Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sakura Matsuri 2011: Stand With Japan

51st Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival
Washington, D.C. - April 9, 2011 (11 am - 6 pm)

Welcome to pix and video from the 51st Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival (aka the "Cherry Blossom Festival") in Washington, D.C. from April 9, 2011. As presented by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. (, this year's theme - in the wake of Japan's tragic March 11, 2011 earthquake(s) and tsunami - was topically entitled "Stand With Japan." As the festival program guide stated, given that backdrop, "This year's Sakura unlike any other because of the tragedy that befell Japan one month ago...We want the Japanese people to know that we stand with them at this time of great need. We hope you will support the efforts that are being made at Sakura Matsuri today to assist the relief and recovery effort in Japan."

One of those efforts was charging a first-ever $5 admittance fee to the festival, which it was a pleasure to pay (and a small pitance to pay considering all the good cheer and entertainment value on display between 9th and 14th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue that day). There were also volunteers conducting fund-raising on the streets for the American Red Cross Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, while the Bezos Family Foundation pledged to donate $2 for every origami paper crane made that day at the festival's Children's Corner tent.

That said, my girlfriend Amy and I eagerly returned to the Federal Triangle for our fourth consecutive Sakura Matsuri festival, joined this year by defacto Japan-America Society of Cockeysville chairman David Cawley - making his Cherry Blossom Festival bow in the nation's capital. It was the coldest Japanese Street Festival we've ever attended, and a shivering David Cawley later remarked that in hindsight he probably should have dressed warmer than just a polo short and his thin-cotton Ben Sherman jacket - but, in his words, "I always choose fashion over comfort!"

Dave "Fashionista" Cawley: "I don't care if I'm suffering from hypothermia
and my lips are frozen - I look good, dammit!" (He wants you to notice his Ben Sherman jacket. So, please, do.)

He truly suffered for his sartorial splendor on this day, his head only mildly protected from the cold chill by a thin plastic (albeit officially licensed) Astro Boy (aka Tetsewan Atom) children's mask. He even had to forgo his usual iced coffee due to Mother Nature.

"I've had warmer earmuffs," Dave muses, his lobes protected by a paper-thin plastic kiddie mask

But before we got there, there was a slight hiccup at the New Carrollton Metro Station. Yes, it took all three of us - scratching our heads in utter confusion, frustration, and irritation (the traveler's trifecta) - and, finally, a very patient Metro Station Master taking pity on our special ed commuter skills before we got our tickets to board the train into D.C. and the street festival. Boy, if the SATs had a logic question asking how can three people with $20 dollars buy three round-trip tickets from New Carrollton Station to the Federal Triangle, we would have never passed and made it into college. Wait - we three all graduated from college and still couldn't figure it out (so much for a liberal arts education)! (Can you tell we weren't business or math majors? Can you tell Dave and I graduated from the esteemed suburban institute of higher yearning, Towson State?)

"Isn't riding the Metro romantic?" coos Amy

As we exited the Metro station and entered the Federal Triangle, Amy immediately was drawn to a festival merchandise booth ("Ooooo, t-shirts!") while Dave became entranced by the sight of an Asian woman singing along to a bossa nova beat on the concert stage opposite us.

Bossa Nova Band at the Japanese Street Festival

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the woman had a Chinese name, but Dave insisted she was singing in a Japanese accent. A Brazilian musical genre interpreted by a Chinese chanteusse with a Nipponese twist? worked! The music was quite enjoyable!

The Girl from Ipanema: Shanghaied and Turning Japanese

But this was mere foreplay for the true fest, which takes place on Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th and 14th Street:

Walking in the festival proper, Dave was right in his element as the first site he espied was none other than his beloved green-skinned kaiju eiga, Gojira, guarding the festival. And not just one Godzilla, but two!

The King of Monsters and his doppleganger

Godzilla takes pity on Japan's recent woes and settles for
teething on an airplane (which he later donated
to Southwestern Airlines)

"Whatever you do," Amy pleaded as we passed kiosks hawking Japanese-styled clothing and women's accessories, "Don't let me look at bags! Keep me away from them because I'll be too tempted!"

Needless to say, Amy bought a new bag. I blame myself: I helped pick it out. But it was way cool and the vendor, Chikako Mukai of Chikako Designs, is way nice. (Ladies, be sure to check out her Facebook page as well.) This lovely and talented designer from Boston always has the coolest bags on display at the festival; Chikako's hand-sewn bags demonstrate the Japanese art of temari - an ornamental, embroidered ball of wrapped thread. (Not to be confused with Temari - a supporting character in the anime/manga series Naruto!)

New Bag To Amy: "Resistance Is Futile!"

Amy also got a new hat, but I take total blame for that - because I bought it for her! I figured, if you gotta go gray, you better go gray with style!

