#FindingAsia: Japan Day @ Central Park

#FindingAsia: Japan Day @ Central Park

Japan Day @ Central Park is New York City’s largest one-day celebration of all things Japanese. Having started in 2006, the festival only continues to grow even larger with thousands attending each year.

So continuing my trend of hitting up as many Japanese festivals as possible around the US, I packed my bags and flew to NYC.

The day kicked off with a 4-mile race, which saw almost 6,000 participants alone. I didn’t exactly make it out there in time to witness any of that, but I did make it out for the important stuff– an entire afternoon filled with Japanese entertainment and cultural activities.

It was great to see people of all ages gathering to appreciate Japanese culture. Families taking mom out for an unusual Mother’s Day celebration, group of friends, cosplayers, and even furry friends were out enjoying the beautiful weather and festivities.

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

Booths were set up around Central Park’s bandshell giving visitors a taste of traditional Japanese culture and typical Japanese festival games.

And thanks to JR Group, you were really encouraged to visit all them all so that you could collect stamps on your “Japan Rail Pass” and win prizes.

Smart, right?

New York - May 2015

The first booth we checked out feature origami, the traditional art of folding paper.

Tables were set up for all different skill levels. Beginners learned to make basic animals that required only a few folds, whereas advanced levels worked their way up to make ornate boxes with the help of their instructor.

New York - May 2015  New York - May 2015

Next we stopped by a booth which focused on the art of sumi-e, or Japanese ink painting and calligraphy.

We were given strips of paper and asked to think of a word or phrase that we liked. Once at the front of the line, you could either choose to have someone write it out for you, or you could go to a separate table where they’d do their best to teach you how to write it yourself.

New York - May 2015  New York - May 2015

Even traditional theatre was implemented in the festival as participants got their faces painted like famous kabuki performers.

Of course if you didn’t want full-face makeup they would have gladly given you a simple cherry blossom or kanji character on the cheek.

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

Around the corner they taught the art of kimono and had a variety of yukata to try on.

The line for this booth was probably the longest as many girls grabbed their friends to try them on for photos together. They had styles both suitable for guys and girls, but I don’t think I saw any guys participating!

New York - May 2015  New York - May 2015

Apart from those they also had booths with very typical Japanese festival games such as the yo-yo balloon game, yo-yo tsuri (ヨーヨーつり).

Fun for all ages, these colorful water balloons are tied to a long rubber string. To fish for them, you need to be able to pull one out using only a paper clip attached to a piece of rice paper.

Of course as you keep dipping the clip in water, the fragile rice paper will get weaker and weaker, making it a bit of a challenge!

New York - May 2015  New York - May 2015

There were also booths where you could meet famous Japanese characters.

I skipped Hello Kitty in favor of reuniting NHK’s Domo for a third time this month, after seeing him in DC at the National Cherry Blossom Festival and San Francisco at the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival a couple of weeks prior.

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

Another important aspect of Japan Day @ Central Park is their Cherry Tree Planning Initiative. This charity event has taken place since 2009, and is a partnership between the festival and the Central Park Conservancy.

Together they’re working towards beautifying Central Park by planting cherry trees around the premises. Each year their goal is to raise enough for two new trees from festival attendees, which costs $5,000 USD.

We were lucky enough to still have the cherry trees in bloom that weekend and after spending time appreciating them, I knew I had to make a donation!

Plus, those who donate $20 or more to help support the initiative will receive a t-shirt featuring the winning original design from the Japan Day Art Contest.

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

Back on the main stage, performances were taking place all day from traditional Japanese dance to more contemporary J-pop performances and video game song-playing bands.

The NY Ondo with The Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York kicked off the beginning of Act II with their traditional Bon Odori. Soon, they had everyone, young and old, joining in the dance as they instructed bystanders on the fly.

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

One of the highlights of the festival were the J-pop artists that they were able to fly in from Japan.

The first group to perform was EXPG Boyz, a group consisting of nine boys all from Japan who have recently relocated to NYC to break into the US music industry.

Despite never hearing of them before, they were pretty good. And their dance skills were right on par with any K-pop group!

New York - May 2015

 

The real show stopper (and who I was most excited to see) was AKB48.

