Besides the usual busyness of my life, I’ve been busy the last few weeks getting ready for the annual Japanese Festival in St. Louis. Per the last census, our area has a little over 3,000 people claiming Japanese heritage, way below the Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese local populations, but we have one of the largest Japanese festivals in the nation. Almost the entire community of us helps with the festival, and seems like everybody becomes Japanese during Labor Day weekend, dressing in happi coats, yukata and even kimono. Yukata is the casual, cotton summer kimono. Plenty of non-Japanese, including men, wear yukata to the festival and maybe even carry sun parasols.
This year my younger daughter and I were honored to be models in the very popular kimono show, put on by a certified kimono expert with ten years of training in Japan. I looked so good I didn’t recognize myself, thanks to an elegant emerald kimono and the magic of a specialist hair stylist. My daughter was more beautiful than usual, wearing the long furisode sleeves of young, unmarried women. Women in Japan don’t wear kimono much anymore, and we could understand why! We were (barely) walking pillars, bound tightly by many narrow ties and our wide obi sash.
Since I have never really lived around other people of Japanese heritage before, except for my mother, I feel like I’ve finally found “my people.” I am immersing myself in the Japanese cultural offerings through the Japan America Society and several local universities. I eat Japanese home cooking in potluck lunches with my friends – nothing like what the restaurants serve. I’ve started Japanese language lessons at the Saturday language school because now I have plenty of people to practice with. All this without hopping a plane to cross the ocean.
I guess I’m so enamored with my cultural heritage because I’m so close to the immigrant generation (my mother). I have her stories and fresh culture she passed on to me. I try to pass on the culture to my quarter-Japanese children, and thankfully we have my mother’s stories in her Cherry Blossoms in Twilight book, but I think it’s all diluted by the river of America. We have to work at passing on the traditions and stories of our heritage and hope future generations care. As I’ve seen, though, our own future generations may not care, but somebody else’s might. Yukata for everyone!