Chicago Shimpo
Japan Festival Makes Second Largest Success
Featuring Okinawan Culture and English Rakugo

• Japan Festival was held on June 2 and 3 at the Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights. With pleasant weather and the temperature in the upper 70s, more than 7,400 visitors enjoyed a variety of Japanese culture in the two-day event. The number of participants marked the second largest since the festival was moved to the Northwest area from Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

• This year, Okinawa’s culture was featured. Bright colors of Okinawa crafts and goods, which were displayed in the hallway, welcomed the visitors. Food samples from Okinawa such as Chinsukoh cookies, brown sugar, and plum candies were served to the visitors.

• Paper cutout artist Hyakkimaru’s works were displayed on the walls of the Field House. Samurai and women’s figures, which were 6.5 to 13 feet high, dazzled the visitors. Many of them asked him his autograph on a hand towel, which was imprinted on one of his works.
• More than 800 of his works have been used for book covers in Japan, and he has created more than 10,000 illustrations for books, magazines, and newspapers. He is going to have a solo exhibition in New York in July.

• The walls were also decorated by huge Tanabata (Star Festival) ornaments, which were prepared by the Los Angeles Tanabata Matsuri and brought to Arlington Heights by Ryo Sato. The biggest ornament was an award-winning piece from Sendai in Japan, where an annual ornament competition was held. Sato, gold medalist of 1980 Culinary Olympics, has devoted himself to introduce Tanabata ornaments to the world and has held workshops in South Africa, Dubai, and other places.

• In the opening ceremony, Naoki Ito, Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, thanked the Chicago Japanese American Council, the host of the festival, and its 12 umbrella organizations and volunteers for their hard work that enabled the festival to be held.
• CG Ito said in his remarks that 3,346 Japanese nationals lived in Arlington Heights and neighboring communities of Schaumberg and Hoffman Estates. The number exceeds the Japanese population of 2,663 in the city of Chicago, and the Japanese concentration in the three communities was the highest in his jurisdiction of 10 states.
• He emphasized Okinawa and rakugo story teller Katsura Sunshine as highlights of the Japan Festival, saying that Okinawa had attracted 9 million sightseers in 2017 to see Okinawa’s unique and colorful culture. He also said that it was a rare opportunity to see traditional rakugo performance in English. Katsura Sunshine is a native of Canada and entered an apprenticeship under famous rakugo master, Katrura Bunshi in Osaka.

• Carol Blackwood, Trustee of the Village of Arlington Heights, welcomed Japan Festival and said that the students and their parents of her neighboring high school were on the way to the festival because last year’s dances and taiko drumming were wonderful.
• She also said that she appreciated being a partner with the Japanese community not only for cultural factors but also economic aspects. “I look forward to seeing more and more people in our community enjoying this wonderful event,” she said.

• Japan Festival opened with national anthems of Japan and the U.S., sung by Hisashi Shoji, followed by Soran dance performances by the students of Futabakai Japanese Day School.

• At the Field House, kyudo, iaido, shinkendo, kendo, aikido, taiko drummings, karate, and judo were demonstrated one after another.

• In the theatre, awaodori, taiko drumming, chorus, Japanese traditional dance, music concerts, cosplay contest, koto music, ukulele, and flamenco dances were performed.

• In the Board Room, tea ceremonies were demonstrated by the Urasenke Chicago Association.

• In the Exhibition Room, shodo (Japanese calligraphy), origami, ikebana (flower arrangements), Japanese swards, bonsai, violin making processes, programs and services by the Japan-related organizations were introduced.

• At the hallway, samurai armor try-on, fruit and vegetable carvings, and some others were presented.

• In the marketplace adjacent to the Field House, Japanese flavored accessories, crafts, arts, collectibles, ceramics, and more things were sold to the visitors.

• The children’s corner offered yo-yo-fishing and goldfish fishing. Nostalgic Japanese snacks and toys attracted not only kids but also adults.

• Japanese food is one of the most anticipated treats at the festival every year. This year, cold noodles, takoyaki, lunch boxes, burgers, and hot dogs were on the menu.

