The Como Park Lantern Festival, the largest Japanese festival in Minnesota, is inspired by the Obon Festival in Japan. This is a 500+ year old Buddhist-Confucian custom which remembers and expresses gratitude to ancestors. In Japan families hold reunions and visit ancestral graves during a time when it is believed their spirits revisit us. They celebrate with a folk dance called Obon Odori. At the end of the Obon festival, families bid their ancestor’s spirits off under the guidance of fire in a rite called Okurubi. At the Como Park Lantern Festival people line the banks of Frog Pond hours before dusk waiting for the launching of lighted floating lanterns into the evening darkness. Shorts and T shirt clad festival goers intertwine with kimono adorned women to join in the Odori street dance.
This year the TCJACL entered a booth in the Lantern Festival to raise funds to benefit our 2017 educational programs. These programs will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. Carolyn Nayematsu, Amy Dickerson, Ben Hartmann and Karen Lucas staffed our booth selling Japanese cultural merchandise such as koi, kokeshi dolls, ukioye themed fans, origami paper and hachimaki while Steve Lucas helped transport booth merchandise and supplies.
The Lantern Festival has been growing over the years and the footprint has been enlarged to accommodate several martial arts groups, food vendors, art and antique sellers, other vendors and service groups, childrens games, and a performance stage with several taiko groups and dance groups performing throughout the day.
Exploring this new venue for our organization was very rewarding. The weather was ideal. Several attendees wandered the grounds dressed in manga costumes right out of fad trendy Harajuku. Thousands of families and young adults arrived with a specific shared interest in Japanese culture (paid attendees numbered just under 12,000). An unusual concentration of race blended “hapa” and “kwota” young adults and interracial couples were drawn to our booth and we engaged several Japanese Minnesotans in compelling conversations generating contacts for potential new members!
It was profitable and enjoyable enough to start making plans to return next year!!