The Los Angeles Tanabata Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year as part of the annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival on Saturday and Sunday, August 11-12, in historic Little Tokyo.
The theme this year is “Spirit of Togetherness” with a heartfelt wish of the L.A. Tanabata Committee for the community.
Opening ceremonies on Friday, Aug. 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. will include performances by UCLA Kyodo Taiko and Minyo Station, the traditional sake barrel breaking ceremony with dignitaries and sponsors, and the announcement of the kazari contest winners.
Tanabata is a traditional festival originating from Japan that celebrates the legend of two stars, Altair (Hikoboshi) the Ox Herder and Vega (Orihime) the Weaver Princess, who are separated by the Milky Way, but are reunited when their stars align in the summer constellations. The Tanabata Festival celebrates the meeting of these two stars and is known as the Star Festival in Japan.
Sendai, famous for its bamboo decorations, has one of the largest such festivals, established over 400 years ago when the city was built by Date Masamune (1567-1636). A highlight of the Los Angeles festival is the display of 10 award-winning kazari (giant ornaments) are shipped from Sendai.
The Tanabata Festival is on Aug. 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Aug. 12 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., ending just before the Nisei Week Grand Parade begins. Admission is free, and the community is invited to see the eight-foot kazari crafted by members of the community. Come participate by voting for the Annual Kazari Contest People’s Choice Award on Saturday (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Visitors can enjoy performances, visit arts-and-crafts booths, play games, and sample traditional matsuri (festival) food.
Participants can write wishes on small strips of paper (tanzaku) and hang them from decorated bamboo branches.
Yoshihito Yonezawa, former president of the Miyagi Kenjinkai, fulfilled his dream to bring the Tanabata Festival to Los Angeles. Working together with the Nisei Week Foundation, Japanese Prefectural Association of Southern California (Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai), and the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association, his wish became a reality in 2009.
The support of Ichiro Shiromatsu was integral in establishing the festival in Los Angeles. He has supported the festival since its inception by sending the kazari from the long-running Sendai Tanabata Festival. He is the third-generation president of Shiromatsu Ga Monaka, established in 1932 by his grandfather. The company is a multiple award winner for excellence and is nationally known for producing the finest quality confections in Japan.
Festival chair Masumi Muya said of the festival’s theme, “We all know that modern life includes news of social, political, and economic distress every day; however, we believe that as a community can care about each other to make it better. Our festival, therefore, aims to unite the community and give everyone reasons to feel they belong since the very core of the Tanabata legend is that everyone hopes to find happiness together.”
She continued, “We acknowledge our original presenters, Nisei Week Japanese Festival, the Japanese Prefectural Association of Southern California and the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association, for their continued support and our merchant vendors who continue to support the festival.”
Continuous festival entertainment features traditional and contemporary performers, including taiko, classical Japanese and Hawaiian dance, jazz, and rock and pop in Japanese and English. Saturday highlights include Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu Dojo of Little Tokyo, FOB Four with Brian Yamamoto (Beatles tunes), and Lolita Dark Band/Orchestra with taiko. Sunday features the popular Atomic Project with Atomic Nancy and Benny Yee (original members of Hiroshima), the Cosplay Contest and the announcement of the People’s Choice Award.
New this year is an added entertainment stage on the Japanese American National Museum steps, featuring: Saturday — Cosplay fashion show and two “Burai” samurai sword shows; Sunday — Musical performance by Miru Daru, a sibling duet.
Schedule subject to change; check the website, www.tanabatalosangeles.org, for more details.
New food booths this year include tamago yaki, Okinawan dango and a food truck. Returning will be takoyaki, onigiri, cold tofu, Fugetsu-do manju, shaved ice, cold drinks, and the popular beer garden.
Saturday, Aug. 11
10:30–11 a.m.: Chikara Daiko
11–11:45 a.m.: Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu Dojo of Little Tokyo with Art Ishii
11:45 a.m.–12:30 p.m.: Little Tokyo Geta Tap Dancers
12:30–1:45 p.m.: FOB Four with Brian Yamamoto
1:45–2:45 p.m.: Stephanie Yanez and indie artist Plasmic
2:45–4 p.m.: Ronin Stones aka Local Mojo
4–5:45 p.m.: Yu Ooka and Friends featuring Barbara Morrison
5:45–6:45 p.m.: Kaoru Enjoji with the Moonshine Bros. Band
6:45–8:30 p.m.: Lolita Dark Band/Orchestra and taiko
Sunday, Aug. 12
10:30–11 a.m.: Taiko with Ken Koshio
11–11:45 a.m.: Miru Daru
12–12:45 p.m.: Naoki Atkins
1–2: p.m.: Atomic Project featuring Atomic Nancy and Benny Yee
2-2:45 p.m.: Cosplay Contest (see Tanabata website for details)
2:45–3 p.m.: People’s Choice Award
3–4 p.m.: Yuna and Tida