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Japanese Fest draws crowds to Hermann Park

April 14, 2019 GMT

Mario DePavia first became interested in Japanese culture when he was in elementary school.

He had gone to the house of a Japanese-American friend and when he arrived he noticed everything in the house, from the floors to the decor, were different.

“I was really interested in what his family was like and where he came from,” DePavia said. “Turns out he didn’t know very much about Japanese culture either, his parents, his grandma seemed to know a little bit more, and we started to explore Japanese culture together.”

DePavia, now 18, delved into researching Japanese culture, even spending last year studying abroad in Japan. He has taken a special interest in Yosakoi, a special style of Japanese dance performed at festivals and events.

His passion led him to become president of the Clements High School Yosakoi Club, which performed in front of hundreds on the main stage of the 26th annual Japanese Festival Houston over the weekend.

The two-day festival in Hermann Park featured food, shopping and entertainment. The Houston festival is one of the most attended in the United States, according to its website.

Japanese culture on display martial arts exhibitions, tea ceremonies and taiko playing, which is a sort of percussion instrument similar to a drum.

The presentation in the Japanese Gardens showed visitors a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony — an elaborate tradition that includes cleansing the utensils, picking out specific bowls and silverware that reminds the host of their guest, and stirring the tea a certain way. Tea and sweets were then served to visitors could participate.

“A tea ceremony is never served for just one person,” said Audrey Charlton the narrator of the ceremony and a volunteer with the Urasenke Association. “It’s a gift for the guest.”

Krystal Clark, 36, attended the festival for the first time this year to watch her son perform with his karate school. She said she enjoyed all the small shops that had been set up surrounding the reflection pool.

“All the different vendors and all the different activities we can do here, it’s nice,” said Krystal Clark, 36. “They’re friendly.”

Vendors sold items including stuffed animals, key chains, T shirts and kimonos.

One stand that attracted attention carried handmade clay flowers that closely resemble real flowers.

Artist Ann Spencer, known as the “Clay Flower Lady,” has been making the flowers for a decade. Originally from Laos, she has been coming to the festival for five year, where she makes small flowers for her customers.

Her most extravagant design is an orchid, about a foot and a half tall in a range of colors. She also makes smaller arrangements, a few inches tall, and everything has at least one signature mushroom at the bottom.

“It’s just fun, that’s why I can never retire from it,” Spencer said. “I’ve retired from everything else, but not this.”

People wearing cosplay costumes walked the grounds. The extravagant costumes, often complete with wigs and tails, allow fans to step into the shoes of their favorite characters, especially those from anime (Japanese cartoons) or manga (Japanese graphic novels).

“I guess I posted (my Halloween costume) somewhere and someone was like ‘nice cosplay’ and I had no idea what that was,” said 19-year-old Keone Coleman. “I looked it up and was like ‘Wait a second, so you’re telling me you can celebrate Halloween year-round whenever you want?’ I was just so pumped about it.”