Japan took center stage in Salt Lake City on Saturday-two stages, in fact.
After suffering a cancellation in 2009, the fifth annual Nihon Matsuri (literally translated as Japan festival) returned to the city this year, with a large crowd turning out for the event, packing 100 South between 200 West and 300 West with festival goers.
The festival’s purpose is to “share and educate the larger Utah community about Japanese and Japanese American culture, history, and traditions” and also to “pass on the Japanese traditions and culture to younger fifth, sixth, and seventh generation Japanese Americans,” according to the event’s website.
A whole host of events, demonstrations, and exhibits were scheduled for the day; events were split between two stages, the Japanese Church of Christ, and the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple. Items on the schedule included a traditional tea ceremony, a kimono fashion show, martial arts demonstrations, and an anime cosplay showcase.
Cosplay, or “costume play,” is regarded as a form of performance art in which participants dress up in costumes and role play, often as characters from popular manga (Japanese comic books) or anime (Japanese animation) series. Anime has grown increasingly popular in the United States, beginning in the 1960s with television shows such as Speed Racer and Astro Boy and continuing unto the present decade. Anime films and TV series can now be found easily and extensively on American television and in entertainment stores, and anime conventions take place yearly across the country, including Salt Lake City’s Anime Banzai.
Cosplay participant and confessed Japanophile Melissa Schurig, 23, believes that Nihon Matsuri is a positive thing for Salt Lake City in that it’s able to educate local residents about authentic Japanese traditions. “You see a lot of stuff on TV about Japanese culture and usually it’s in movies and it’s not completely accurate” she says, claiming that often what makes it into American entertainment fictionalizes and sensationalizes the truth about the Far East nation.
In addition to her interest in anime and cosplay, Schurig explains that she also is involved in studying the art of the tea ceremony and kimono (traditional Japanese dress), and is learning to play the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument. “It’s a really interesting culture,” she says. “It’s so different from our own.”
Japanese immigrants began arriving in Utah in the last decades of the 18th century and slowly grew into a thriving community. The ground upon which the Salt Palace Convention Center was built and the surrounding area was once home to an enclave of Japanese-owned shops and businesses, but new development in the area-including the Salt Place itself-essentially put an end to the era of what was once known as Japantown.
In 2007, the Salt Lake City Council bestowed an honorary name change on the block of 100 South between 200 West and 300 West and street signs now carry the name Japantown Street in addition to its grid designation. Nihon Matsuri now brings attention to the area’s history through its utilization of Japantown Street as the festival’s location.