JapanFest celebrates tradition, culture

DULUTH - JapanFest - a two-day event observing Japanese culture and tradition - celebrated its 22nd anniversary this past weekend, drawing about 18,000 people to the Gwinnett Convention Center in Duluth.

Hosted by the Japan-America Society of Georgia, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia and the Consulate General of Japan, JapanFest explored several aspects of the country's traditional and modern culture, including Japanese cuisine, music and dance.

According to Yoshi Domoto, director of the Japan-American Society of Georgia, the festival opens the door for people of America and Japan to meet and interact with those of the other culture.

"(JapanFest) showcases the uniqueness of both nations and allows people to explore different things," Domoto said.

And with more than a half-dozen local restaurants in attendance in addition to performances and workshops within the convention, attendees had plenty of things to choose from.

Snellville resident Susan Freeman, 37, came for the food.

"It's always hard finding authentic Japanese food in Gwinnett, especially if you've been to Japan," she said. "The convention allows me to find the real stuff."

In addition to the food, attendees entertained themselves through a variety workshops and shows. For adults, events such as the Nebula Dance Theatre and the Urban Kimono Fashion Show proved enticing while the children kept busy with Judo demonstrations by the Miki Judo Club and the performance of Matsuriza - a traditional Taiko drumming group.

But for others, the event wasn't just about the food, the martial arts demonstrations or the marketplace featuring deals on anything from Japanese books to toys, it was about revisiting memories from the past.

For Fred Hollinger of Stone Mountain, the event recaptured memories of his military service.

"I come to JapanFest because it brings back memories and the event allows me to make new connections through old ones," Hollinger said.

From 1976 through 1979, Hollinger served the U.S. Air Force on Yokota Base outside of Tokyo, Japan. He is currently involved with the Japan-America Society of Georgia.

The highlight of this year's event was the performance of Japanese rock group Sinatra.

Hailing from Tokyo, the band's name is a play on words - the word Sinatra (pronounced sin-ah-too-rah) means tiger in Japanese but also refers to the legendary lounge singer, Frank Sinatra.

Blending traditional Japanese music with contemporary rock, Sinatra provided the perfect balance of old and new Japan with songs such as "Kattobase" and "Mata aimashou." Despite the language barrier, Sinatra pulled through and put on a memorable show for both adults and children alike.

And while their American debut was well received, the band admitted they were a bit apprehensive before performing.

"We were anxious to get the first show out of the way, but once we began, the nervousness faded," the band said. According to the band member , their American audience played a pivotal role in them becoming comfortable on stage.

"Our Japanese fans are shyer - definitely not as noisy as Americans," they confessed. "But the energy they gave us allowed us to perform at a higher level."

But despite their success, Sinatra currently have no plans of touring the United States. Fans that missed the show may have to wait for next year's JapanFest to catch the band live, though nothing official has been set.

For more information on JapanFest and Sinatra, visit www.japanfest.org or www.myspace.com/sinatrajp.