Metro-East Living

New acts are part of this year’s Japanese Festival

Japanese Festival sneak peek at Okinawan drum, dance troupe

The St. Louis Okinawa Kenjinkai, which preserves Okinawan culture, sent its Eisa group, Luck, to perform Tuesday at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville. They will perform during all three days of the Japanese Festival this weekend at the M
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The St. Louis Okinawa Kenjinkai, which preserves Okinawan culture, sent its Eisa group, Luck, to perform Tuesday at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville. They will perform during all three days of the Japanese Festival this weekend at the M

What do Japanese swords, music, drama, kabuki and modern dance, comedy and martial arts have in common?

All are performed by Samurai Sword Soul, a New York theater company that will appear at this weekend’s Japanese Festival at Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

“Our technique is based on traditional sword fighting in Japan,” said founder Yoshi Amao, a Japanese actor who moved to the United States in 1990.

Yoshi started the company 13 years ago and now travels all over the country with performers who wear kimonos, hakamas (skirt-like trousers), masks and headpieces.

This is the largest Japanese festival in the United States, both in terms of attendance and the breadth of the program.

Dave Lowry on the Japanese Festival

Live or recorded music includes a shamisen (Japanese guitar), fue (flute) and djembe (drum).

The company’s mission is “to spread the Bushido, the way of the samurai, and to introduce tate (Japanese sword stage fighting) to people who are not familiar with it,” according to its website.

Also new at the festival is a Pokemon scavenger hunt and performance by Luck Eisa, a high-energy group from Okinawa, Japan, that combines dancing and drumming.

The Japanese Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Admission is $15 for ages 13 and older and $5 for ages 3-12 (discounts for garden members).

“It’s a celebration and showcase of Japanese culture put on by local Japanese organizations,” said Adam Jascheck, senior events coordinator. “It centers around our Japanese Garden, which is really one of a kind.”

Back by popular demand are taiko drumming, kimono fashion shows, music and dance performances, Shinto shrine parades and children’s games, crafts and storytelling.

Experts will demonstrate cooking, martial arts, bonsai, ice sculpture, origami, top spinning, calligraphy, pottery making, ikebana (flower arranging) and amezaiku (candy art).

The festival’s main sponsor is the Japanese Activities Committee. Chairman Dave Lowry’s favorite activity is the taiko drumming.

“That’s the biggest draw,” he said. “It’s incredibly exciting. It’s loud, and it’s rhythmic.”

Dave traces the festival’s history back to the end of World War II. St. Louis was more welcoming than some cities when Japanese-Americans were released from internment camps.

Dave gave the example of Washington University, which invited the former prisoners to study at its dentistry school.

Japanese-Americans held early festivals in church basements and parking lots.

“Washington University hosted one of them, and 40 years ago, the garden started doing it,” Dave said. “We’ve been there ever since.”

After most festival activities end this weekend, Missouri Botanical Garden will be open until 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for candlelight walks. The anime movie “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” will be shown at 8 p.m.

Evening lantern ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday will allow people to bid farewell to deceased loved ones by inscribing names on lanterns and floating them out on the lake.

More than 40,000 people are expected to attend this year’s festival.

“This is the largest Japanese festival in the United States, both in terms of attendance and the breadth of the program,” Dave said.

At a glance

  • What: Japanese Festival
  • Where: Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd. in St. Louis
  • When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.
  • Extended hours: Grounds will be open at 9 a.m. daily and until 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  • Admission: $15 for ages 13 and older and $5 for ages 3-12 ($5 for garden members and free for their children)
  • Information: Call 314-577-5100 or visit www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
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