Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Japanese Festival, St.Louis, Missouri

We arrived in St.Louis last Friday, and plan to stay here for three weeks. It was hard to take the triple digit temperatures on Friday and Saturday, especially when we thought back to the cool temperatures we had up north in the past two months. Fortunately a cool front moved in Sunday. It was a great day to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Japanese Festival. The festival was explained in Friday's Post Dispatch.  According to the article the organizer of the festival, Ed Shimamoto, started up the festival about 35 years ago. He and his family had been in an internment camp in 1944 in Arkansas. When the war ended he and his family and others traveled to St.Louis for work. Shimamoto is quoted in the article that the Japanese Festival was conceived "as our thanks to St.Louis for being so welcoming".  The festival is now one of the largest and oldest in the nation. It is a celebration of Japanese food, music, art, gardening, and martial arts. There is something for everyone to see and do over the three days it is held. Our visit started in the Ridgway Visitor Center where we toured displays of Bonsai and Ikebana. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging, using flowers and other natural materials. Below is an example of Ikebana. Origami cranes decorate the wall next to the display. Bamboo  for the flower arrangement came from the garden.
From the visitor's center of the garden we headed over to the Japanese Garden to observe Bon Odori, which is the summer festival dancing. As we came into that area of the garden we saw the Koinobori, or koi windsock display. Japanese revere the carp for their endurance when swimming in strong currents.
The Buddhist festival of Odon celebrates the return of the spirits of the dead to Earth. This ritual has evolved into bon odori, a dance that marks the end of summer. The dancers wear colorful kimonos and sandals.
In the picture above the dancers are waving fans, which are a prop for the particular dance which they are performing. There is a taiko drum on the elevated stage above the dancers, it is used to set the beat. In the evening we were treated to a taiko concert. Years ago Japanese drums were beaten to fool invading armies into believing a formidable opposition was on the march. The sound is thus quite loud and the movement of the drummers as they beat the drums looks something akin to martial arts. Some of the songs, however, were less traditional with modern music and dance. A bamboo flute sometimes was also played with the drums. It was quite an unusual musical experience for John and I! There is much, much more to the Japanese festival which I have not covered here. We hope to come back another year and give ourselves more time to take everything in. It certainly is a total cultural immersion into everything Japanese.

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