Yes, I’ve ignored my blog lately because I was busy preparing for the annual St. Louis Japanese Festival, the largest Japanese festival in the nation, at the Missouri Botanical Garden which has the largest Japanese garden in the nation. I’m so lucky to live in this city!
Every Labor Day weekend, 40,000-plus people become Japanese, many carrying the sturdy paper parasols or folding fans sold by our Japan America Society Women’s Association booth I organize. Some – men and women – wear the cotton yukata summer kimonos or the short happi coats, although a few women bravely don real silk kimonos to stroll in the usual oppressive heat of late summers here. There are the kawaii (cute) anime teens who are walking photo ops. Then there are those who must have missed the Chinese festival in June and come wearing their slim and silky Chinese cheongsam dresses.
The Japanese community in St. Louis is not all that large, but we know how to come together to make a fabulous festival. It includes the kimono show with models elegant in stunning silks and elaborately-tied obi sashes, a sumo demonstration by still-large retired wrestlers, taiko drumming, traditional dance shows, omikoshi shrine parade, and, my favorite, the obon dancing where everyone is invited to follow simple dance moves in a circle around a decorated raised platform where the drummers pound out the rhythm. What fun, and what a nice way to remember and share our heritage. I usually sell some copies of our Cherry Blossoms in Twilight memoir, too.
Sadly my mother can’t go anymore – she can’t go anywhere, actually. She loved this taste of her home country, always saying, “It’s just like Japan!” with her eyes bright and happy. The day after the festival I went to see her in the nursing home and sang the first line of “Tanko Bushi,” the “Coal-Miners’ Song,” that’s always played at the obon dancing. I only know the first line and have to da-da-da the rest of the song, ending in the funny “sa no yoi yoi” clap-clap. She joined in! I couldn’t understand her words, she speaks so softly now and not clearly, but her eyes grew distant and her face brightened. I thought I might cry.