By Newroz Saribas
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
At the 38th Annual Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival held on April 21-23, people of all cultures flooded the Seattle Center Armory to learn about Japanese culture and to watch a reenactment of the 1997 attempt to break the world record for the longest sushi roll.
Global music, dance, art, crafts, history, food, and insight were all presented through a unique partnership called Festál, which brings together community organizations and the Seattle Center.
Festál events captivate and enlighten festival-goers as they experience the distinct cultures that shape the character and course of their broader community.
“We looked back 20 years to when we first made the roll, because Seattle Center Festál is turning 20,” said Tazue Saski, Board Chair and Performing Arts Chair of the Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival Committee. “That is where the idea to reenact the sushi roll came from.”
Volunteers reenacted its 1997 Guinness record title in the category of “Longest Sushi Roll.” Organizers created a roll of over 100 feet with the assistance of 14 five-person teams.
The sushi roll was a traditional Futomaki, which means “fat-roll” — with five items inside to ensure good luck.
“Rolls must have an odd number of ingredients,” said Lynn Miyauchi, member of the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle. “Celery, rice, seaweed, egg, mushroom, pickled radish, and dry gourd are in today’s roll.”
Miyauchi took part in the original 1997 world record breaking attempt. She was part of the same team last time and said the thrill hasn’t changed.
Ben Erickson, a roller for the Seattle-Kobe Sister-City Association team, said that they did have a practice run, but some people were filling in, so they weren’t sure if as a team they could successfully roll the 100-foot sushi.
Erickson said that they were not trying to break the current world record held for longest roll achieved by Tamana Otawara Festival Executive Committee in Japan at over 9,000 feet.
“We would need more Seattle for that,” said Erickson.
The 14 teams that participated were from groups in Seattle related to Japanese culture.
Aisha Fukushima, a local-born rapper and activist, performed a piece encouraging diversity, battling the boxes that society has set for her, as a person who is part of the Hapa community. Hapa is a Hawaiian term generally acceptable for Asian mixed-race persons.
When the beat to her rap was slow to come on, she improvised, beatboxing and freestyling. “When I say ‘hip,’ you say ‘hop,’” she called to the crowd, engaging them in a call-and-response.
Saski, a Japanese American, said that the festival is a way for Japanese people to celebrate their different cultures. “Gives understanding into the culture, like Aisha Fukushima was saying, celebrating mixed heritage, celebrating the culture,” Saski said.
Culture is all the same in the end, in that we all value kindness and honesty. “When you look out at it, it comes out to be the same, we value certain things this festival gives us the chance to do so.”
Saski has been working at the festival for many years. A bystander helping to set up shouted “decades,” making her blush.
The annual event originated in 1976 when Prime Minister Takeo Miki donated 1,000 cherry trees to Seattle. The Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival has been going on for 42 years, 38 of those celebrated at the Seattle Center Armory. This year marks the 20th year the festival has been part of the Festál series — making it one of the longest running Festál events.
It seeks to highlight the common values shared beyond cultural differences and commemorates the long friendship between the people of Japan and Washington state.
“I love the Japanese American community in Seattle. Being a community together and the Cherry Blossom Festival is great for that,” said Erickson.
For more information on Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival, visit cherryblossomfest.org, and to learn more about this collection of ethnic cultural events, Festál, and other Seattle Center public programming, visit seattlecenter.com.
Newroz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.