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Chicago Shimpo
2017 Japan Festival
Showcases Everything Japanese

Japan Festival took place on June 3 and 4 at the Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights. Strings of red lanterns and tanabata kazari (huge ornaments for Star Festival), which had been carried from the Los Angeles Tanabata Festival, gave a zest for the festival atmosphere.

During the opening ceremony, Consul General Naoki Ito, who saw all the different aspects of Japanese culture in the festival venue for the first time, said that Japan Festival was, “the largest showcase of Japan in the Midwest. You have everything from Japanese music, traditional arts, martial arts to cosplay. The two-day event is packed with Japanese culture and food.”

He also said that the festival represents the effort of “Bridging Cultures and Building Friendship,” and an opportunity for Japanese communities to get together to make a meaningful impact on deepening the relationship with local people.

Carol Blackwood, Trustee and President Pro Tem of the Village of Arlington Heights, recalled a strong environment of Japanese culture in Seattle where she grew up. She said that she had been missing it until Mitsuwa Marketplace opened in the Village and talked about Mitsuwa’s impact, which has brought a number of people from the Midwest to Arlington Heights.

Welcoming the Japanese community and Japan Festival, Blackwood said, “This is the type of event that brings our cultures and community together and makes us stronger, makes us having memories that we can carry throughout our lives. Arigato, (Thank you.)”

Japan Festival opened with national anthems of Japan and the U.S., sung by Hisashi Shoji, followed by Soran dance performances by the students of Futabakai Japanese Day School.
Jazz pianist Senri Oe made a surprise appearance and played a piece “Kumamoto” in support of the earthquake-hit area.

At the Field House, kyudo, aikido, kendo, awaodori dance, taiko drumming, iaido, karate, kids dance, shinkendo, and judo were demonstrated one after another.

In the theatre, chorus, ukulele performance, Okinawa taiko drumming, violin and vocal duo, cosplay contest, koto music, flute and violin duo, music performance, taiko drumming, flamenco dance, Japanese classical dance, and Tohoku resilience report were presented. As a special guest, Mari Iijima, singer/songwriter and former anime voice actress, performed.

In the Board Room, tea ceremonies were demonstrated by the Urasenke Chicago Association.

In the Exhibition Room, shodo (Japanese calligraphy), origami, ikebana (flower arrangements), Japanese swards, bonsai, violin making processes, programs and services by the Japan-related organizations were introduced.

At the hallway, kimono dressing, samurai armor try-on, fruit and vegetable carvings, Japanese business displays were presented.

In the marketplace adjacent to the Field House, Japanese flavored accessories, crafts, arts, collectibles, flowers, kimono dresses, ceramics, and more things were sold to the visitors.

The children’s corner offered yo-yo-fishing and goldfish fishing. Nostalgic Japanese snacks and toys attracted not only kids but also adults.

Japanese food is one of the most anticipated treats at the festival every year. This year, ramen noodles, takoyaki, shoyu-butter corns, lunch boxes, sukiyaki bowls, yakisoba, teriyaki burgers, and beef and chicken skewers were on the menu. To comply with the food regulations, a huge refrigerator truck stood by near the food booths throughout the festival.

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Japan Festival has been hosted by the Chicago Japanese American Council, consisting of 12 Japanese and Japanese American organizations, since last year. About 5,000 people visited the two-day event last year, but the attendance was lower this year. The total number of visitors has not been released yet.

Japan Festival was started in the early 1980s by the Chicago Japanese American Association. It was one of Chicago Botanic Garden’s most popular events for a long time. After the Association was closed, the Chicago Japanese Club (then Mid America Japanese Club) took over the event and moved the festival to Arlington Heights in 2005 due to an extensive renovation in the Botanic Garden.

For many years, the CJC mainly hosted the festival, and the JCCC and other organizations helped the CJC. The CJC and the JCCC co-hosted the festival in 2014 and 2015, and the festival was held at the Arlington International Race Course in 2015 for the first time.