Chicago Shimpo
Japan Festival Brings Wide Range of Japanese Culture in Chicago

• Japan Festival 2019, a large-scale celebration of Japan and its culture, was held at Millennium Park and the neighboring Chicago Cultural Center on June 16. After having been held in Arlington Heights for years, this was the first time in 23 years that the Festival moved back to downtown Chicago.

• Consul-General of Japan in Chicago Naoki Ito welcomed attendees that packed the Chase Promenade South in Millennium Park by asking “what comes to mind when you think about Japan?”
• According to Ito, a survey shows the No. 1 item is sushi, followed by “honor.” The third answer is technology.
• Ito said he hoped the wide variety of events, demonstrations and exhibits offered by the Festival would help the visitors experience all three of them, while it may encourage them to visit Japan.
• Ito thanked the work of the members of the Japan Festival Committee, volunteers, the performers and the 95 sponsors, while recognizing the effort of the Festival Committee’s co-chairman Mike Takada and Tetsuro Mitani. “Without them, all of this could not have happened,” Ito said.

• Both of the venues, Millennium Park and Chicago Cultural Center, were filled with visitors throughout the day. Mitani estimated the total number of visitors for the day at about 25,000.
• Takada said the Festival this year attracted new groups of visitors, a change from the Arlington Heights experience, who got a chance to directly experience a wide range of aspects in Japanese culture.

• Japanese drum performance by the Ho Etsu Taiko ensemble opened the outdoor programs, followed by demonstrations of Japanese archery, kendo, Okinawa music and dance, and several martial arts. Chicago-based standup comedian Saku Yanagawa and DJ Van emceed these programs.
• The audience cheered enthusiastically when transgender singer Ai Haruna was introduced as a special guest from Japan.
• The winner of the 2009 Miss International Queen, Haruna appeared on the stage in a gorgeous costume that featured colorful kimono and a long skirt. She sang three “enka” songs while interacting with the delighted audience, tossing in some English words.
• Haruna followed up her lively performance by introducing and encouraging the participants of the cosplay show on the stage.
• The outdoor stage programs concluded with performances by an anime song cover band, Awaodori dance group and Tsukasa Taiko Ensemble, as well as a judo demonstration.
• J-Taste, the food tent program for the outdoor venue, featured a variety of tasty Japanese foods from local vendors including ramen, beef bowl and sushi roll, attracting hungry tasters throughout the day. Japanese businesses were also among the tent vendors presenting their products and services.

• The Chicago Cultural Center across from Millennium Park was the venue for the indoor events.
• Popular local emcee Donna Gerlich led a series of stage performances, beginning with the Futabakai Chorus Group and Choir Futaba.
• Urasenke Chicago presented tea ceremony demonstration on the West Stage, while the East Stage featured demonstrations of flower arrangement, sumi-e/big brush painting, Japanese sweets making and kimono dressing.
• Exhibitions included the Kizuna-8 photo exhibition, “Edo/Tokyo – Seen through Its Edifices” photo exhibition, and antique kimono exhibition by Wafu Club.
• In the meantime, the Main Stage featured koto and vocal duo performance, koto group performance, traditional Japanese dance, ukulele performance, and J-POP/Japanese soul enka performance.
• Special guest Ai Haruna performed indoors just before stepping outside to Millennium Park, fascinating the audience with her powerful enka and engaging personality.
• English Rakugo performer Katsura, Sunshine came on to the stage and performed his rakugo comic storytelling. His trademark kimono costume had especially long sleeves this day. His standup rakugo talks was accompanied by big body movements and the long, hanging kimono sleeves, inducing the audience’s laughter even more.
• The two special guests attracted approximately 750 attendees when they performed.


True to Self as a Transgender, Breathing Pride and Joy
Interview with Singer Ai Haruna

• One of the special guests of Japan Festival 2019, Ai Haruna, is a successful singer from Japan.
• As a transgender, Haruna is the winner of the 2009 Miss International Queen contest held in Thailand. Also active as a TV personality, actress and entrepreneur, Haruna has been assigned as a tourism ambassador for the city of Izumo in Japan and an honorable ambassador for Korean tourism.
• On the day before Japan Festival, Haruna hosted a dinner show at Umacamon Japanese restaurant in Rolling Meadows, where her engaging performance kept the audience enchanted throughout the night.

Q: What do you think about Chicago so far?

