This past weekend was the Annual Japanese Aki Matsui in Bellevue, Washington. Aki means fall and matsuri means festival.  This fabulous cultural celebration is produced by a group of volunteers, led by Tom and Katsuko Brooke called ENMA.  Their vision is to celebrate and share the rich culture of Japan with those living in the Pacific Northwest.

The festivities included various martial arts, koi auction, arts and crafts, ikebana, traditional music and dance, tea ceremony, Taiko performances, anime, travel, food, calligraphy, origami and so much more.  To my delight, not only did I see the Japanese away from home, enjoying the day, but people from all cultures were involved in all the activities.  It’s proof of how culture can be a bridge to all nations and it’s good to know that in this digital age, we still need and want to learn through actual human contact.  There is an energy that you can feel when so many people gathered in one area are enjoying themselves.  Being Japanese American, it makes my heart smile to see so many people, curious and wanting to experience different cultures from their own.  How wonderful is that?

Silly me forgot my camera. Well, I wasn’t really planning on taking pictures or thinking about writing a post for my blog because I was volunteering for the day.  But, I did manage to watch the ikebana demonstration.   The ikebana,  Japanese flower arrangement, demonstration was by Megumi Schacher, of Ikebana International, Seattle Chapter, who did a fabulous job creating five arrangements in a very short time!  When a bunch of flowers, branches and weeds, transform into a beautiful arrangement with such ease, you know that the artist has great talent and skill.  Megumi talked about how she found a large, half dead leaf, keeping it knowing  it would make a wonderful arrangement.  Even plants that have passed their peak retain beauty in a different perspective.  She was able to enhance and give new life to this single leaf.  Through that one arrangement, she taught us that beauty is just a matter of perception.

Another noticeable thing among the crowd was the large number of racially mixed couples.  Unlike the days when I was growing up, today, children of mixed races enjoy the company of many that are similar to them.  My kids are half English and half Japanese.  I think there are benefits from growing up in a multi-cultural home.  They can empathize with both cultures and may have more tolerance, because after all, what is “normal”?  There were times when they were young and confused.  I remember when the friendly lift attendant at a ski resort innocently asked where they were from.  They honestly didn’t know how to answer, so they shouted, “Mom, where are we from?”  That took me by surprise, but it was an honest question.  Racially, they are half English and half Japanese, but are American and at the time lived in Kuwait.  No wonder they were confused.  I would be too.  After living in the states for six months or so, one day one of them asked, “Mom, can we say we’re from Bellevue now?”

It makes you realize that everyone just wants to belong.  Cultural festivals such as the Aki Matsuri, help educate and spread culture in a fun and interesting way.  Whether it is a Chinese, Indian, Korean, Scandinavian, Vietnamese or any festival, if there is one in your neighborhood, go check it out, enjoy the festivities and open your heart.  If it is your culture, see if you can volunteer or participate in some way.  It’s a great way to connect and spread good qi!  And to those at ENMA, otsukare sama!

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