Being home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) gives these sister cities a high proportion of foreign-born residents that you don’t usually see outside major urban areas.
But when these peeps come together to celebrate the traditions and holidays of their native countries, they usually do it in tightly-knit gatherings organized around closed communities such as student organizations and Facebook groups. For example, there was a shindig on Friday to celebrate Brazilian Independence Day, but if you’re not connected to the local Brazilian community you didn’t hear anything about it, and that’s just how it was meant to be.
The UIUC Japan House’s annual Matsuri is a glorious exception to the rule. Not only is it for everyone, but this celebration (it’s redundant to call it a festival, since that’s what matsuri means in Japanese) keeps growing more inclusive. Although the focus is on Japan, other Asian cultures are represented at the event, and India was a new addition at the fifth Matsuri yesterday.
Matsuri honored Asian cultural traditions (martial arts, taiko drumming) as well as contributions to popular culture (anime, manga). It drew restaurants that don’t usually participate in festivals (most notably Miga), and inspired other local favorites to come up with exclusive menus (such as Pandamonium Doughnuts’ Matcha Green Tea and Red Bean creations). And it went out of the way to bring us unique performers such as Masaji Terasawa, a.k.a. the Candyman, one of the few practitioners of the Japanese art of amezaiku (candy art); and of course the 5. 6. 7. 8’s, the all-female surf rock trio made famous by Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1.
Check out some of our favorite Matsuri 2019 sights: