‘Year of the Dragon’ Theme for Oshogatsu Family Festival

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Performances will include shishimai (lion dance).

With “Year of the Dragon” as the theme, the Japanese American National Museum’s 2012 Oshogatsu Family Festival is set for Sunday, Jan. 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Little Tokyo.

The event, which is free and open to the public, features hands-on arts and crafts activities, food demonstrations and tastings, and taiko performances.

In Japanese culture, the Asian zodiac consists of 12-year cycles, with each year symbolized by a different animal. The cycle begins with the rat, followed by the ox, tiger and rabbit. The dragon is next for 2012, the only mythical creature in the Asian zodiac. In keeping with the theme, JANM has organized several activities around the dragon theme.

Throughout the Oshogatsu Family Festival, visitors will be able to construct a dragon hat, color and decorate a festive dragon streamer and participate  in the creation of a dragon likeness on a wall, using hand prints.

Ruthie’s Origami Corner will teach families how to fold their own origami dragon. Kids will have the chance to slay a dragon by jumping around in the dragon jumper.

From noon until 5 p.m., famed candy artist Shan Ichiyanagi will be creating dragon sculpture candy. Candy sculpting is an ancient Asian folk art that originated in China and has been known in Japan for over 1,000 years. A dying art, only a few performers exist in the world today. For more information about Ichiyanagi, visit http://thecandyartist.com. At 4 p.m., the candy dragons will be raffled off to visiting children.

From 1 to 4 p.m., a balloon artist will be making special balloon dragons as well.

From 2 to 4 p.m., a costumed dragon will be available for photographs.

Food will be a major component of the festival. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors can participate in the Onigiri (rice balls) Contest: Happy Rice, Lucky Rice, sponsored by Common Grains. Participants are given one cup of cooked rice and 10 minutes to develop their own original creation.

For children (under 18), three winners will be chosen in three categories: kawaii (cutest), happy, and original. Adults will have their own competition for most humorous, most original and coolest. The judges will consist of Russ Parsons, columnist for the Los Angeles Times; Lynn Chen, food blogger; Omusubi shop owner Keiko Nakashima; and Sunny Blue.

Common Grains is a Japanese food and culture project whose aim is to promote and celebrate Japanese grains. This includes rice and soba (buckwheat) produced by Shinmei, the leading Japanese rice miller. The project is led by local food writer/cooking teacher Sonoko Sakai. Common Grains offers Angelinos artisanal rice and soba workshops, rice exhibition, and soba restaurant events.

From 1 to 2 p.m., a limited supply of osechi-ryori or Japanese New Year’s food will be available. Osechi-ryori often symbolizes the wish for good health, prosperity and peace.

Zaru soba noodles are another Japanese food associated with New Year’s. From 1 to 5 p.m., Kidding Around the Kitchen will provide families the chance to make and eat zaru soba noodles.

Kidding Around the Kitchen (KATK) brings a hands-on cooking experience and lesson in which the kids actively participate in the preparation of recipes. The result of their cutting, measuring, cooking, and then eating their creations is more than simply a lesson in health, but the opportunity to get to know all kinds of food in its raw forms. For more information, visit www.kiddingaroundthekitchen.com.

Another Japanese New Year’s food is mochi. The traditional way to make mochi is to steam the sweet rice and then pound it with wooden hammers into a smooth consistency. It is then cut into patties.

Kodama Taiko is known for its demonstration of mochitsuki, or the pounding of the sweet rice. Kodama is a group of percussionists from the greater Los Angeles area who are dedicated to performing both traditional and contemporary pieces through the sounds of taiko. They will demonstrate mochitsuki while performing on taiko at 2:30 and 4 p.m.

At 4:30 p.m., another New Year’s tradition will be performed by Kinnara Taiko, the second-oldest Japanese American taiko group. Begun in 1969 under the direction of Rev. Masao Kodani, Kinnara Taiko was a grassroots group that made its own drums out of old wine barrels and created its own music to articulate a Buddhist point of view. Kinnara will perform shishimai (traditional lion dance), which was often used to scare off pests from crops and ward off evil spirits in Japan.

The Museum Store is also taking part in the New Year’s festivities with the sale of its fukubukuro (lucky bag). In Japan, department stores often have fukubukuro on sale around New Year’s. The contents of the bag are not known to the purchaser, but there is traditionally a very valuable prize in at least one bag.

JANM holds its Oshogatsu Family Festival on the first Sunday after New Year’s Day each year. For more information, visit www.janm.org.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s not an “Asian” zodiac. It’s just the Chinese zodiac. Just because you use someone’s cultural product without penalty or reimbursement does not make that cultural product your property or give you the right to pan it out to the greater geographical region.

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