It Just Might Work: Japanese festival in the Triad

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Sayaka & Anthony photoby Sayaka Matsuoka

It’s spring, which means the flowers are blooming and pollen is coating every inch of my car, but it also means it’s festival season. Music festivals, beer festivals, film festivals — you name it. Cities also host cultural events throughout the year that highlight different ethnicities, such as the pow wow that took place at the Reynolda House on April 11 (see page 32). As a Japanese-American, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have any Asian festivals in the Triad this time of year. While the Mosaic Festivals that have been held in Greensboro for the past couple of years are close, the kind of festival I’m envisioning is one that delves deeply into the traditional history and authenticity of Asian festivals. And with a growing population of Asians and Japanese people in particular in the Triad (thanks Honda Jet), why shouldn’t we have a festival that reflects our heritage?

When my family lived in South Carolina, I remember visiting the annual summer Bon Dance Festival in Greenville as a child and stuffing my face with takoyaki — a common Japanese festival food made of balled-up batter filled with minced octopus and green onion — and playing kingyo-sukui, a game in which you try to scoop up a goldfish without tearing your scooper. These are just a few key ingredients to a good matsuri, or festival, and they are the epitome of summer in Japan. The last one I attended was a couple years ago in downtown Charlotte called the Japanese Bon Odori Festival. Similar to the one in Greenville, Bon Odori is traditionally an event focused on the honoring of ancestors’ spirits and has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. The festival derives its name from a dance that takes place during the event. While this specific affair generally takes place in the heat of the summer, the Japanese are known for hosting several other festivals throughout the year including the Hanami festival, which takes place annually in the spring.

The Hanami festival — also known as the Cherry Blossom festival — highlights the blooming of the cherry and plum trees and prompts many people to gather in the parks to admire the lush sea of pinks and green, often setting up picnics beneath them.

While these festivals usually have a specific theme, they also celebrate the rich Japanese culture by showcasing different dances, foods, music, crafts and traditional dress. Much like the pow wow in Winston-Salem last weekend, dancers and matsuri enthusiasts dress in traditional garb like kimonos or yukatas and dance to the rhythmic beating of a Japanese drum, or taiko.

And while these may be fun events for all to join and participate, festivals like these really resonate with those that are living in homes away from home. For me, having only ever visited Japan, it’s a way to connect with my heritage in a meaningful and tangible way. For others who are immigrants, it’s a way to remember and preserve their culture and teach others about it as well. It allows us to celebrate our diversity, and with the growing number of Asians and specifically, Japanese people in the Triad, it’s about time we did more celebrating.