Amy's "Hello Mousey" hat capped off her sartorial splendor

For his part, Dave also picked up a hat, as he eventually wound up wearing his Astro Boy mask as a backward-styled cap, much to the amusement of passersby.

"Oh, it's you": Punk rock chick was
disappointed when Astro Boy turned around

Apparently, the backward mask was the prevailing style of the day.

This man re-purposed his traditional Japanese mask as a yamulke

Amy made sure she stopped by the International Shinto Foundation's tent so she could pass through the shrine gate, ring the wishing bell and say a prayer for Japan, ancestral home of her mother: "Kyushu Kimi" Davis.

Amy says her prayers...

...and give thanks

Amy takes these rites rather seriously, and not as just a touristy photo op. In fact, she was so emotional, she got all vaclempt and teared up afterwards. Did I mention she's a Cancer? Very emo! (But that's why I adore her; she's a sincere, caring, self-effacing woman.)

For the record, this is how one prays at a Shinto Shrine:

We walked past the lots of visually arresting costumed fans and street festival participants...

Orange you glad you came?

Speaking of orange, we spotted Carrot Top in cosplay gear

Personally, I thought the girl in the yellow rain slicker had the coolest costume!

This brave hottie wore a miniskirt!

...and even ran into Dave Cawley's lifelong pal (and ertswhile "quit hogging the bedspread!" *roommate*) Andy Dolan.

Andy and Dave

Dave used to play in a pop-punk band called Berserk, whose records and CDs featured cover art by Andy, an award-winning graphic designer.

Berserk's "Giant Robots" 45 (Merkin Records, 1991)

Berserk's eponymous CD (Go-Kart Records, 1994)

Andy had a very astute observation about all the colorful costumes on display on Pennsylvania Avenue that day: "Have you noticed that these anime/manga fans are like the new Dragons & Dungeons Set?" Spot on, sir!

We finally wended our way down to the J-Pop stage, where - after first enduring the painfully lame audience repartee and charmless wit of two dorky Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. emcees - we encountered Reni Mimura, the Cosplay cutie who also performed here last year.

The J-Pop Stage presents: Reni Mimura

Reni Mimura on J-Pop Stage

The New York City-based Reni Mimura specializes in Moe-style performance, a genre that emphasizes the cute look of Japanese pop culture and the hip appeal of Japanese animation/manga series like Sailor Moon and Evangelion. “Moe” (pronounced like Mo-eh), which started in Akihabara, Tokyo, is the term Otaku fanboys and girls use to express the happy feeling they experience when they see a cute anime/manga girl or pop idol. (Unfortunately, I learned that it has absolutely nothing to do with Moe Howard, the "cute" Alpha Stooge of Les Stooges Trois.) Otaku boys get especially "e-Moe" when they see their fictional girl idols wearing maid uniforms. (Well, I got news for the Otaku boys - it doesn't get any cuter than Sexy French Maid outfits in real life either!) Good thing Reni Mimura and her hoofer gal pals wore compression shorts under those high-rise maid skirts on Saturday - it was a bone-chilling day!

Watch Reni Mimura @ Sakura Matsuri 2011.

Reni Mimura's gal pals chow down after their set

Reni Mimura gets all e-Moey

Reni Mimura shows off her athletic legs (me likey!)

Reni heads off to sign autographs

Reni signing autographs

The J-Pop Stage presents: Uzuhi

Uzuhi on J-Pop Stage

Like their fellow Big Apple compatriot Reni Mimura, NYC-based Japanese pop-punkers Uzuhi were so popular when they debuted at the 2010 Sakura Matsuri J-Pop Stage, they were invited back for a repeat performance today! This year was much chillier temperature-wise, but the audience and Uzuhi warmed each other up. It's fitting, because "Uzuhi" translates into English roughly as "light" or "sunshine" (in fact, I now always sing "I got uzuhi on a rainy day" whenever I hear The Temptations song "My Girl").

Uzuhi is:
Gosha: Vocals
Tsubasa: Keyboard
Katsuragi: Guitar
Shu: Drums

Official Web Site:

These guys (and gal) are so cheerful and uplifting! As we passed by the J-Pop Stage before they went on, keyboard player Tsubasa and singer Gosha recognized us - they remembered us from their Ottobar show in Baltimore last year - and gave us a hug. Tsubasa remembered Amy in particular because after Amy ordered a t-shirt from the band's web site (my Valentine's present!), Tsubasa sent her a Valentine's Day card, candy, and this sticker:

Amy is a big fan of what she calls Uzuhi's "broken but heartfelt English," as evidenced in song titles like "Sweet Lovely Chocolate Smile" and "Dear My Honki Friends." In fact, after their DC appearance, Uzuhi sent out a typical thank you on their Facebook page ( "Dear our New Friends from Sakura Matsuri and Sakura Sunday! Arigato very much for all of your Sweet Lovely Chocolate Smiles :)"

Uzuhi always take a picture of the audience at their concerts. Here's the one from Sakura Matsuri 2011. Can you spot me, Amy, and Dave Cawley in the teeming minions? (Hint: I'm wearing a hat!)

