The Nikkei Food Fair always draws a crowd.

SAN JOSE — Like cherry blossom festivals across the nation, San Jose Japantown’s Nikkei Matsuri — set for Sunday, April 28 — is the local Japanese American community’s celebration of heritage and culture.

The festival is enjoyed by people of all ages and is located in the heart of one of the last three remaining Japantowns in the United States. This is the 36th year of the festival, which continues to be vibrant and dynamic.

Drummers from San Jose Taiko begin the festival with the pulsing heartbeat of the taiko during a morning stroll through Japantown while the festival prepares for an all-day celebration filled with food, entertainment, cultural displays, and arts and crafts.

Nikkei means “Japanese American” and matsuri means “festival.” Over 36 years ago, Nikkei Matsuri was one of several ethnic community events in San Jose planned for the U.S. Bicentennial celebration. This effort by the Japanese American community to share its culture with the city was so successful that the festival has continued since then.

The 2013 Nikkei Matsuri Committee, led by President Warren Hayashi, is composed of hundreds of volunteers. The board members and coordinators of the festival include Lesly Haranaga, Kristin Hashimoto, Larry Kaneshiro, Ruby Kobashi, Gordon Koo, Kathy Linderman, Vi Onishi, Norman Tanaka, Frank Tao, Jimi Yamaichi, and Pam Yoshida.

The Nikkei Food Fair is hosted by several non-profit organizations from the local community. Organizations include the San Jose Buddhist Betsuin organizations: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Japanese Language School, Buddhist Women’s Association and Church; Wesley United Methodist Church and its Youth Group; the San Jose and Silicon Valley JACL chapters; San Jose-Okayama Sister City Organization Inc.; YJA (Young Japanese Americans); San Jose Buddhist Judo Club; Northern California Kendo Federation; and Japantown Lions Club.

The Food Fair will feature Japanese-themed delicacies such as gyoza, bota mochi, inari sushi, ika fry, yaki soba, tempura, udon, manju, teriyaki beef bowls, and chicken teriyaki.  Many “non-traditional” Japanese items such as Chinese chicken salad, ice cream, Nikkei dogs, Spam musubi, and strawberry shortcake are also sold.

Live entertainment on two stages will be featured throughout the day. The Indoor Stage is located in the San Jose Betsuin gymnasium and will feature cultural performers such as: Marimo-Kai (koto), students of Madame Hanayagi Michiya and Madame Bando Misayasu (Japanese classical dance), San Jose Iaido Dojo, Oshiro Karate Dojo, and Tojokan Dojo (shinkendo).

The Outdoor Stage will feature many local groups, including: CYS (Community Youth Services) Dancers, students of Ukulele Jams, the Chidori Band (traditional Japanese music), the Wesley Jazz Ensemble, and San Jose Taiko.

Cultural displays show the community’s engagement in maintaining traditional arts from Japan. Two styles of ikebana, Sogetsu (Kika Shibata) and Ikenobo (Joyce Kobata), will be on view in the San Jose Buddhist Church gymnasium. In addition, there will be displays by the San Jose Bonsai Club, Kashu Suiseki, and Mataro Miyabi Kai Northern California Shibu (handcrafted kimekomi dolls).

Other demonstrations throughout the festival site will include a kyudo (Japanese archery) demonstration, a sword exhibit by San Francisco Nipponto Society, and traditional Japanese wood joinery by Daiku Dojo.

A highlight of Nikkei Matsuri is the one-of-a-kind arts and crafts by vendors from throughout the western U.S. and Hawaii. Over 60 vendors will line Jackson Street. All items are handmade and use Japanese traditional designs, materials and form. One might find soap in the shape of sushi, or contemporary clothing featuring shibori or kimono fabrics.

In addition to the Nikkei Matsuri events, local community organizations will host activities that day. The popular Yu-Ai Kai Nihonmachi Run will be back this year and will give runners and walkers the opportunity to get an early start at the festival. 

Other events include: Yu-Ai Kai’s Health Fair; Japantown Business Association’s weekly Farmer’s Market on Jackson Street between 6th and 7th streets; Suzume no Gakko’s cultural program for children at Wesley United Methodist Church; and the Japanese American Museum of San Jose’s Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) celebration.

Nikkei Matsuri will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with all festivities taking place on or near Jackson Street between 4th and 6th streets. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call (408) 241-0900. Look for updates on Facebook.

The Mercury News is a proud sponsor of Nikkei Matsuri, which is also made possible with the support of Union Bank, Bright Green San Jose and Nikkei West newspaper.

Mike Inouye of NBC Bay Area, who serves as emcee at Nikkei Matsuri, at last year’s festival with the 2012 Cherry Blossom Court from San Francisco (from left): Princess Miki Fukai, First Princess Megumi Yoshida, Queen Asaki Osato, Princess Manami Kidera, Princess Chihiro Hirai.

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