Held on Aug. 11, the Omatsuri, which translates to “festival”, attracted over 5,000 people to Max Bell Centre.
Maureen Coleman, one of the volunteers and committee members for the festival said the festival began with an idea from a couple of the original committee members.
“Ted Wada and Rocky Oishi, really came up with this idea that in Japan, once a year, many small towns have a festival and it’s an opportunity for them to come out, do a number of activities to bring the community together and celebrate.”
Run completely by volunteers from the Calgary-Japanese community, this event has taken place since 2011, starting with 1,000 people attending and growing each year.
“When you go to Japan, just about every city, from the south to the north, [has] this festival in the summertime. This is a celebration of health and happiness, and family union, just everything for the great harvest. That’s one thing that was lacking in Calgary and this is something we wanted to bring in,” said Wada, chair of the Omatsuri committee.
The event this year was the first time Japanese restaurants joined in, as well as adding a sake fest. Previously, volunteers had brought in all the food themselves.
Coleman adds that “there are about 7,000-8,000 Japanese people in Calgary, which is a pretty small percentage when you look at the millions of people that are here in Calgary. Certainly, I think it is to give Calgarians a taste of Japan and Japanese items and things like that — so many people now travel to Japan.”
“A lot of people come wearing the Japanese kimono and yukata. One comment I heard is when they come here they feel like they’re in Japan,” said Wada. “That means we’ve done this right and I’m so happy there are so many people taking it in and learning something about Japan.”
Alongside the traditional Japanese dances, performances and singers, members from the Chinese-Canadian community have also performed. The committee invites representatives from another Asian culture to showcase and celebrate every year alongside their Japanese neighbours.
A couple of the main events celebrating Japanese traditions include the opening ceremony, where the Kagami Biraki, or “opening the mirror”, and the opening of a sake barrel takes place.
“That ceremony is very important for Japanese people, like an opening ceremony, wedding ceremony, completion ceremony, any type of ceremony, we will do this Kagami Biraki,” said Yasuhiro Washiyama, from Saki Gami, one of the contributing sake distributors.
The festival also features the carrying of the omikoshi, a portable shrine for the gods and spirits.
“[It] is carried on the shoulders of an omikoshi team, and the idea is that while they parade around the grounds, they jostle this omikoshi and hopefully release the spirits and raise the spirits of the festival goers, so it’s really unique to the Japanese festival,” said Coleman.
The consulate general of Japan also joined the celebration, bringing the Eitetsu Fu-n No Kai Taiko drum collaboration from Japan for the first time to Canada.
“It’s all a part of, well, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of Japan-Canada diplomatic relations,” said Jeremy Davies, who works with the Japanese consulate. “This is the second or third year we joined in with the omatsuri and [have] a booth here. We have supported them and they’ve supported us, it’s been very mutual.”
“Ninety years is, of course, it’s long, but not so long. I believe this 90 years is a starting push to developing a new relationship between Canada and Japan,” said Washiyama.
Wada added “there are many second- and third-generation Japanese-Canadians that live in Calgary and they also take part in it. The Canada and Japan relationship is getting stronger and stronger. [I’m] happy that we can do this for the city of Calgary and also represent Japan and also the government of Canada as a whole.”
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