by Mari Winn Taylor
The weather was spectacular for the 2014 Japan Day that took place around the bandstand in Central Park - New York City on Mother's Day. I was spending the holiday without my kids this time; so, maybe I felt more like a vagabond and less like a responsible adult.
My first challenge was finding the bandstand. Somehow I have been spoiled living in the Midwest where arrows somehow are there to point the way. Hundreds of New Yorkers sprawled on the grass also were oblivious to any nearby festivities.
Green tea or black? someone asked me as I passed food tents with signs like Gyoza, Okonomiyaki and Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, Okay, I know the name "Ramen." The tea was free and welcomed. (As an aside, interestingly a lot of tea bottles were abandoned; I guess New Yorkers don't like milk with their tea.)
The tea wasn't the only thing that was free. In its eighth year, the entirely free event is meant to not only build a rapport between the people of Japan and the U.S. but also strengthen grassroots connections within the local Japanese community.
The activities meant to deepen participants' understanding of Japanese culture weren't limited to kids but kids of all ages. One also becomes keenly aware of the New York way--standing in a long line to partake in just about everything.
The longest line was for "Try on Yukata," and I had to proceed to the head of it to find out that people were standing in it for a chance to get their photos taken while trying on or momentarily wearing Japanese summer kimonos.
Of course the event had to have demonstrations of Japanese calligraphy and origami and Kabuki face painting but new to me was Yo-Yo fishing where kids armed with a paper hook challenged themselves to catch a balloon from a small pond. The balloon filled with water has an elastic string which can be manipulated creating the "yo-yo" motion.
A father was astonished when his little girl won the grand prize offered on the successful spin of a wheel. Fukubiki is the Japanese traditional lottery she was playing and her prize was a die-cast Shinkansen train model. Less attention was being paid to a video sponsored by the Central Japan Railway Company that continuously was showing what was called the super conducting Maglev train.
Music was being performed apparently non-stop since the opening at 10:30 a.m. and even when I arrived in the mid-afternoon I was able to enjoy some serious hip-hop Japanese-style along with the accompaniment of Taiko drumming. I envied the kids hoisted on their father's shoulders because they had a great view of the stage and an area in front of it where folk dancing was performed.
Wandering away from the festival area I came upon the Loeb Boathouse near 72nd St. and Fifth Avenue that houses a rather expensive restaurant which obviously has a really great view of the lake. Wow, New York has everything, I said to myself, as a gondolier (Venice-style) guided his craft along the water's edge.
When I decided it was time to leave, I headed down Fifth Avenue to hail a cab? Heck no. I want my money's worth from my unlimited Metro pass.
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