Editor’s note: The author of this article is half Japanese American, and felt her cultural and ethnic identity was relevant to her representation of the festival and experience attending. Personally, she felt the festival provided a platform for representing a culture that is underrepresented within the midwest.
From ornamental plants to centuries old forms of comedy to traditional dancing, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Japanese Festival provided an opportunity to experience Japanese culture that doesn’t involve a 12-hour flight.
One of the traditional forms of entertainment present at the festival was performances by St. Louis Osuwa Taiko. The organization is an ensemble of performers who play Taiko, a category of traditional Japanese percussion instruments often used in festivals. Rosemary Mroczkowski, a member of the ensemble, said that the loud reverberation of Taiko drums matches the emotional attachment of hearing your mother’s heartbeat before you are born.
“The connection between this very loud booming sound that you can feel through the ground, through the floor and with your heart — I think that is irreplaceable in life,” Mroczkowski said.
The festival, despite being on a different weekend than the holiday itself, had some elements shared with the Japanese holiday of Obon, a traditional Japanese Buddhist holiday based around honoring the spirits of ancestors. The main shared element between the festival and the holiday was Bon Odori, an event typical for the holiday where traditional Japanese folk dances are performed. Taiko drums are often used in these dances as well.
Another traditional form of performance at the festival was Rakugo, a style of traditional Japanese entertainment involving a complicated, long comedic story where a single performer represents all of the characters. The performances were run by St. Louis Japanese Language School. Jayme Lowe, one of the performers from the school, said that she was inspired to perform by seeing others perform Rakugo for many years.
“As an art form, I’ve always enjoyed storytelling, and I’ve really enjoyed Japanese stories in particular,” Lowe said.
Throughout the day during the festival, the Bonsai Society of Greater St. Louis displayed Bonsai in the Linnean House, a greenhouse within the front area of the Gardens. Bonsai is a traditional style of Japanese tree cultivation that creates miniature trees, with the term itself translating to “tray planting.” Chris Jersan, a member of the society, said his interest in Japanese culture and love for growing things compelled him to join.
“Producing something that looks like an old tree in nature is what we’re aiming for. With our display here, you can also see we’re setting a whole scene for the trees as well,” Jersan said.
The St Louis Chapter of Ikebana International also had displays in the Linnean House. They displayed Ikebana, a centuries old style of flower arrangement linked to Buddhist tradition in Japan. Most of the arrangements on display were cultivated within the school of Ikenobō, the oldest style of Ikebana. Judy Blix, the president of the chapter, noted that the chapter’s vice president Yoshiko Mitchell was their professor of Ikenobō.
“You learn to appreciate all nature, the little buds coming on, the strong beautiful ones that are in full bloom, and the ones that are passed,” Blix said. “We can appreciate a leaf that’s buggy because that’s part of life. I’ve enjoyed being in this group because the appreciation of nature goes beyond just the perfect beauty.”
More details on the event can be found on the Botanical Garden’s website.