I can’t believe I’ve been going to the Lantern Lighting Festival in Como Park, the largest Japanese cultural festival in Minnesota, for something like ten years now, and it is still one of my favorite cultural festivals of the year in the Twin Cities. The weather, while brisk and very windy, was much nicer than last year, and the participating crowd doubled in size. Every year seems to attract more people to experience the music, food, exhibitions, and camaraderie of this event celebrating the peaceful relationship between the United States and Japan. Como Park and Conservatory quickly became packed with people watching the stage, queuing up for sushi, gyoza, yakitori, and takoyaki, watching martial arts exhibitions, or shopping for thrift store finds. This year was a particularly special one, as it marked the sixtieth anniversary of the program which founded a sister-city relationship between the city of St. Paul and the city of Nagasaki, the first between any US city and a city in Asia. I particularly liked that this year, the announcements and introductions were in both English and Japanese. Such events really highlight the growing diversity and internationalism of the region.
Throughout the day, various groups from local universities and civic organizations performed traditional and not-so-traditional dances, music, and drumming, which made for a particularly memorable event this year. A few favorites were the Chura-Ryukyu Okinawa Sanshinkai, musicians peforming traditional Okinawan folktunes and the dancing trope, Sansei Younsei Kei.
To commemorate this, the mayors of both cities, Tomihisa Taue and Chris Coleman, were in attendance along with a retinue of dignitaries from Nagasaki. Coleman will be taking his own trip to Nagasaki in October as well. Among other things, St. Paul has honored the relationship by naming a street near Como Park, Nagasaki Road. Taue had also invited a group of traditional entertainers, geiko, Nagasaki Kenban, to perform some of the traditional songs and dances of Nagasaki as well, a even seen rarely outside of Japan, and even in Japan itself. Wow, that was a breathtaking performance as the three women, accompanied by a woman on the shamisen, shared the traditional pieces that they are training to preserve for future generations.
After this, the obon lanterns were lit and, riding on the gusts of the wind, floated quickly across the wind-riffled surface of the moon-viewing pond under the light of the Conservatory. Another beautiful end to the festival for another year. Still costing $5 for the whole evening, with the ever increasing crowds, I’d advise coming really super early. While it starts at 3:00, coming at no later than 2:30 is recommended. Of course, biking or taking public transit (Metro Routes 3 and 83) is also recommend to save the hassle of locating a place to park.
For me, 2015 was also special in that it gave me a taste to prepare me for my own trip to Japan in less than two weeks! Wow! Hard to believe it’s coming up so fast!