by KENJI TAGUMA
(Note: Taguma is president of the Nichi Bei Foundation, which presented its first Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival in San Francisco Japantown on June 11.)
The Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival was a tremendous success, primarily due to the fact that we had a broad range of experience amongst our organizational leadership that helped to put this all together in a relatively short amount of time.
Many community volunteers stepped up to help us launch this innovative and educational festival, which has roots in the Los Angeles Tofu Festival organized by the Little Tokyo Service Center for 12 years.
While we originally expected maybe 1,000 to 2,000 attendees, we actually ended up with an estimated 3,500 in and out of the Peace Plaza throughout the day. Our emcees — Jana Katsuyama of KTVU-TV and George Kiriyama of NBC Bay Area — were engaging, our two mascots — Tofu Ninja, borrowed from the L.A. Tofu Festival, and our own Tofu Panda — were extremely popular, and the “Tofun” audience participation games were a huge hit.
We also had some great entertainment, featuring performers who volunteered their time and talent to help us launch this festival — San Francisco Taiko Dojo Rising Stars, guitarist Michael Sasaki and band leader George Yoshida, Genyukai Berkeley (Okinawan music), Halau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniakea (hula), C.D. Ka‘ala Carmack (ukulele), and the Asian American rap group Scojourners.
It was a truly collaborative event, composed of some 90 or so volunteers in all from various community organizations, including the Nakayoshi Young Professionals, the Cherry Blossom Alumnae, the 2011 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Court, the Nikkei Student Union of UC Berkeley, the Eagle Service Society of George Washington High School, and the Nihonmachi Street Fair.
The Tofu Dessert Competition was also popular, ending up as a battle of the cream puffs. And 82-year-old Mary Miyata traveled all the way from Morgan Hill to participate in the competition.
People seemed to enjoy the food, and many have encouraged us to continue this new tradition.
Overall, the festival helped to fulfill the Nichi Bei Foundation’s educational mandate — exposing the public to the health benefits of soy and tofu — while helping to raise some much-needed funds. It was truly a celebration of the mighty, versatile soybean. We all look forward to next year’s event, and to see it grow in the years to come.
We are grateful to our sponsors and donors, our vendors and our volunteers who helped to make this a truly memorable event.