Uzuhi say: "You are the music, we're just the band!"

Watch Uzuhi @ Sakura Matsuri 2011.

I think this was a new song. Oh, by the way, they had a stand-in drummer this time, because regular Uzuhi drummer Shu was stuck back home in wonder singer Gosha took time out to talk about how the recent tragic events in Japan (earthquake, tsunami, meltdown, etc.) were an opportunity to bond together human beings in this thing together!

Watch Uzuhi @ Sakura Matsuri, Part 2.

The song performed above is "This Is Our Generation" from Uzuhi's 2009 CD Ongaku ("Music"). To which Amy adds: "This band is fierce! I was put on an emotional roller coaster as singer Gosha went from delivering a heartfelt message about the tragedy in Japan to totally rocking out on "This is Our Generation." About 5:20 into the clip you can see me grooving along." (And also at the 7:38 mark, Amy groove-spotters!)

Uzuhi's "Ongaku" CD (2009)

Watch Uzuhi @ Sakura Matsuri, Part 3.

This was their opening number, their theme song "Uzuhi," which perfectly illustrates their hybrid of hard rock and cutesy fun elements. It's from their 2009 Ongaku ("Music") CD. It's followed by two more songs from Ongaku: "Boy" and "Pura Vida!".

More Uzuhi concert pix:

Gosha sez: "Who called me Curly?"

Katsuragi chording

Shy Tsubasa hides behind her bunny pal, Peaches

"I repeat: Who called me Curly???"

"All of me, why not take all of me?" Gosha sings


After watching Uzuhi, we reconnoitered at the Children's Corner tent with Dave's pal Andy, who was now joined by his wife Kathy and their talented young daughter, Caroline.

Dave, Andy, Caroline, and Kathy

We set off for food and found it at the booth where Satoko, the wife of Amy's cousin Richard Best, was dispensing udon noodles. Warmed up by the soup, we headed back to the J-Pop Stage to catch the tail end of a performance by Pink - a group of girls who love Japanese fashion and "para para" (line) dancing.

Pink sez: "We got the beat!"

Pink sends out a wink

Then we watched a "kendo" (Japanese fencing) demonstration by the Northern Virginia Budokai Kendo Club. Kendo is a physical, philosophical, and psychological discipline that's supposed to "strengthen and enoble" its practitioners. Amy and I liked they way the kendo kids gave out these loud shouts and bellows whenever they struck each other; it reminded me of The Three Stooges.



"Hiiiii- yaaaaah!"

While Dave - who once trained with the Cockeysville Fencing Club (where he attained a "Gay Blade" ranking), looked on...

"I can do that," huffed an unimpressed Dave Cawley

...I made sure I was nice to Kathy, because she told me her uncle was a kendo master swordsman back in Japan.

Then we returned to the Children's Corner tent, where whiz kid Caroline made origami gifts for all of us.

When I mentioned how the "Director's Cut" ending of Ridley Scott's cult movie Bladerunner featured a very significant unicorn origami, Caroline took up the challenge and presented us with a yellow unicorn.

Either that's a unicorn - or Caroline's giving us the finger!

Dave wanted her to make him origami earmuffs, but contented himself with his Astro Boy mask.

Now besides knowing Japanese and how to make origami, Caroline was also a wunderkid when it came to playing the Asian game of Go. The game is played with black and white stone pieces that look like Mentos mints. Caroline challenged Dave to a match and, while Dave trash-talked the child about how he was going to "annihilate" her, we watched instead as a giggling Caroline humiliated "The Old Master" in game after game - as easily as child's play!.

"You lose again!" giggled Caroline

"This time I'll concentrate - and annihilate her!" vows Dave

"Hee-hee-hee," taunts Caroline. "You lose again!"

In fact, only the festival's 6 o'clock closing time prevented Caroline from racheting up double digits in the win column and inflicting more humiliation on Dave! Even Reni Mimura's backup singers stopped by to laugh at the lopsided battle of wits between this cunning child and her unarmed adult opponent.

"He's really bad, isn't he?" Reni Mimura's backup singers agree, as they watch Dave lose yet another game of Go to a small child

Game over, it truly was time to *Go* and we made our exit to head back to Baltimore. And so went another Japanese Street Festival. See you next year, Cherry Blossoms - hopefully under better conditions for your ancestral home, Japan!

Related Links:
"J-Pop/Rock Stars @ Sakura Matsuri 2010" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Reni Mimura (Facebook)

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