Haruna: It’s very nice. I’ve never been to Chicago before, but people are so kind, and there are rainbow flags everywhere. The Rainbow Pride Parade will be soon, right? I saw a lot of rainbow flags on trees on my way to Schaumburg from Chicago.
• Earlier today at the event at Mitsuwa [Marketplace in Arlington Heights], people cheered when I mentioned about “rainbow pride”. It seems like a festival that everybody, not just the LGBTQ people, are looking forward to.
• I feel like Chicago is sending out a message “We can all be ourselves.” This is truly a place I want to come back to, to spend more time.

Q: You chose to live as a woman long before LGTBQ movement occurred. How difficult was it?

Haruna: Well, it certainly was. But I think people [eventually] accepted what I am as one unique individual, seeing me through the filter of my personality. I was invited to many family-oriented TV programs.
• I suppose people had a whole range of emotions about me when I came out [as a transgender] – from appreciating me to disliking me. But going forward, I want to remain active, nationally and internationally, so that I – my uniqueness – will be recognized more.
• You know, when I competed in the Miss International Queen contest [which Haruna won], I saw a Nepali contestant cry, saying: “We have no freedom in my country.”
• I’m aware that there are countries like that in the world. So my hope is, as I’m given a chance to help, to be part of the movement to turn people around [about the transgender issue] by being who I am.

Q: Is it a painful process for you?

Haruna: Sure, but in comparison, joy of living a free life is much bigger than any pain I might feel. I feel the bliss every single moment in my life now.

Q: Japan is not a society where women have a very high status. Do you have any regrets to have chosen to be a woman in that respect?

Haruna: I feel changes are occurring gradually toward appreciating women’s ability and positions in the society, but there are still some aspects of the old Japan remaining.
• As for myself, there’s no question that I gained far more as a woman than not. Joy of womanhood is endless, both physical and emotional, and I want to enjoy it to the fullest. You live only once, you know.

Q: You’ve always been interested in the world of entertainment?

Haruna: Ever since I was a child. My parents taught me how to sing enka [a form of Japanese sentimental ballad music], the old enka classics. That’s how I started, so I really thank my parents.

Q: You’ve got the musical talent on one hand and the choice to be a woman on the other. Is your current success the result of the two combined together?

Haruna: I think so. Now at the age of 47, I feel that everything important for me have finally fallen in place and started working as a whole. I’m really feeling it here in America.
• I hope to spread the elements of Japan in me by wearing a kimono costume like this [see the photo of Haruna in Japan Festival] and singing Japanese enka.

Q: Tell me about your involvement in the LGTBQ movement.

Haruna: I am involved, but I’ve never categorized myself in that term. No one is the same in this world, with his or her own unique personality. So I want everybody - men, women, transgenders, non-binary people - to live as their unique selves, outside the categories that LGTBQ stands for.

Q: Thank you very much.


Katsura, Sunshine
What does “Yoroshiku” mean?

• Traditional Japanese Rakugo Comic Storyteller Katsura, Sunshine, Native Canadian, will debut in Broadway in September. He is going to perform not only rakugo storytelling, but also a theatrical show with many different performers at the New World Stages, an off Broadway theatre. Sunshine’s dream of 25 years is finally coming true with the opening night set on September 26.
• Sunshine’s goal is running his show for six months, and then he wishes to expand it for five years, 10 years, and more. He said that he was looking forward to seeing everybody in New York in Japanese language and added, “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.”

• Japanese people often use this phrase unconsciously and never think what “Yoroshiku” means.
• Sunshine analyzed it and explained it in English on the following day of Japan Festival at Consul General’s official residence.

• He said, “I think that ‘yoroshiku’ means in English, ‘I thank you now in advance for your future kindness to me.’” His further explanation was, “Use of ‘yoroshiku’ that ties you to the future. ‘I know that in our relationship you will do some kindness to me in the future. And I’m thanking you now in advance for your future kindness,’ Beautiful words!”

• Sunshine also talked about how to say, “Thank you,” in Japanese. He said that there were 47 different ways to express gratitude in Japanese. If you go to his Broadway show, he might teach you what they are.

• 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. In 2008, he was fascinated by rakugo and entered an apprenticeship for three years under Rakugo Master Katsura, Bunshi VI.


Packed visitors at the Chase Promenade South in Millennium Park


Consul General Naoki Ito speaks about Japan’s three specific features, sushi, honor, and technology.


Transgender singer Ai Haruna attracts a big crowd with her enka (Japanese sentimental ballad music.


Katsura, Sunshine performs rakugo with his furisode kimono.


Antique kimono dresses exhibited by Wahoo Club


Visitors enjoy trying on Kimono.


Koto and Japanese music are performed by fine musicians


Tea ceremony demonstrated by Urasenke Chicago


Cosplayers display their best performance.