JapanFest returns with a two-day celebration of culture, art and food

By Hannah E. Jones

Next weekend, September 17-18, will mark the 35th anniversary of the annual meeting JapanFest, one of the biggest celebrations of Japanese culture in the Southeast. The two-day festival in Duluth will feature a wide range of activities, performances and food showcasing Japanese culture and way of life.

The weekend event is held at Gas South Convention Center at 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, and the team expects to see around 20,000 visitors. The festivities are organized by JapanFest, Inc., the Japan-America Society of Georgia and the Georgia Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

JapanFest was founded in 1981 as part of a series of events organized by the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta. The festival became an annual event in 1996, and JapanFest, Inc. was designated as a non-profit organization the following year. The event has grown steadily over the years and before the pandemic drew around 26,000 attendees.

Freshly prepared Japanese cuisine is a major draw for visitors. (Photo courtesy of JapanFest, Inc.)

The weekend lineup likely has something for everyone, whether you’re a foodie, anime fan, or arts lover. Those looking to get in on the action can check out activities like the MomoCon Cosplay Contest, Anime Village, and Scavenger Hunt.

“Georgia is great [into] anime and cosplay with things like MomoCon and DragonCon,” said event manager Kazuko Lillie. “I think people are looking for a place to wear their cosplay because you can’t go to the mall dressed that way, but you can come to JapanFest. Visitors appreciate that.

“Kagura” translates to “entertaining the gods”. (Photo courtesy of JapanFest, Inc.)

People who want to sit back and enjoy the show can catch performances like the choreographed fight of samurai sword soullive storyteller readings Motoko and the Iwami Kagura snake performance that brings mythologies to life.

Freshly prepared food is also a big draw, according to Lillie, with some favorites being sushi, ramen and Japanese pancakes called okonomiyaki.

This is the first in-person festival since the pandemic began in 2020. JapanFest was held virtually that year, and the following festival was canceled two weeks before the event due to the Delta variant. The two-year hiatus has left the team and attendees eagerly anticipating this year’s event, which, for now, appears to be going according to plan.

Besides having a great time, Lillie and the team hope visitors will use the festival as a chance to learn more about Japanese culture and try something new for themselves.

“Our mission is to bring our culture to the United States. Some people think Japanese people still wear kimonos or are ninjas or samurai, but that’s not it,” Lillie said. “[With the festival,] we can show small pieces of our culture. I think we can share the experience and I want [visitors] thinking ‘I want to go to Japan one day.’ We hope everyone enjoys Japanese performances, food and shopping this weekend.

If you want to know more about the 35th JapanFest or buy tickets, Click here.

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