Spring festival celebrates Japanese culture

Flora Wong
Staff Writer

Families from neighboring cities came together for Monterey Park’s 20th Cherry Blossom Festival April 8 at Barnes Park.

Hundreds of people filled the park, surrounded by blush pink cherry blossom trees and green scenery in celebration of the festival.

Held every April, the festival coincides with the National Annual Cherry Blossom Festival held in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo in 1912.

“The goal is to showcase Japanese culture all at no cost to the public through a variety of traditional performances, demonstrations and crafting activities,” said Karen Ogawa, Cherry Blossom Festival Committee chairwoman.

The 2017 festival was organized by community volunteers, mainly teenagers, who manage each activity at the festival from food court, to demonstratives to kids’ crafts.

The event also featured special guests from Japanese backgrounds, showcasing their accomplishments in American culture in entertainment, news, and politics.

Special guests were Akira Chiba, consul general of Japan, and event emcee Rodney Kageyama, an accomplished actor who has appeared in films such as “The Next Karate Kid” and “Pretty Woman.”

More than 25 community and commercial booths such as tour programs, bible schools and recruitment organizations were also featured.

Performances showcased traditional Japanese dance and music, along with an educational introduction.

The performances were introduced by Mark Keppel High School’s pep band playing popular songs, including “Bang Bang,” “Ex’s and Oh’s” and “Seven Nation Army.”

The performances highlighted festival drums, vocalists, classical dances, creative martial arts, and music from traditional instruments such as the Okinawan three-string lute.

Vendors from jewelers, art organizations and after school programs taught families how to customize jewelry, make origami cranes and stuffed animals out of old socks.

“The purpose of the commercial booths were to offer opportunities to parents and their children,” said Gwen Kishida, the director of craft, commercial and community booths of the festival. “This established relationships with other organizations as well. Many of them sponsor the event.”

The food court offered a variety of Japanese cuisine such as takoyaki, a traditional Japanese snack with ball-shaped fried octopus cooked in a special takoyaki pan, dango, a Japanese dumpling made from rice flour and imagawayaki, a Japanese batter dessert filled with sweet bean paste.

People were able to support next year’s festival by entering in a raffle of $2 for a chance to win cash, restaurant gift cards, salon and car wash gift certificates.

Jenny Kikuta from Arcadia, a supporter of the festival for three years, won the 38 Degrees Ale House and Grill restaurant certificate.

“My family and I have been coming to the annual festival for three years I believe. My family is Japanese and we thoroughly enjoy the festivities it offers,” Kikuta said. “There is a sense of belonging and a feeling of home.”

Flora Wong can be reached at yuenyuen.wong@laverne.edu.

Flora Wong

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