Enjoy culture of Japan at Kauai festival
Every year, Pearl Shimizu makes to a trip to Japan without boarding a plane or showing a passport.
She's learned a lot about her cultural heritage by helping coordinate the Matsuri Kauai festival, which takes place every September in Lihue.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 30
Place: Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, Lihue, Kauai
Admission: Free (donations accepted)
Web site: www.kauaifestivals.com
Become a member
Membership in the Kauai Japanese Cultural Society is open to anyone with an interest in Japanese culture. For information, call Pearl Shimizu at 808-822-5353 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The granddaughter of immigrant sugar plantation workers, Shimizu picked up bits and pieces about Japanese history and culture as she was growing up.
Whenever she ate mochi, her family reminded her of its special meaning. Mochi's white color stands for purity, its sticky consistency symbolizes togetherness and its round shape signifies good luck; like a mirror, life should be smooth.
Shimizu also knew that ikebana (flower arranging) and bonsai (artistically pruned potted trees) -- both magnificent in their simplicity -- are arts that require years of study and practice.
And she was aware that males always should be seated first at formal functions, from eldest to youngest, followed by females, also in descending order of age.
Working with Matsuri Kauai over the past two decades, however, has greatly broadened Shimizu's knowledge of the fine points of Japanese culture.
"I've learned about protocol when dealing with dignitaries," she says. "The order of introduction depends on their title and size of the place they represent. For example, Kauai County is small compared to Honolulu, so an official from Honolulu would have precedence over an official from Kauai."
Shimizu also can describe in detail the schools of Japanese dance, from Minyo (folk) to Noh (once reserved for the aristocracy) to Ondo (modern).
"There is a noticeable difference between the styles," she says. "For example, some have very long, flowing movements, such as moving across a stage or going around in a wide circle. Ondo dances tend to have a set pattern of maybe six steps or motions that are continually repeated. This is what you usually see at bon dances."
COURTESY THE KAUAI JAPANESE CULTURAL SOCIETY
The Matsuri Kauai festival includes cultural demonstrations where people are invited to try mochi pounding...
COURTESY THE KAUAI JAPANESE CULTURAL SOCIETY
...and participate in a traditional tea ceremony.
Part of Obon, the Festival of Souls held at Buddhist temples throughout Hawaii from June through August, the bon dance honors deceased loved ones. Buddhists believe the souls of these departed ancestors return during the Obon season to mingle with the living. It is a joyous time marked by lively dances.
Matsuri Kauai will include a bon dance open to all attendees. The dance will be accompanied by the Iwakuni style of live drumming and songs about a wide variety of subjects.
"The tempo is basically the same, but each singer sings a different type of song," Shimizu says. "Shoichi Nagamine, a well-known singer on Kauai who passed away a few years ago, would sing 'Oh, Susannah' and other cowboy songs in addition to traditional ones."
Matsuri Kauai also will feature performances by dance schools from Kauai and Oahu; displays of bonsai and sumie (ink brush painting); judo, kendo and taiko-drumming demonstrations; and samplings of noodles, manju cakes, senbei (rice crackers), sanbaizuke (pickled vegetables) and other delicacies. Origami, mochi-pounding, ikebana and the traditional tea ceremony, complete with homemade wagashi (confections), are among activities inviting hands-on participation.
Children may dress up in kimonos, hook a gift with a "fishing pole" at the Fish Pond and compete in a musubi-making contest.
The idea for Matsuri Kauai dates back to 1985, when Hawaii observed Kanyaku Imin, the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants.
Members of Kauai's Japanese community became acquainted with officials and citizens of Oshima, Kauai's sister island in Japan. The Japanese delegation enjoyed their stay so much, they accepted the invitation of then-Mayor Tony Kunimura to return the following year.
To ensure their second visit would be as memorable, Kunimura asked the Rev. Koichi Miyoshi, then affiliated with the Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe, to organize entertainment. Some of the dance and karaoke groups brought together for that purpose formed the nonprofit Kauai Japanese Cultural Society to perpetuate Japanese culture and strengthen Hawaii's bond with the people of Japan.
"Society members thought it would be a good idea to launch an annual festival so we could continue sharing Japanese culture with Kauai's residents and visitors," Shimizu says.
The event has something for everyone, she adds. "Some people really enjoy the exhibits of ikebana, bonsai and sumie, which promote peace and relaxation. Others don't want to miss the judo, kendo and taiko-drumming demonstrations, which are very energetic and exciting."
Whatever their preference, Shimizu says attendees gain a better understanding of a culture that might be very different from their own. "Many people from the mainland attend the festival and have become friends with our society members," she says. "They plan their vacations around the festival and look forward to participating in the hands-on activities."
Shimizu says she herself still has much to discover. "Every year at Matsuri Kauai, I learn at least one new thing," she says. "The festival has helped me realize the complexity and diversity of what it means to be Japanese."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.