By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — “Hurry, mom. They are performing now,” Leani said as she paced faster to the Band Shell in Central Park, squeezing through a compact audience standing underneath the fierce sunlight of spring.
The popular Japanese idol girl band AKB48 was this year’s special guest in the annual Japan Day on May 10, 2015. The crowd roared at Saho Iwatate, Ryoka Oshima, Tomu Muto, Haruna Kojima, Rina Hirata, and Rena Nozawa, the six members of the band.
(The AKB48 was formed in 2005 which consists of 138 members, and divided into Team A with 24 members, Team K with 21 members, Team B with 23 members, and Team 4 with 23 members, Team 8 with 47 members. Each of the teams has its own theme. Team A represents freedom, Team B is idol-like with cutesy costumes,Team K has a strong and powerful image, and Team 4 represents “the future of AKB48.” The member lineup often changes when girls get older, they “graduate” from the group, and are replaced by members promoted from the trainees.)
About 50,000 people, obviously gleeful on a sunny Mother’s Day and sporting light, sleeveless shirts and shorts, were entertained with traditional Japanese and contemporary performances.
Events like these make me enjoy watching people more, how they enjoy a celebration together with friends and family. Leani met a few of her friends at school who have gone close with some Japanese students. They chatted and laughed the afternoon away over some Japanese snacks and iced tea. The day couldn’t be brighter.
The Japan Day @ Central Park is an annual event in spring that celebrates Japanese culture with New Yorkers. It began in 2007 with the intent to build bridges of cultural understand between the peoples of Japan and the US.
Japan Day this year traditionally kicked off with the Japan Run, followed by the Kids’ Race. It showed the local Japanese’s community’s appreciation towards its home city, New York, and facilitate stronger grassroots connections.
The food and activity tents teemed with interesting cuisine and games reflecting the rich Japanese culture. The Gyoza booth offered these delectable dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables and wrapped in a thin dough. And the Yakisoba sold one of Japan’s best known street foods, the “grilled noodles”. People were patient to sample on Japanese sweets at the Warabi Mochi and some tea at the Tea booth.
Later during the day, Leani had her fill of the takoyaki or octopus balls.
The activity booths were equally interesting. People tried on the kimono and yukata and obi belt and geta sandal at the Try On Yukata booth. I took pictures of women in Japanese yukata and later found that they were Chinese. “I am Chinese, but I like Japanese. And I am just having fun,” said a fair and petite New Yorker.
Young and old alike loved the yo-yo fishing, a challenging feat of getting a yo-yo balloon before the paper hook disintegrates.
The origami and calligraphy booths offered therapeutic fun.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has continuously supported the Japan Day as well the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy. The Consulate-General of Japan in New York, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, The Nippon Club and many Japanese and American corporations all contributed to realize the celebration.