The 17th Honolulu Festival

The Experience

Underlying the celebrations of this year’s Honolulu Festival was the sorrow and uncertainty generated by the earthquake and tsunami off Japan on March 11th. (Why do these major events seem to happen on the 11th?) But in spite of that, organizers decided to carry on with festival events, and I’m glad. This year’s theme, “We are all neighbors, around the world,” has never been more true.

I’m not Japanese. I’ve been around for most of the 17 years of The Honolulu Festival, but this is the first year that I really paid attention. The 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami kind of woke me up, you might say, and made me want to find out more about the island of Japan and its people, where so many people in Hawaii have ties. I had family members in the Tokyo area at the time of the earthquake, which made the disaster hit home all the more. Anxiously waiting to hear from them, glued to the TV for hours on end, I realized more than ever that we are all connected. So I went to Hawaii Convention Center, and to Waikiki Beachwalk. I went to Waikiki Shopping Plaza, Ala Moana Shopping Center, and to the Grand Parade.

At all these venues, groups of people from many Pacific regions shared their colorful heritage on stage or in displays and demonstrations. I enjoyed the photography exhibit “peace gallery” at HCC. Many locals tried their hand at calligraphy, or origami. At one popular exhibit a visitor laughingly struggled to remain upright as portions of a heavy samurai costume were placed on his head and shoulders.

Suga-Ren was a huge crowd favorite with their beautiful costumes and tremendous enthusiasm. The Alaska Heritage dancers were a boisterous group, not to be outdone by the Aborigines from Australia, Descendance. Several of Japan’s many Hula Halau participated, paying tribute to Hawaii’s own traditional dance, and further cementing the Japan-Hawaii bond. Singers from many different genres from traditional all the way to modern wailing rock entertained both locals and visitors.

And everywhere you looked at the various venues were yellow-shirted volunteers and workers. I spoke to several people, some who were helping out for the first time, and others who make it a point to volunteer every year. They enjoy the connection of this international high-spirited coming-together of cultures that seems to grow exponentially.

The Grand Parade kicked off at 4:30 in the afternoon, and as daylight gave way to evening, the crowds lining Kalakaua Avenue seemed to grow ever larger. The groups’ performances along the way were varied and colorfully exuberant. The sound of taiko and shamisen lifted spirits as participants, many of whom had performed on the other stages over the weekend, paraded down the street.

Traditional and modern dancers entertained viewers. Authentic hand-made Samurai costumes took us back into Japan’s history. It’s a good thing the parade route isn’t that long—those costumes are super heavy. Imagine how difficult for them as they fought hundreds of years ago, toiling under the weight! Several mikoshi (portable shrines), Honolulu Daijayama and Neputa floats were carried or pushed by volunteers, many of them students, dressed in traditional happi coats.

Unfortunately the planned Nagaoka City fireworks demonstration scheduled as the finale had to be cancelled, but most people understood.

All in all, it was a terrific display of culture and pageantry. What a great opportunity to share with people you may not interact with on a daily basis. Don’t miss it next year!

No comments: