In the South Sound, festivals are mostly a warm-weather phenomenon.
But Saturday, the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association will celebrate Oshogatsu — Japanese New Year — with a day of performances, crafts, food and more. Pretty much everything you might find at a summer festival, except it’s all under a roof.
The fifth annual celebration draws about 2,000 visitors each year. It’s a fundraiser for the association, which builds connections between Olympia and Kato, Japan, as well as a celebration of this most important Japanese holiday.
“The New Year is a big thing for us Japanese,” said organizer Mina Kiive. “It’s almost like Christmas and Thanksgiving put together.
“It’s the time of the year that all of the family gets together,” she said. “People gather around the table and celebrate.”
Food is a big part of Olympia’s Oshogatsu. This year’s celebration will include demonstrations of mochi making, known as mochitsuki.
Mochi are cakes of sticky rice, and demonstrations of its preparation are far more athletic than most cooking demonstrations.
Steamed rice is placed in a bowl and pounded with wooden mallets until it forms a thick, smooth dough. The mallet-wielders chant to keep the rhythm.
The process of making mochi is quite dramatic. At times, the crash of a mallet alternates with the swift action of a cook, who moves the dough with bare hands. Proper timing is critical.
Mochi-making expert Shoichi Sugiyama will guide volunteers in the demonstrations. Sugiyama is well-known for his demonstrations at this celebration and at a Japanese New Year event on Bainbridge Island.
Fresh mochi and mochi soup will be for sale at the event. Hiroshi’s Restaurant and Catering, operated by noted Seattle chef Hiroshi Egashira, will be selling other Japanese favorites, including teriyaki chicken, sushi rolls and yakisoba.
It’s the time of the year that all of the family gets together. People gather around the table and celebrate.
Mina Kiive, event organizer
This year’s Oshogatsu is a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the sister city association, which works to increase cross-cultural understanding.
“We have student exchanges,” Kiive said. “We have adult exchanges. We have events like this to educate the general public about our culture.”
The celebration will feature taiko drumming, aikido, dance and music. The Yelm POPS Choir will perform in Japanese and calligrapher Chiyo Sanada will host a calligraphy performance.
Children will have a chance to try calligraphy and origami.
There will be make-and-take crafts developed by event volunteer Brin Smith, who works at the Hands On Children’s Museum. Kids can try kengama, the Japanese game in which you attempt to catch a ball in a cup, and can create paper versions of the popular Japanese beckoning cat, believed to bring good luck and often displayed in businesses.
There will be the opportunity to buy lucky bags for $5 each, a fundraiser for the sister city association. The red bags, filled with toys and candy, are inspired by lucky bags sold by Japanese merchants at the New Year.
“They’re little grab bags,” said Barbara McConkey, another of the event’s organizers. “They’re all different.”
Celebrate Japanese New Year: Oshogatsu in Olympia
What: The Olympia-Kato Sister City Association hosts its fifth annual celebration of Japanese New Year.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: Free. Donations of $2 per person or $5 per family are suggested to benefit the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association.