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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Life + Arts

Culture shared in annual city festival


Houston’s 18th annual Japan Festival took place this weekend and attracted a record-breaking 25,000 patrons. The festival is modeled after Japanese traditions and was organized by several Japanese organizations throughout Houston. | Nine Nguyen/The Daily Cougar

Houstonians had an opportunity to connect with a distant culture as the city hosted the 18th annual Japanese festival Saturday and Sunday at Herman Park.

Boasting a diverse array of activities, foods and shows all celebrating Japanese traditions, the festival has been a window into a foreign culture that many residents of the Houston area know little to nothing about.

In previous years, the festival brought in nearly 20,000 visitors and garnered a number of accolades, including Houston Press’ “Best Festival In Houston” award for 2009. This year, the organizers estimated that the event had its biggest turnout ever, as the two-day festival brought in nearly 25,000 people.

The festival is a collaborative effort between four groups: the Japan Business Association of Houston, the Japanese Association of Greater Houston, the Japanese American Citizens League, Houston Chapter, and the Japan-America society of Houston.

Gary Nakamura, the president of the Japanese American Citizens League in Houston, said that though his group only became sponsors with the festival in the past five years, he’s felt a strong sense of community with the event and feels that it’s a great opportunity for the city to build up foreign relations.

“This festival is a way to spread Japanese culture and let Houstonians know more about other countries,” Nakamura said. “It’s a great way to get to know about Japan, learn new stuff, and build appreciation as part of the outreach.”

Daniel H. Watanabe, a US–Japan relations consultant and a past president of both the Japan-America Society of Houston and the JACL, agreed that it was a way to promote better relations between the two countries, but also explained that the origins of the event has roots in old Japanese traditions.

Villages in Japan usually held festivals celebrating important seasonal events, such as harvest time or the blooming of the cherry blossoms, and the Japanese festival here in Houston follows in that same tradition.

“It’s a time for people to all come out. Some festivals had religious basis, but here we wanted to demonstrate the kind of things that would happen at a typical village festival,” Watanabe said. “It’s a family festival, with all the children’s games. And the turnout so far is overwhelming. We’re getting larger each time with an increase in participants.”

“There is a very important US and Japanese relationship. Financial, commercial, trading — we probably have one of the strongest connections of all countries allied with the US. We want to maintain and improve that relationship. Japan is a strong ally and a partner, and we want to maintain a stronger understanding between the two countries,” Watanabe said.

A large part of the festival was dedicated to garnering support for Japanese relief efforts as well. Watanabe said that the festival almost didn’t happen because of the disaster.

“Right now, it’s supposed to be a somber time to commemorate the dead,” said Watanabe. “But we had a huge opportunity to help out with the Japan relief. It’s important that we increase our fundraising efforts to help with the large costs of the disaster.”


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