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updated: 6/8/2014 5:45 PM

Japan Festival highlights the nation's past and present

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  • Carmelo Ayala of Chicago is given a suit of Samurai-style armor during the 32nd annual Japan Festival in Arlington Heights on Sunday.

       Carmelo Ayala of Chicago is given a suit of Samurai-style armor during the 32nd annual Japan Festival in Arlington Heights on Sunday.
    Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

  • Japanese comic books were among the pop-culture items for sale at the Japan Festival in Arlington Heights. Thousands visited the two-day festival over the weekend to learn about Japanese culture and history.

       Japanese comic books were among the pop-culture items for sale at the Japan Festival in Arlington Heights. Thousands visited the two-day festival over the weekend to learn about Japanese culture and history.
    Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

  • Wheeling resident Tom Pressley, who lived in Okinawa during the 1980s, entertains visitors Sunday by playing Okinawa's iconic folk instrument, the sanshin.

       Wheeling resident Tom Pressley, who lived in Okinawa during the 1980s, entertains visitors Sunday by playing Okinawa's iconic folk instrument, the sanshin.
    Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

  • Chicago resident Carmelo Ayala waits for the final touches to be put on his suit of Samurai armor Sunday during the Japan Festival in Arlington Heights.

       Chicago resident Carmelo Ayala waits for the final touches to be put on his suit of Samurai armor Sunday during the Japan Festival in Arlington Heights.
    Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

  • The marketplace area at the Japan Festival drew big crowds Sunday.

       The marketplace area at the Japan Festival drew big crowds Sunday.
    Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

  • The classic video game Pac-Man, which was developed in Japan, was a popular item at Japan Festival on Sunday. Thousands visited the two-day festival over the weekend to learn about Japanese culture and history.

       The classic video game Pac-Man, which was developed in Japan, was a popular item at Japan Festival on Sunday. Thousands visited the two-day festival over the weekend to learn about Japanese culture and history.
    Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

 
 

Those who attended the 32nd annual Japan Festival in Arlington Heights could often travel hundreds of years simply by walking from one room to another.

Organizers of the festival, which was held Saturday and Sunday at Forest View Educational Center, say they wanted it to celebrate as many eras of Japanese culture as possible.

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Which is why visitors could watch a performance of traditional Okinawa music and dance and then, just a few steps away, play a few rounds of the iconic video game Pac-Man.

"The fest has long been good at highlighting the traditions of Japan," said Hosana Okamura of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Chicago (JCCC), which co-hosted the fest for the first time this year. "We wanted to expand it a little to include pop culture, along with what's happening in business. We wanted it to showcase all things Japanese."

The festival's offerings were divided into four broad categories: Tradition (calligraphy, martial arts, music, tea-ceremony demonstration); Pop Culture (comic books, animation, costume contest, a "J-Pop" concert); Market (a Japanese-style marketplace, business expo); and Taste (food from area Japanese restaurants).

Organizers estimated that several thousand people attended the festival on Saturday alone. During the early afternoon hours on Sunday, the hallways of Forest View were packed.

Chicago resident Carmelo Ayala, who attended the fest with his fiancee, tried on a suit of Samurai armor while there.

"It's pretty heavy," he said with a smile. "But it feels good. I'm a fan of Samurai culture."

Wheeling resident Tom Pressley entertained visitors Sunday by playing the sanshin, the stringed folk instrument of Okinawa. He is a member of Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai, a group that celebrates and showcases Okinawan culture. (The group performed at the festival on Saturday.)

"I lived in Okinawa for a time in the 1980s, when I was a Marine," Pressley said. "I grew to love the music and culture there. I still love hearing this instrument."

Okamura, of the JCCC, said she hopes those who attended the festival left with a greater understanding not just of Japan's history, but also its continued influence in American life. She cited businesses like Nippon Sharyo, which built many of the train cars used by Metra.

Helping the JCCC present the festival this year were the Chicago Japanese Club, the Consulate General of Japan at Chicago and District 214 Community Education.

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