By J.T. Buccheit
For 18 years, Kansas City has been host to the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival. Previously held at UMKC, the festival, which is hosted by the Heart of America – Japan America Society, now takes place at this college and occurs every September or October to showcase and celebrate every facet of Japanese culture.
This year’s festival is taking place Saturday, Oct. 3.
“[The festival] is a cultural festival for Japan,” said International Education Coordinator Janette Jasperson, who is a member of the festival committee. “So they have food, there’s workshops, musical performances, bonsai for sale and bonsai how-to workshops. There’s a whole floor of anime. Just Japanese culture.”
The festival originated at UMKC in 1997. The idea was proposed by Tatsuo Tanaka, the Consul General of Japan in Kansas City.
“Kansas City had a consulate for 25 years,” said Fran Lowery, former executive director of the festival. “…In the late 90s, Mr. Tanaka said, ‘We don’t have a Japan festival in Kansas City. I would like to see the local groups start one.’ So he got some of the Japanese people and the Japan America Society people together, and they started a festival at UMKC … Then UMKC came to the group and said, ‘We are not going to be able to have your festival for the next two years because we’re going to redo the buildings where you held it.’ So we went to Johnson County Community College and asked if they’d be interested in hosting the festival, and they said, ‘Oh yes, we’d love to work with you.’ So it got started because of one man: Consul General Tanaka.”
There are a variety of events that take place at the Japan festival. Some activities, such as bonsai, are very hands-on and appeal to those who enjoy arts and crafts.
“With bonsai, somehow they prune plants and make them really teeny-tiny and very beautiful,” said Jasperson. “People who make their living by bonsai are here. They have their wares and all their bonsai plants set out on a big table. You can buy them, you can look at them, and then they do workshops for people who would like to be able to bonsai themselves.”
If attendees are looking for an alternative to the variety of hands-on activities at the festival, performance events ranging from dancing to martial arts demonstrations to samurai performances will be taking place in Yardley Hall and Polsky Theatre.
“The performances is Polsky are more kind of ‘local talent,’ ” said Jasperson. “And then the performances in Yardley Hall are the more ‘big names.’ … Denver Taiko comes every year. Taiko is drumming, and they are very impressive.”
In addition to participating in activities and watching performances, there are many exhibits at the festival that reflect Japanese culture and tradition.
“They have a kimono exhibit, they have a doll exhibit, a candy artist actually makes Japanese beautiful, beautiful candy,” said Jasperson. “The Cultural Village is for small children to go and play … there’s a tea ceremony, which is very Japanese-cultured that you can go observe. You can practice Japanese language, your pronunciation, how to read it. Kanji is writing Japanese … so there really is all the different facets of Japanese society. If people come, they’ll get a little flavor of not only what that is, but they’ll also get how-to lessons.”
The festival will take place at the Carlsen Center from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. For more information about the festival, or to purchase tickets, visit kcjapanfestival.org.