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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 9, 2006

Families celebrate new year at festival

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lincoln Okada of Tenrikyo Hawaii Dendocho turns mochi between pounds by Tate Yamashita, 3, and his dad, Scot, at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i's New Year's 'Ohana Festival. Many parents said they brought their kids to experience and preserve the culture.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Pat Fontanilla and her grandson, Logan Henderson, 1, try out the taiko drums during the New Year's 'Ohana Festival at Mo'ili'ili Field. Logan and his brother want to become taiko drummers, his mom said.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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From his father's shoulders, 3-year-old Tate Yamashita watched several young men pound mochi. Then he got a turn at the centuries-old Japanese New Year's tradition.

With some help from his dad, Tate gave five hearty whacks to the tough, white rice mixture with a special kid-sized mallet at Mo'ili'ili Neighborhood Park. His mom and younger brother looked on with smiles.

"Nowadays there are not too many traditions left. I wanted to show him some of the traditions that have survived," said Tate's father, Scot Yamashita.

The New Year's 'Ohana Festival put on yesterday by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i gave the Yamashitas and other families an opportunity to share Japanese culture with the younger generation and to honor their heritage through food, art and entertainment.

Scot Yamashita of 'Aiea said he remembered seeing mochi-tsuki, or mochi pounding, and taiko drumming when he was young.

"It was pretty neat to see. We mainly came to expose them (his sons) to this," he said.

Mochitsuki is a Japanese New Year's custom that allows members of a community to reflect on the blessings and events of the previous year.

Before pounding mochi, Tate and his 1-year-old brother, Tobey, participated in another Japanese tradition gyotaku, or fish printing.

Dozens of children lined up to paint a real fish in a rainbow of colors and then press it against a sheet of white paper to make an imprint.

Tate had made a yellow fish print and left it to dry as he explored the booths and exhibits with his family.

Yamashita said he tries to expose his children to as many cultures as possible. Last summer, the Yamashitas visited England and Norway to expose the children to "the haole side," said Yamashita, who is hapa-haole.

"The world is so mixed now and I think it is important to teach him about every portion of his background," Yamashita said.

The festival included craft booths, a Japanese book sale, keiki craft activities, performances, games and storytelling, all to usher in a prosperous 2006.

Others saw the festival as an opportunity to indulge in Japanese cuisine.

Janette Freeman of Mo'ili'ili stood in line for 45 minutes to buy three okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake with a variety of fillings.

"It's a really nice, unusual dish," said Freeman, who came specifically to the festival for the okonomiyaki. She said she has heard of only one place in Waikiki that serves the dish.

Malia Tanji, 27, of Kailua had been standing in line for 30 minutes and was about 15 to 20 people away from tasting her first okonomiyaki.

"I've never tried it it's not something you can get everywhere," Tanji said.

Another big attraction yesterday was taiko drumming by Hawaii Matsuri Taiko of Wahiawa. The group played two sets in the morning and at one point invited spectators, mostly children, to try out the drums.

Kailua resident Janelle Henderson's two sons went on stage with their grandmother. Three-year-old Luke Henderson had a mini taiko drum set at home and wanted to give the big drums a try, Henderson said.

After a few drumbeats, Luke ran off stage toward his mother, who was taking pictures. "He wanted to tell me that he wants a big drum set like that," said Henderson, 35.

Luke has about four years before he is able to join a taiko group but is already getting a jump start, said his mother.

"He listens to his favorite musician, Kenny Endo, every morning," Henderson said. Luke owns a CD of the master taiko drummer, she said.

Luke's younger brother, Logan, also wants to become a taiko drummer, Henderson said.

Henderson said exposing her sons to the Japanese culture will help them better understand their family and keep traditions alive.

"I think it is important for them to know where they came from and understand our history," Henderson said.

Yesterday's festival also brought out many people not of Japanese ancestry who wanted to expose themselves and their children to the culture.

Five-year-old Leilani Schlesser was too busy to talk. She was pasting together a hagoita, a Japanese paddle game, using a wide array of colorful paper. Her mom, Malia Schlesser, said this is the third or fourth time the two have participated in a Japanese festival.

"I love learning about the Japanese culture," said Schlesser, 40, originally from Luxembourg. She said she thinks it is important for children to be exposed to many cultures so that they will become better citizens of the world.

"That's what Hawai'i is all about," Schlesser said.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.