Once again Houstonians were blessed with beautiful weather for the weekend of the 19th Annual Japan Festival in Hermann Park. In addition to the sunshine, booths offering up Japanese culture and cuisine, local and international entertainers and many dressed in yukata or donning popular Japanese character garb all added to the festive atmosphere.
Appropriately the theme of this year’s festival 和 (Wa) is a character which means harmony, peace and Japan. With the festival opening in March, the one year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, this year’s festival was seen as a way to honor the victims of the tragedy while at the same time appreciating Houston’s encouragement and support shown to Japan over the past year.
Consul-General Jota Yamamoto of Japan gave welcoming remarks at the Opening Ceremony on Saturday, March 31. (link) He congratulated the Japan Festival Committee and recognized the supporting organizations, most notably the Japan-America Society of Houston. Consul-General Yamamoto announced the 40th year anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Chiba and Houston as well as the Centennial Anniversary of the gifting of cherry blossom trees from Japan to the United States. Consul-General Yamamoto presented the Honorable Mayor Pro Tempore Edward Gonzales with a plaque to the City of Houston in commemoration of the cherry blossom centennial and announced the planned planting of twenty cherry blossom saplings in Hermann Park.
Highlights on main stage this year included a performance from professional shamisen player, Sho Asano who came to Houston from Tokyo, Japan. On Mr. Asano’s second appearance in Houston, he delighted the audience with his skill playing both traditional folk songs from northern Japan and mixing it up with familiar American tunes including Sing Sing Sing and Deep in the Heart of Texas. The shamisen played by Mr. Asano was made of the pillar of his childhood home which was destroyed by the March earthquake. Hiroko Suehiro, a master calligrapher “sho artist” also traveled from Japan to Houston for the festival. Ms. Suehiro shared with Houstonians her passion for Japanese calligraphy in a live demonstration. Well-loved local groups including Kaminari Taiko and Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko also gave spectacular performances.
In addition to main stage performances, festival attendees enjoyed martial arts demonstrations and booths highlighting many aspects of Japanese culture. Ikebana arrangements, origami and paper crafts, Japanese storytelling, face painting and yukata try-on are a few examples. The Houston Chronicle reported that over 25,000 guests attended and Japan-America Society Executive Director Shree Kurlekar declared the festival a huge success.
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