Above: San Jose Taiko performs at last year's Nikkei Matsuri. Below: Wesley UMC Youth Group's Nikkei Dogs were popular at the Food Fair. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Above: San Jose Taiko performs at last year’s Nikkei Matsuri. Below: Wesley UMC Youth Group’s Nikkei Dogs were popular at the Food Fair. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

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

The festival is enjoyed by people of all ages and is located in the heart of San Jose Japantown, one of the last three remaining Japantowns in the United States.  Now it its 37th year, the festival continues to be vibrant and dynamic.

Drummers from San Jose Taiko begin the festival at 9:15 a.m. with a morning stroll through Japantown while event organizers prepare for an all-day celebration filled with food, entertainment, cultural displays, and arts and crafts.

The opening ceremony will commence on the outdoor stage at 9:30 a.m. in front of the San Jose Buddhist Betsuin on 5th Street between Jackson and Taylor streets.

Nikkei Matsuri was one of several ethnic community events in San Jose held for the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976. It was the expression of the Japanese American community to share its culture on a citywide scale. This celebration was so successful that the festival has continued and made its home in Japantown.

The 2014 Nikkei Matsuri Committee, led by President Warren Hayashi, is composed of hundreds of volunteers. Board members and coordinators of the festival include Larry Kaneshiro, Ruby Kobashi, Gordon Koo, Kathy Linderman, Norman Tanaka, Jimi Yamaichi, Lesly Yamatake and Pam Yoshida.

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

They are a highlight of the festival with Japanese-themed delicacies such as gyoza, inari sushi, maki sushi, ika fry, yaki soba, tempura, udon, mochi manju, curry rice, teriyaki beef bowls, and chicken teriyaki. Non-traditional Japanese items such as Chinese chicken salad, ice cream, mocha smoothies, Nikkei Dogs (hot dog with Japanese food toppings), 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 demonstrations such as minyo by Ensohza, Japanese classical dance (Bando style), and martial arts demonstrations by Aikido of Japantown and Northern California Kendo Association. New this year will be a kimono dressing demonstration by June Sakamoto and Joyce Iwasaki.

The outdoor stage will feature many local community groups, including the CYS (Community Youth Services) Dance Group, students of Ukulele Jams, the Chidori Band (traditional Japanese music), the Wesley Jazz Ensemble, and San Jose Taiko. Mike Inouye of NBC Bay Area will be the announcer for this stage.

Cultural displays exhibit the community’s engagement in maintaining traditional arts from Japan. Two styles of Japanese flower arranging, Sogetsu ikebana (Kika Shibata) and Ikenobo ikebana (Joyce Kobata and Julie Nakatani), will be displayed in the San Jose Buddhist Church gymnasium. In addition, there will be displays by the San Jose Bonsai Club (Ken Azuma), Kashu Suiseki (Ted Kameda), and handcrafted kimekomi dolls by Mataro Miyabi Kai Northern California Shibu (Isako Masanori Wasano).

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

Nikkei Matsuri is also known for the unique and 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 handcrafted and feature the use of Japanese traditional designs, materials and form in a contemporary art or craft. One might find handcrafted soap in the shape of sushi, or contemporary clothing made from shibori or kimono fabrics.

In addition to the Nikkei Matsuri events, local community organizations will host various activities that day. The popular Yu-Ai Kai Nihonmachi Run will begin at 9 a.m. and will give runners and walkers the opportunity to get an early start at the festival. This year, the run’s T-shirt design will commemorate Yu-Ai Kai’s 40 years of service to seniors in the San Jose Japantown community.

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, and Suzume no Gakko (children’s cultural program at Wesley United Methodist Church). The Japanese American Museum of San Jose will host a Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) celebration with activities for kids and an antique fair.

Since 2011, Nikkei Matsuri has encouraged activities that support the people of Japan displaced by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The Madei Project, which represents crafters from the village of Iitate who were forced to evacuate their homes and farms due to their proximity to the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, will be selling crafts from repurposed kimono fabric made by the Iitate crafters. They will be located in the Nikkei Matsuri information booth.

Organizers encourage festival-goers to plan to spend the entire day in order to fully enjoy the events.

Nikkei Matsuri will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 0.m. on Jackson Street between 4th and 6th streets. Admission is free. Information and schedules of performances are available online at www.nikkeimatsuri.org or by contacting Warren Hayashi at (408) 241-0900. Look for Nikkei Matsuri updates on Facebook.

The San Jose Mercury News is a proud sponsor of Nikkei Matsuri. The festival is made possible by the support of the City of San Jose Cultural Affairs, Union Bank, Bright Green San Jose, and Nikkei West newspaper.

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