Chicago Shimpo
Bon Dancing Festival at Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights

• The sound of taiko drums, the aroma of food, and the thrill of games drew thousands of people to Mitsuwa Bon Odori Summer Festival in Arlington Heights on August 3.

• This year, yakisoba, takoyaki, cool ramen noodle, curry and rice, corn dogs, spam musubi, and more food attracted the visitors. On a hot summer day, a long line was formed in front of the shaved ice booth.

• The visitors were entertained by the performances of Tsukasa Taiko, Okinawa Kenjinkai, Shidokan Karate, and more. Many fun games, such as ramune drinking competition and corn peeling race, were held at the center stage, and the challengers and the visitors squealed together for joy.

• An awaited event of Bon Dancing started at around 7 p.m., and many yukata (summer kimono)-clad visitors made circles around the festival tower and danced. The members of Wakayagi Shiyukai demonstrated the dance, and the visitors followed them.

People in the Festival

• Beautiful yukata-clad Christina Wolf and Valena McKel were enjoying the festival with their friend Yuki Cheng. They have worked in a Japanese company near Mitsuwa where they often have a lunch together.
• Wolf lived in Osaka and Gunma Prefecture for three years in total. She went to Osaka as a student then became an English teacher in Gunma.
• She said, “I love Japan.” There was no doubt about her words. “My boyfriend is still there. He is Gunma jin (native), so sometimes I have to go back,” she said with a nice smile.

• McKel visited her friend in Gunma Prefecture, then worked there in a local international bank for 13 years. It was a surprise for her to know that Wolf was also living in Gunma. The three girls have worked closely in the company and became good friends.

• A group of men were wearing black T-shirts with anime flavors. Jeff said, “I’m from Indiana, and this is my first time experiencing Bon Festival. We are friends and just here to celebrate the festival.”
• Zack said, “We come here last three years. I don’t know how it (Bon Dancing) is done. I mean I can’t see what’s going on but I do enjoy the dance and music.” He added that the group members were blind, and canes were not a part of anime costume.
• Gina, wife of a group member Michael, joined Shimpo’s interview and greeted “Hajime mashite (How do you do?)” in Japanese.

• She said, “I come here every year. I like to observe the tradition, the food, and activities which are interesting to me.”
• Gina studied Japanese language and learned some hiragana and katakana characters. “I got started in it with Japanese animation and learned the language because I follow it easier. I watched subtitles with English translation of Japanese, in a form of romaji (Roman letters), and learned basic sentences such as “Chotto matte kudasai,” and “Sugoi!” (The meanings are “Please wait a minute,” and “Wow, awesome, or cool,” respectively.) She added, “And I started being involved in learning the culture little bit my own.”

• Shimpo asked her if she had influenced her husband’s group, Gina said, “Not really. They are enjoying popular culture, anime and more.”
• The group members said, “I learned it from my sensei,” and “I studied popular culture when I was in high school.” Mattino also said that he liked Japanese culture, and his mother came from the Philippines and was going to visit Nagasaki, Japan.

Renovated Mitsuwa

• Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights completed its comprehensive renovation last June, the first major renovation since its opening in the early 1990s.
• The roof and facade were changed from blue color to black that expresses an image of a samurai house. The interior was also renovated to radiate an atmosphere of “miyabi (lofty elegance)”, Japanese aesthetics.

• According to a release from Mitsuwa Corporation, which runs 11 stores across the U.S., Mitsuwa wants to continue to be an oasis of Japanese culture and cuisine for its customers through their shopping and dining experience.

from left: Christina Wolf, Yuki Cheng and Valena McKel

from left: Michael, Mattino, Zack, Gina and Jeff