Some Americans might just think of Japan as the land of Mount Fuji, Sushi, Godzilla, and the Seven Samurai.
It’s so much more, as evidenced by Saturday’s Japanfest, a full-fledged celebration of Japanese music, culture, food, movies, and martial arts at Forest View Educational Center, 2121 S. Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights. The party continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. See japanfest-chicago.org for details.
âMy dream is for this Japanese festival to become the biggest in the Midwest,â said Manabu âMannyâ Yoshiike of Northbrook, one of the Japanfest co-chairs. “We want the American people to come and enjoy this festival, and get to know each other better.”
Japanfest dates back 34 years and until two years ago it was run only by the Japanese Club, said Jean Mishima, Glenview resident, Chicago Japanese American Council president and another co-chair of this weekend’s Japanfest. .
âWe want to promote Japanese culture and traditions,â she said. âWe want to keep them alive.
Between 4,000 and 6,000 visitors are expected for the weekend festival.
Saturday’s events included mini-concerts of music, choral performances, martial arts demonstrations and dancing.
Harumi Miyakawa, 23, a Schaumburg High School graduate and Hanover Park resident, opened the festival with moving renditions of the Japanese national anthem, âKimigayoâ (âOur Emperor’s Reignâ) and the âStar- American Spangled Banner.
âThe Japanese anthem is about respect and loyalty,â Miyakawa said. “The American anthem is really bright and heartwarming. Being able to sing them both together is really wonderful.”
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes addressed the assembly with words of solidarity in what was the former gymnasium at Forest View High School in District 214.
“We are very proud of the relationship and friendship that we have been able to establish with the Japanese-American community,” he said.
James Fairchild, a resident of Glenview, is not at all Japanese, but he learned the art of growing bonsai from a WWII veterinarian in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, who had learned this art in Japan.
“It’s addicting,” he said, barely looking up from his task of wiring a small tree branch. âYou take care of these trees as you would take care of children. It is an art form that is never finished. The only finished bonsai is a dead bonsai. It is like a living and growing art. It rejuvenates my mind. “
The oldest patron of the festival is probably Stanley Fukai from Chicago. He is 90 years old. He retired in 1989, but he still comes to Japanfest wherever it takes place. Last year, Japanfest made its appearance at Elk Grove Village.
âI love seeing old and new friends,â he said. “But my friends are disappearing now.”
By a fluke of fate, Fukai’s father brought his American family back to Japan in 1940, just before the United States entered World War II.
âAfter the war Uncle Sam said I could come back,â he said. “I did it right under the rope.”
Fukai will be 91 when Japanfest next kicks off in 2017. He said he wasn’t sure he was there to enjoy it.
âYeah, maybe I should go fishing instead,â he said.