Summer Festivals in the United States Celebrate Japanese Culture
by Katie Kailus and Daniel Gallant for Arts Japan 2020, July 2017
Across the United States, a variety of August and September festivals celebrate Japanese culture and traditions. If you’re intrigued by Japanese art, cuisine, dance, music, holiday ceremonies or animation, you’ll find much to enjoy at these festive events, which span the map from Philadelphia to Honolulu.
Nisei Week is an annual festival that celebrates Japanese and Japanese-American culture in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood. This year, Nisei Week will happen between August 19-27th. Highlights include a parade; the World Gyoza Eating Championship (in which competitors attempt to break the existing record - 384 Gyoza eaten in 10 minutes); exhibits of bonsai, calligraphy and Ikebana; Ondo street dancing; and martial arts demonstrations.
Since 1982, the Okinawan Festival in Honolulu has celebrated culture from Okinawa, the southernmost district of Japan. On September 2nd and 3rd, festival-goers can enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine, take in live performances, view demonstrations of flower arranging and visit booths that showcase Okinawan, Japanese and Hawaiian culture.
The 44th Annual Nihonmachi Street Fair takes place on August 5th and 6th in San Francisco’s historic Japantown. The fair features a wide range of musical and spoken word performances, visual art, a car show, food tastings and community service opportunities. Musical performances run the gamut from Taiko to hip-hop, salsa, rock, and jazz.
From August 11-13th, Chicago’s Ginza Holiday Festival offers attendees traditional Japanese food, Minyo folk dancing, Taiko drumming and demonstrations of Judo, Kendo and Aikido. The festival also features a marketplace of goods created by the Waza, a federation of Japanese artisans whose handcrafting traditions date back to Japan’s Edo period. The marketplace includes handmade works of pottery, kimono fabric, cut glass and Ichimatsu dolls.
American fans of anime have multiple festivals to choose from this summer and early autumn, including Washington, D.C.’s Otakon, Liberty City Anime Fest in Manhattan, the Anime Village at JapanFest Atlanta and Mecha Con in New Orleans. In addition to screenings, panels and exhibits about the popular Japanese style of animation, these anime festivals feature scavenger hunts, cosplay, musical performances, fashion shows and Japanese food. A complete list of upcoming Anime festivals in the United States can be found here.
On August 19th and 20th, Rockford, Illinois’ Anderson Japanese Gardens hosts its annual Japanese Summer Festival, which features a tea ceremony, traditional dance performances, martial arts presentations, Japanese sword performance, hands-on origami demonstration and children’s games.
The JapanFes organization hosts festival events in New York City throughout the year, including a street fair (on August 27th) and its popular semi-annual Ramen Contest (on September 16 and 17), during which ramen shops from multiple U.S. and Japanese cities hold competitive tastings, and spectators crown a winner. Music, dance and live painting events complement the ramen festivities.
On September 17, Albuquerque’s annual New Mexico Aki Matsuri Festival celebrates the city’s vibrant Japanese community. This event boasts traditional music performances, martial arts displays and Japanese cuisine as well as cosplay and a car show.
Many Japanese summer festivals are held in correlation with Obon — a Buddhist holiday that honors the spirits of ancestors. During the month of August, Charlotte, San Diego, Philadelphia, Oakland and St. Paul are among the U.S. cities in which Obon festivals will happen. These events feature live music, food, drink, martial arts demonstrations, lantern-lighting ceremonies and Bon Odori, a traditional dance that welcomes the spirits of the dead and celebrates the memory of ancestors. For more details about the history of Obon celebrations in America, see this article from Discover Nikkei.
Enjoy the festival season, and share pictures and video from your favorite Japanese festival events with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
44th Annual Nihonmachi Street Fair
San Francisco, CA
Ginza Holiday Festival
Japanese Summer Festival
Anderson Japanese Gardens
Los Angeles, CA
Aki Matsuri Festival
New York, NY
Anime Village at JapanFest Atlanta
New Orleans, LA
Liberty City Anime Con
New York, NY