AKB48 is an all-girl idol group and they’re a HUGE deal in Japan. Members of this group are seen all over TV, their songs are always topping the charts (they’re the first group in history to ever release 20 consecutive albums; each selling over a million copies), and people (read: mainly creepy guys) spend all day lined up for the chance to visit them at the AKB48 Theatre in Akihabara.

So how did such a popular group come to perform at Japan Day @ Central Park?

Well, last year festival attendees created a music video to AKB48’s hit song Fortune Cookie. The video kind of took off on YouTube and AKB48 actually saw it! They loved it and sent six members of the group to perform at Japan Day @ Central Park this year.

The members who flew in from Japan to perform were: Saho Iwatate, Rina Hirata, Haruna Kojima, Tomu Muto, Rena Nozawa, and Ryoka Oshima. They were so well received by festival attendees and had so many fans come out to support them.

Their performance was short (only five songs) but they at least performed all my favorites!

It was the perfect ending to a fun day appreciating Japanese culture. Next year will be the festival’s 10th anniversary, so I can only imagine what they’ll do to top this year. I know I’ll be trying to attend, and I hope to see you there!

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

New York - May 2015

 

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Have you been to Japan Day @ Central Park before?

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29 Comments

  1. July 3, 2015 / 5:46 pm

    That looks like such a fun fun event! I wish there’s a Japan Day here as well.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 1:28 pm

      They’re starting to spread! This year Chicago just establish a Japan Day event that I’ll be attending next week.

  2. June 25, 2015 / 10:46 pm

    First of all your pictures are spectacular! Something like this would be great in Washington, DC… but I guess we have the Cherry Blossom festival :)

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:11 pm

      Aw, thanks Maria! You guys have the largest Japanese festival in the country :)

  3. June 25, 2015 / 11:50 am

    I didn’t even know that there was a Japan Day at Central Park! How fun and you just might learn a thing or two about another culture!!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:13 pm

      I honestly didn’t even know about it until earlier this year, so figured I had to fly in to check it out for myself! Perfect excuse to finally visit NYC.

  4. Elizabeth O.
    June 25, 2015 / 9:33 am

    What a super fun event. I just love the black Lolita dresses.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:18 pm

      I was surprised to see the Lolita dress! Pretty though!

  5. June 25, 2015 / 7:19 am

    So many great pictures here, they are so beautiful! Looks like that you a fantastic time, what a great opportunity!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:18 pm

      Thanks Cindy! Glad I could give you a sneak peak :)

  6. June 25, 2015 / 2:13 am

    Your pictures are amazing, I really got a feel for the event looking through them. I love the idea of planting the cherry trees, I bet they’ll look beautiful come spring.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:20 pm

      Thanks Catherine, glad you’ve enjoyed them! I think Central Park would look lovely with cherry trees blooming.

  7. Ron Leyba
    June 24, 2015 / 11:48 pm

    Awesome festivity and event. Hope I can personally witness one soon! Nice photos by the way.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:19 pm

      Thanks Ron! It was a good time.

  8. June 24, 2015 / 9:44 pm

    This looks like so much fun. I would love to attend and get to experience their culture and interests.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:19 pm

      I hope you get the chance to someday!

  9. June 24, 2015 / 6:50 pm

    I love seeing all the performances and activities at the event. What an amazing experience to take part in.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:08 pm

      It was a lot of fun!

  10. June 24, 2015 / 4:20 pm

    Wow what a cool event. A great way to experience the culture and all things from Japan. I would love to attend this type of day!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:07 pm

      I hope you get a chance to! It was a blast.

  11. June 24, 2015 / 12:23 pm

    I love this as travel is out of my future for awhile hehe with my herd of littles but i enjoyed reading and seeing the culture!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:07 pm

      Even if it’s hard to travel (due to kids, money, whatever) there are still plenty of ways to feel abroad at home. :)

  12. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)
    June 24, 2015 / 11:12 am

    I had no idea they even did this. I am only a 3 hour train ride away, so I want to come down one year to check it out. How cool.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:05 pm

      They do it every year in early May– you’ll have to watch for it next year!

  13. June 24, 2015 / 11:03 am

    This looks like so much fun! If we are ever up that way, I would love to check this out, fun and educational!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:04 pm

      You must! It actually was really educational and fun.

  14. June 16, 2015 / 7:59 pm

    Reading this, I almost felt like I was there! Lol nice wrap up and beautiful photos. Thanks for teaching me all about the balloon game!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 6:03 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it and could learn something new! :)