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Towson University's Japan Festival celebrates Sister City program

The Japan Festival is being held by the Baltimore Kawasaki Sister City Program along with the Asian Arts & Culture Center at Towson University from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Towson University Center for the Arts.
The Japan Festival is being held by the Baltimore Kawasaki Sister City Program along with the Asian Arts & Culture Center at Towson University from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Towson University Center for the Arts. (Ablestock.com photo, Carroll County Times)

For 35 years, Baltimore has been sharing teachers, sports teams and other cultural artifacts with Kawasaki, Japan. On Sunday, Towson University will host a festival celebrating the partnership between the two cities.

The Japan Festival is being held by the Baltimore Kawasaki Sister City Program along with the Asian Arts & Culture Center at Towson University from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 13, at the Towson University Center for the Arts, 8000 York Road, Towson.

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The festival celebrates Baltimore and Kawasaki's 35 years in Sister Cities International, a cultural exchange program that seeks to bring together cities from across the globe.

Nerissa Paglinauan Daniels, program manager at the Asian Arts & Culture Center, said the event will mirror an outdoor Japanese street festival, and will feature martial arts demonstrations, live music, dance, tea ceremonies and more.

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"It's an exciting opportunity for someone who doesn't know much about Japanese culture," Daniels said. "They'll be opened up to different foods, different crafts, different styles of music."

Yoshinobu Shiota, who works with the Baltimore Kawasaki Sister City Program as well as the Asian Arts & Culture Center, said the event has provided an interesting opportunity for the two organizations to work together to promote Japanese culture in Baltimore.

"The sister city relationship was developed not only by Japanese initiative, but also Baltimore City interest," Shiota said. "Both cities have similar characteristics, but in many ways are also very different from each other."

At the festival, Maryland Kendo Club will be performing a kendo demonstration at 1 p.m. in the Kaplan Concert Hall. David Cho, head administrator at the Maryland Kendo Club, said the group is using the event as a way to introduce kendo to people who are unfamiliar with the martial art.

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"Kendo uses a Japanese sword that comes from the samurai. It's basically what the samurai used to practice in the old days. It's a very traditional martial art. There's a very spiritual side," Cho said. "People are not really aware of kendo in this area. On the West Coast there is more of a kendo awareness, but here people don't really know what we're about."

The demonstration will begin with a display of the forms of kata, the basic patterns of swordsmanship. Following, there will be an iaido demonstration featuring a student competing against an invisible enemy. Finally, Cho said, two students will don armor and spar for the crowd.

From 3 to 5 p.m., the Washington Toho Koto Society will perform a concert in the Asian Arts Gallery on the koto, a 6-foot horizontal stringed instrument with a bridge placed underneath the instrument's 13 strings.

Kyoko Okamoto, director of the Washington Toho Koto Society, said though this is the busiest time of year for the group, with performances scheduled with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the group was happy to participate in the Japan Festival.

In addition to the performances and vendors, the festival will mark the opening of a new art exhibit, "Imprints for Impact," showcasing styles and techniques of Japanese prints, including woodcut, stencil, lithography and more. Daniels said the event is the perfect place to debut the show, which will run until May 10.

Throughout the day there will be origami and crafts for children, calligraphy demonstrations and Matsuri - Japanese festival - games. Tickets are $15 at the door.

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