Lauritzen Gardens hosts Japanese Ambiance Festival

The Omaha Sister Cities Association and Lauritzen Gardens held the annual Japanese Ambience Festival on October 5th and 6th. The festival is a celebration of Japanese culture and in honor of Shizuoka’s gift of the Sunpu Castle Gate to Lauritzen Gardens. The festival provides an opportunity for guests to get acquainted with diverse expressions of Japanese culture by attending performances, enjoying exhibitions, and tasting Japanese snacks and sweets.

The festival garden lawn was filled with booths manned by volunteers from Friends of Japan at UNO, where visitors could play games, practice origami, and taste Japanese snacks, including ice cream donated by Ted and Wally’s, green tea from the TeaSmith, and savory rice crackers called senbei. There were also martial arts exhibitions, including Japanese swordsmanship and traditional Japanese archery demonstrations. These are called Kendo, the way of the sword, and Kyuudo, the way of the bow, respectively.

Indoors, there were several booths with a variety of exhibits. One of booth shared the history of Japanese people who immigrated to the United States and lived in Nebraska prior to the Second World War and during Japanese Internment. Another stand boasted beautifully crafted accessories made by artist Linda Stephen with folded Japanese paper; origami crane-shaped earrings, necklaces, and colorful Christmas decorations. There were also framed landscapes and delicate postcards produced in this way.

In the hall near the entrance, visitors could see an exhibition of flower arrangements, made by members of the Omaha chapter of Ikebana International. Next to it, two Japanese women, Emiko Unno and Tomoko Shepherd, were playing koto, a wooden Japanese string instrument. The koto is the national instrument of Japan.

In the atrium a set of Japanese dolls was on display. These dolls are usually seen in Japan for the Hinamatsuri, the Dolls Festival, celebrated on March 3rd. They typically have a pyramidal body stuffed with straw or a wooden block and covered with several layers of textiles.

Inside the dining hall performers from Kokyo Taiko played Japanese drums vigorously to the delight of their audience. They were followed by Friends of Japan at UNO with Soran Bushi, a traditional dance punctuated by singing that represents fishing.

Close to the Sunpu Castle Gate on the garden grounds there is a small tea house with no walls, which was built by carpenters from Shizuoka. It has a wooden platform with a tatami mat. Tatami is a flooring type used in traditional Japanese-style rooms. The core is traditionally made with rice straw, which is covered with woven soft rush straw. Here, one of the international students who volunteered for the event performed the Japanese tea ceremony while dressed in a yukata, a light garment often worn in the summer, and invited two guests from among the public to join her and taste the tea and sweets. The Japanese Ambience Festival, time after time, brings Japanese culture to the residents of Omaha.