Revel in the return of sumo at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s 43rd annual Japanese Festival. Join the Missouri Botanical Garden in celebrating the culture and traditions of Japan when the annual Japanese Festival returns to St. Louis!
Since 1977, the Garden has proudly hosted this unique event in one of the largest Japanese gardens in North America. A prolific collaboration with several local Japanese-American organizations provides authentic Japanese music, art, dance, food and entertainment for thousands of visitors each year.
The three-day Labor Day weekend is filled with sights, sounds and experiences for the entire family, including martial arts demonstrations, traditional Japanese fare and origami paper folding.
The 2019 Japanese Festival is Saturday, August 31, and Sunday, September 1, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Monday, September 2 (Labor Day), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is $16 for adults ages 13 and over and $8 for members; member children (ages 12 and under) are free. Visit mobot.org/japanesefestival for details.
Seiwa-en, the “garden of pure, clear harmony and peace,” takes center stage for the weekend’s festivities. A lively opening ceremony kicks off the celebration at 11 a.m. Saturday morning in the Japanese Garden entrance with music, remarks by distinguished guests, the ritual of kagamiwari, or breaking into the sake barrel, and a performance by the St. Louis OsuwaTaiko drummers.
This year, the Garden welcomes sumo wrestling back into its lineup of performances for the first time since 2015.
Sumo, Japan’s national sport, is a form of full-contact wrestling. It originated in ancient times as religious performances to the Shinto gods. Many ancient rituals are still followed. The basic rules of sumo are simple: the losing wrestler (rikishi) is the one who first touches the floor with something other than the sole of his foot or leaves the ring (dohyo) before his opponent.
Among the sumo squaring off this year is Byamba a four-time world sumo champion. By the time he was 18 years-old, Byamaba was a top-ranked wrestler. Since then, the five-year pro has fought in 30 countries, amassing more than 800 live exhibitions. He has appeared in more than 500 TV showings, films and commercials. Joining Byamba are Yama and Hiroki. Yama claims the title of heaviest sumo ever, at 600 pounds. Although he retired from pro sumo after two world titles, Yama still participates in events throughout the U.S. He is also a frequent guest on various culinary TV shows. Hiroki also boasts an impressive media presence, appearing on BuzzFeed’s “Tasty” and in a WWE event. The 12-year pro is a U.S. Sumo Open medalist and has captured two divisional champion titles.
The three sumo will demonstrate their craft two times per day, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and at noon and 4 p.m. on Sunday and Monday.
Japanese Festival will offer an array of other demonstrations, activities and tours for all ages and interests. Watch martial arts demonstrations of judo, kendo, aikido and karate-do, along with the more ancient koryu bugei. Understand the role of zen in influencing these arts on Saturday and Monday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.
Rev. Daigaku Rummé, head priest of the Confluence Zen Center in Maplewood, will educate visitors on Zen’s principles and how they relate to Japanese culture. Time permitting, visitors will have a chance to try Zen meditation (zazen) for themselves.
The private Teahouse Island of the Japanese Garden will be open for guided public tours every hour from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday. Normally closed to the public, visitors can see the Garden’s soan, the farm hut-style teahouse, which was a gift from Missouri’s sister state of Nagano prefecture in Japan. Originally built in Japan, the teahouse was reassembled on-site by Japanese craftsmen and dedicated during a Shinto ceremony in 1977. Visitors can also see a snow-viewing lantern, yukimi-doro, a gift from St. Louis’ sister city of Suwa, Japan. Teahouse Island tour tickets are $10 each. The maximum group size per tour is 20.
Learn about the disciplined art of ikebana flower arranging and the proper pruning of a delicate bonsai tree. Marvel at the quick work of ice sculptor Naomi Hamamura as he wields a chain saw to create birds and other objects from large, frozen blocks. Enjoy a colorful kimono fashion show on Sunday inside the Shoenberg Theater. The formal art of traditional kimono dressing is celebrated each year at this festival. Stop by the Spink Pavilion to enjoy children’s activities including origami paper folding and traditional Japanese games. Saturday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., ethnobotanist and origami artist James Lucas will demonstrate the use of different papers around the world and the complex designs origami artists create today.
Shop for souvenirs and other Asian-inspired merchandise at the Japanese marketplace and the Garden Gate Shop. Sample Japanese cuisine at the outdoor food court, including sushi, yakisoba noodles, pancake-like okonomiyaki and green tea ice cream.
On Saturday and Sunday evening, learn about Obon, the festival when the spirits of the dead return to spend time with the living, by participating in a Toro Nagashi ceremony. Lanterns are inscribed with the names of those deceased, then lit and set afloat as a way of accompanying the spirits as they depart for another year. At 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, lanterns, which can be purchased on site, will be lit and set afloat on the lake at Seiwa-en.
On Monday, visitors can learn about Gundam model building. Gundam is a popular anime franchise that features giant robots bearing the name Gundam. Building Gundam Model Kits (also known as gunpla) has been a popular pastime in Japan and has quickly spread around the world. Come and learn about the history of the popular Japanese hobby and the and the series that spawned it. The event is divided into two sessions. The first 20 people at each session will be given a Gundam model kit to build after the history presentation. For anyone who hasn’t built a model kit before, there will be step-by-step instructions to help you build your model kit. Sessions take place at 1:30 and 3 p.m. on Monday. Professionally constructed models will be on display in the theater from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday.
Via Press Release