• Okinawa’s traditional folk music and dances were featured at the Field House on the second day of the festival, and the audience filled every seat of the venue.
• About 20 musicians with sanshin instruments (three string instrument), guitars, violins, and ukuleles played traditional and new pieces of music related to Okinawa. A 30-minute showcase opened with a dance “Kagiyadefu”, which was performed in celebrating occasions followed by a karate demonstration making a contrast with the elegant dance. More than 30 children performed energetic Eisah dance while they were beating hand-held drums. The next was a dance “Yotsudake” with gorgeous costumes and colorful head gears, and the dance was performed with a new song “Umi no Koe (voice of Ocean) sung by a member of the Okinawa community. The finale was a lion dance; red and gold lions vividly ran on the stage, and even climbed up the aisles of the bleachers to greet the audience. The finale of the finale was, of course, “Kachāshī”.

• The entire showcase was directed by Yasuhide Uezu, President of “Ryujindensetsu (Legend of the Dragon King)” in Okinawa. He said that he wanted to make the show like a narrative scroll, which described a series of Okinawan culture in one place.
• He also said that all the performance was done by people in the Chicago area. At the beginning, only five or six sanshin players were playing music, but parents saw that their children were practicing Eisah hard and were moved to bring their musical instruments to join the sanshin group.
• “We made a huge success, and I would like to talk about it to the children and adults in Okinawa. I want to make the island of Okinawa as a place where every Okinawan in the world would have pride in.

Rakugo Performance by Sunshine

• Katsura Sunshine’s rakugo performance was held on the evening of the first day of the festival, and the theatre was a full house with 400 people. He wittily picked some Japanese habits, which most Japanese people don’t pay attention to, and made people laugh. For example, when you sit on tatami matt or floor in the seiza style, you bend your knees and put your hip on your legs. It is a formal way of sitting in Japan, and Sunshine has to do it when he talks about rakugo stories. He said, “English translation of seiza is ‘punishment.’”
• Japanese often say “nen no tame” unconsciously. It would be the same as “just in case” in English. When Japanese take a photo, they take an additional shot and say “nen no tame,” The odds of such a behavior are 100 percent.
• After he made the audience relax, he began to talk about a story of a boy, whose name was extremely long. He repeated the boy’s name in an amazing speed, and the audience sent him big applause and cheers.

Interview with Katsura Sunshine

• Katsura Sunshine studied classics at the University of Toronto. He is the founder and Artistic Director of the Ancient Comic Opera Company, and wrote a musical version of Aristophanes’ Clouds, which ran for 14 months in Canada.
• His interests in noh and kabuki led him to visit Japan in 1999. Some years later, he was fascinated by rakugo and entered an apprenticeship for three years under Rakugo Master Katsura Bunshi VI.

Q: Could you tell us your current activities?

• Sunshine: I moved to New York last year and have been planning a long run at off Broadway.
• It would be a solo performance at about a 200-seat theatre to introduce Japanese performing arts little by little. For example, I have a close relationship with performers of the Awaji Ningyo Joruri Puppet in Japan. We have performed abroad together, so I would like to invite them when a theater is available. An old proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Q: Did you have other overseas tours?

• Sunshine: Last year in the fall, I performed rakugo for three weeks in London’s Leicester Square Theatre, then three weeks in New York off Broadway at SoHo Playhouse. Now I live in New York and looking for a theatre.

Q: You mean that you are not going to perform in Japan?

• Sunshine: Yes, I do. I’m going to go to Japan next week, so I may be spreading my time between Tokyo and New York, but my main project now is New York.

Q: You are wearing a very nice kimono.

• Sunshine: I started kimono fashion designing, and this kimono is my original design.
• I have been longing for women’s furisode (long-sleeve-kimono dresses) for a long time and thought why men cannot wear a furisode, so I broke a kimono rule and made my own furisode.
• A significance of this kimono is a zipper, which is installed in the arm line, so you can make different sleeves and change them to match your feeling of the day. It’s made of denim, and I’m thinking of many other designs.
• Of course, I wear a formal silk kimono with our rakugo family crest. I wear this kind of “western kimono” in a party or going shopping.

Q: Thank you very much.

Children carry "mikoshi" at Japan Festival 2018.

Carol Blackwood, Trustee of the Village of Arlington Heights, attends a tea ceremony at Japan Festival.

Katsura Sunshine shows his original design of kimono.