
As a 5-year-old, Nelson Fujio observed the Military Day Parade at Ala Moana Park and wanted to start his own parade.
Fujio — who headed the Honolulu City Lights Electric Light Parade from its inception in 1991, founded the Honolulu Festival and coordinated a number of other parades and college bowl game halftime shows — died Feb. 9 in Honolulu. The “Parade Man,” as he was known, was 64.
Carol Costa, Honolulu City Lights coordinator from 1985 to 2004, said Fujio was the unseen coordinator of most parades staged on Oahu in recent decades. At one point Fujio was coordinating nine parades a year including the Hula Bowl and Aloha Festival parades, Costa said. His family persuaded him to scale back to three.
Fujio dreamed of working at Disneyland, but as the eldest son in a traditional Japanese family, he instead was tasked with helping carry on his family’s business, Auto Fender Clinic in Kakaako, wife Diane Fujio said.
So he channeled his passion by helping out local parades.
His greatest joy came from walking the routes of the parades he coordinated and seeing “miles of smiles,” she said. “That was his true paycheck.”
Fujio traveled to Japan to learn about the significance of the “mikoshi,” small portable shrines, which led him to establish the Honolulu Festival and expand the Pan-Pacific Festival, now in its 35th year.
Ellen Pelissero, former executive director of the Aloha Week Festivals, said it was the Fujios who first asked to volunteer with the celebration in the 1980s. When she became head of the Aloha Week group and found that it was in debt, Fujio was instrumental in persuading key businesses to make the donations that saved it from going under, Pelissero said.
Pelissero compared running a parade to being ringmaster of a three-ring circus. “It’s crazy most of the time, and the clock is ticking down and deadlines are looming,” she said. “And for the Aloha Week Parades, the ‘sea of calm’ in the center was always its ringmaster, Nelson Fujio.”
Costa said she first met Fujio when the late Mayor Frank Fasi asked her to create a homecoming parade for military personnel returning from Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
“Everyone said, ‘Get Nelson Fujio,'” Costa said. With only two months’ preparation time and Fujio’s help, the parade featured more than 100 military units, she said.
Later that year Fujio suggested that Costa add an evening parade of decorated city work vehicles to the opening-night festivities for Honolulu City Lights. From there Fujio and veteran city employee Eddie Oi began a tradition that continues each first Saturday of December.
Fujio and the volunteers on his Electric Light Parade committee not only put together the event, but also took great pride in designing and building the Santa float that closed out each year’s march through downtown Honolulu. Fujio proclaimed the 2013 Santa float his best effort, she said.
“I was sad to hear of the passing of Nelson Fujio, affectionately known as the Parade Man,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement. “He was passionate about parades, and he gave generously of his time and expertise to make sure that the city’s parades were successful.”
Aside from wife Diane, Fujio is survived by sons Patrick and Neal, brother Alton and sisters Gloria Osumi and Candace Kawakami.
Services will be held March 4 at 6 p.m. at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. He will be inurned at Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin.