Greater Kansas City Japan Festival Oct. 11

One of the most unique art festival in town is the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival, organized by the Heart of America Japan-America Society. The 2014 Japan Festival runs Oct. 11 on the campus of the Johnson County Community College.

Festival Executive Director Francis Lemery says the festival has been around for 17 years, aimed at bringing in classical and modern performances and creative arts. Examples of the two ends of the spectrum include traditional Japanese music and a young Japanese pop star Aya Uchida who travels to the festival to perform. The other visual to explore is the idea of ancient calligraphy to the modern art of anime and manga.

Lemery says one of the most popular rooms hosts Miyuki Sugimori, one of the only women trained in Ame Zaiku (Japanese Candy Art), a candy artistry dating back 250 years to the Edo period. There are only 15 formally trained Ame Zaiku artists in the world. She began her apprenticeship in 1989 under her grandfather. After completing her training and becoming an independent candy artist, she has traveled extensively in Japan and Europe to demonstrate her artistic creation of the candy arts at conventions, local festivals, and private parties. She just retired from Epcot, the second theme park built at Walt Disney World.

“It is amazing to watch her form a ball of candy into an eagle or dragon. She is amazing and her room is always packed,” he says. “We put her in the Carlsen Center lecture center. It’s a sloped lecture room and there are cameras focused on her hands. It is performance and visual art combined.”

The festival was first hosted on the campus of the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1997. A few years later, the festival relocated to our current location at Johnson County Community College. Each year, the festival introduces and educates more than 5,000 visitors on the culture of Japan.

The more contemporary attractions include anime and manga exhibitions, plus cosplay. Entries must be related to the Japanese culture so anime, manga and Japanese video game characters are welcomed, along with other Japanese fashion imagery. The third floor of the Carlsen is transformed for the cosplay contest and shopping.

“We want to promote the Japanese culture in the greater Kansas City area,” Lemery says. “We have folks who come to participate or to be part of the day from Texas, Kansas and Missouri. It simply draws a lot of people where they can experience culture and education combined in a fun way.”

Other exhibitions look at Japanese dolls, samurai swords, gardens, calligraphy and clothing. Guests can shop for unique Japanese crafts, Kimono, yukata, happi coats, kokeshi dolls, games, books, Japanese serving ware, ceramics (sake sets and tea sets) and much more. Participating organizations are the Heart of America Japan-America Society, the Greater Kansas City Japan Club and the Independence Sister City Committee.

The Japanese Cultural Village, presented by the Kansas City Japanese School, is packed with fun activities for kids and adults. Young and old attendees will be entertained with many opportunities to experience the “real” Japan here in Kansas City and features Kimono and Samurai armor portraits, face and nail painting, and Japanese bazaar.

Martial Arts participating schools for 2014 are the Jimmukan Japanese Sword School, After School Judo Academy, Midland Ki Society (Aikodo), Kansas City Kendo Club, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu and Okinawan Karate.

Other musical acts include the Denver Taiko drummers, Three Trails Taiko, Ki Daiko Olathe High School Taiko Group, and the Ottawa Suzuki Strings Institute. Performing arts groups are Buyo dancer Yoshiko Yamanaka, Kansas State University Yosakoi Dance Group and the Emporia State University Japanese Association Sakura Choir.

Again, the traditional arts include a tea ceremony demonstration by Yoko Hiraokal. Workshops include bonsai workshops, calligraphy workshops, Japanese conversations, introduction to reading Japanese, origami, Japanese garden design and maintenance, musical lectures including Taiko drumming with the Denver Taiko group, and dance workshops with the K-State Yosakoi Dance Group. The food vendors include some of the area’s favorite Japanese restaurants and grills.

“You could spend four or five hours with us and not be bored,” Lemery says. “Experiment with new food. And of course, the festival is indoors so no matter what the weather, we will be busy.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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