SALT LAKE CITY — Look out: Taiko drummers are taking to the streets of Salt Lake City.
It's a recurring scene, as the Nihon Matsuri Japan Festival, which takes place Saturday, April 27, is now in its 13th year.
The event celebrates all things Japanese and is a full-blown community effort, with the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, the Japanese Church of Christ in Salt Lake City, a Japanese ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Salt Lake chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League all helping to make it possible.
"One of the reasons for the festival is to give an opportunity for all of these different organizations, church and civic organizations, to get engaged … and just be part of the community," said Floyd Mori, one of the festival's founders and former national executive director of the JACL.
And thanks to the community's efforts, the festival doesn't stop with the Taiko drums; Japanese food vendors, cultural booths and martial arts will also be on display.
But this year's festival isn't just about the entertainment. An exhibit titled "Contested Histories" shows a collection of artifacts created by people of Japanese descent while in American internment camps during World War II. The exhibit coming to Salt Lake City will show photographs, sculptures, paintings, watercolors, jewelry, vases, nameplates and other handmade items physically or digitally.
The collection, from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, will be on display in the Buddhist Temple exhibit hall, 211 W. 100 South.
The museum is now working to uncover the history and stories behind the artifacts, touring the exhibit throughout the country with the hope that descendants will be able to identify objects and people in the photographs. Discovering connections and stories across the country has been a rewarding experience for Clement Hanami, a representative of the exhibit.
One way Hanami has been able to make connections is through pilgrimages to internment camps, where those with ties to these camps visit to honor loved ones who were imprisoned. Most recently, while attending the Jerome/Rohwer Pilgrimage in Arkansas, Hanami met Sharon Ideta Fukushima, who recognized her father in one of the photos displayed. In the photograph, her father, Takashi Ideta, is standing by a nameplate at the Jerome War Relocation Center. Fukushima had brought that very nameplate in the photograph with her to the exhibit.
"This is exactly why we're doing this, why we're going to these locations," Hanami said. "Just to have that experience with her and her entire family there made for a great story. We've been fortunate to find at least one connection at every location, whether it's someone identifying someone in a photograph or actually making a connection with an actual object.”
Hanami hopes he'll make even more connections during his visit to Salt Lake City.
"I'm hoping that it'll inspire people to look for their own personal stories and find the hidden gems in their own personal lives,” he said. “But the reason why we're in Salt Lake City is to try to connect with elder Japanese Americans, or even their offspring."
Mori said there's a lot of Japanese American history in Utah that could lead to these connections.
"When I tell people there's a significant Japanese American, Asian American, Pacific Islander population in Utah, they don't get it. They think Utah is a cowboy state with very few minorities. It's very important the rest of the state understands the Japanese have played a very important role in agriculture, mining, the railroads and the early history of Utah," said Mori, whose own father was a railroad worker who immigrated to Utah.
While at its heart the festival is a celebration, Mori hopes those who attend will dig even deeper and take note of the history and recognize the stories of Japanese Americans in Utah.
"Much like a lot of minority communities, they're just kind of left out of the story," he said.
If you go …
What: Annual Nihon Matsuri Japan Festival
Where: Japantown Street (100 South Between 200 And 300 West)
When: April 27, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
How much: free