Kato friends join Japanese New Year festival at Olympia Center

Staff writerJanuary 18, 2014 

Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, center, pounds mochi into a sticky dough for rice dumplings during the Oshogatsu Japanese New Year celebration Saturday.

ANDY HOBBS — Staff writer

South Sound celebrated the Japanese New Year — and the Year of the Horse — at the annual Oshogatsu festival.

Hundreds of people passed through Saturday’s family-friendly event at The Olympia Center. The celebration included 10 delegates from Kato City, Japan, who were visiting Olympia this week as part of the sister cities program.

Attendees donned samurai regalia, kabuki costumes and kimonos. Parents and children created traditional Japanese crafts such as kumade, which are lucky rake-shaped fans, and nenjago, which are New Year’s Day postcards.

Kato City delegate Kiyomi Ikemi was among those at the origami table who showed youngsters how to fold paper cranes. Other entertainment included calligraphy and aikido demonstrations, along with taiko drum ensemble performances, dancing and singing.

A highlight was the ceremonial creation of mochi. The process involves a rhythmic pounding of sticky dough with wooden mallets. The dough is then molded into rice dumplings, a traditional food for the Japanese New Year. Taking a swing at the mochi were Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, state Sen. Karen Fraser, Olympia School Board member Allen Miller, and Masahiro Omura, the consul general of the Japanese consulate in Seattle.

Tables displayed a range of Japanese artwork such as paintings and wood carvings. Attendees could participate in formal tea ceremonies or indulge in a range of Japanese food including sushi rolls, teriyaki chicken, gyoza and vegetable yakisoba.

The event’s emcee, Ben McConkey, praised the high turnout.

“Anything we do like this, whatever the culture is, just adds to our community,” said McConkey, who volunteers with the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association, the event’s host. He estimated that Saturday’s event likely would draw 2,000 people over the course of the day.

Buxbaum encouraged the audience to check out the sakura cherry blossom trees that line Percival Landing, a gift last year from Japan.

“This is such a wonderful and very special event,” Buxbaum said. “I think every year it gets richer and better.”

The Japanese zodiac cycle is divided into 12 blocks, with each assigned to a different animal. Each block is in a 12-year cycle, and 2014 is the Year of the Horse. People born during the Year of the Horse commonly are believed to be quick thinkers and good with money and compliments, but they also talk too much and can be impatient.

Last year, Japan’s Hyogo prefecture and Washington celebrated their 50th anniversary as sister states. A booth at Saturday’s celebration paid tribute to this partnership.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869; ahobbs@theolympian.com

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