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Japan Festival showcases Houston's cultural interactivity

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Houston's 20th Japan festival started just after noon Saturday April 12, with welcoming speeches and performances of Taiko and dances by students of Japanese culture in local schools. Based on the enthusiastic crowds on hand as the festival opened, it seemed well on its way toward exceeding its average of 20,000 attendees. The festival takes place in Houston's Hermann Park around the reflexion pool and not far from the Japanese Garden. It showcases the art and culture of Japan through many Japanese cultural and business institutions in Houston. In addition, a significant number of non-Japanese Houstonians take a deep interest in learning about the language and culture. Several local schools such as the Kolter School and the Clements and Woodlands High School, offer Japanese language and culture programs.

A few steps toward the main stage along the reflexion pool are like a voyage in time and space. One of the first vendors I met was pop surrealist artist Lulu of Lululin demonstrated samples of their new style of works combining classic surrealism with modern images inspired by her cross-discipline studies at Rice University. and discussed her studio and website with interested patrons.

A few yards from Lululin's booth, artisan jeweler Jacquelyn Nguyen of Winding Fables of Hermann Park Drive brings a sense of exotic adventure to her craft with bracelets named “A Mermaid's Pickings”, “Kodomo,” and “Phoenix in the Snow. Ann Spencer, the “Clay Flower Lady” learned the art of making realistic clay replicas of flowers while visiting her mother in Thailand. In addition to orchids and wedding bouquets, she offered miniature Japanese trees and realistic exotic plants.

The main stage was at the end of the reflexion pool. It was the scene of the official opening ceremony and presentations of the sponsors and program. One of the first performances was a Taiko drum band, an after-school program at the Kolter Elementary School, a magnet school in Houston ISD with an emphasis on international studies. Following the Kolter school, the Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko dance troupe of Okinawa performed ritual dances symbolizing ancient Japanese legends of a mythical island and a gateway or bridge to the entire world. In a very different vein, the “Inspiration hip-hop” rapper Rocko Stedy recited three of his own works including “Brand New Year, ”encouraging community solidarity and cultural interaction. He explained his own mission of using hip-hop as a universal style to salute all cultures, having performed at the Palestinian Festival and Vietnamese Festival earlier this year. Next came students from the Clements and Woodlands High School Japanese Culture progam performed three Yosakoi Soran dances.

The Festival continued through Saturday under sunny skies with a few showers on Sunday. For more information contact the Japan American Society of Houston.

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