Japanese Friendship Garden host traditional moon-viewing festival

Mari Kaneta Suzuyuki-Kai dances a piece titled Kojo No Tsuki, or “Moon Over the Ruined Castle,” Oct. 12, 2019. (Hope O’Brien/DD)

Guests of the two day Otsukimi Moonviewing Festival stepped out of the high-rise city and into Japan for an evening event hosted by the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Shayna Price, the cultural programmer and coordinator for the garden, said the festival is a traditional event held in celebration of the Autumn moon, a way of giving thanks for a good harvest.  

This event is elegant and relaxing for Price, and is a perfect way for local people to get a taste of Japanese culture.

“This event is an awesome opportunity for the people of Phoenix to step into Japan,” Price said. 

For the Garden, this festival included a taiko drumming performance, dancers in colorful kimonos and more cultural events throughout the garden. 

Guests were met by the paths beautifully lit by purple paper lanterns and a full moon. The decorations distracted guests from the aspects of downtown like the tall apartment buildings and the sound of cars passing by.

For Susan Allen, a  Phoenix resident of 65 years, it is this mixing of cultures that has brought her to love the garden and its beauty. She appreciates the cultural impact the garden has on the downtown area, whether it be for a calm stroll through the garden during normal hours of operation, or a loud and bubbling event like the festival

“They celebrate all cultures here,” Allen said.

Just a short walk from the entrance, guests were able to take a closer glance at the moon that everyone had come to celebrate as the Phoenix Astronomical Society operated a large telescope in the gardens for the night.

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As guests continued along the garden path and past the telescope, the melodic sounds of the koto, a Japanese string instrument, could be heard. Sitting in front of the tea house, normally closed to the public, the music of Yoko Awaya on the koto could be soaked up amongst the dimly lit trees.

A few steps away, many saw their names in Japanese characters for the first time as Japanese women with wooden brushes shared the Japanese calligraphy. Women dressed in colorful floral kimonos displayed goods like folding fans and oil-paper umbrellas.

Soon the moon became the main source of light for the night, and the music shifted from the tea house to a large drum at the main stage. Guests dined on a mixture of Korean and Japanese foods as Ken Koshio shared the sounds of the taiko with the audience.

Koshio, a Japanese folk artist and taiko player, moved to Phoenix in 2004 and believes that the gardens and festival have brought cultural diversity and a calm place to downtown Phoenix.

“It is like silence in the big city,” Koshio said. “It’s keeping the traditions alive.”

The atmosphere began to shift as the large drums were carried off and the stage was momentarily left bare before dancers in traditional kimonos filled the blank space. Folding hand-held fans and delicate movements characterized the dances that captivated the audience and caught the eyes of each passerby.

As the event ended, Koshio once again took the stage to fill the silence and provide a good-bye to those leaving the gardens for the night.

According to Debra Barnes, who has worked with the gardens since the first rock was placed in the garden, the festival provides guests of all backgrounds with a unique look into Japanese culture.

“This event gives us an opportunity to share the legends, myths, metaphors, and the celebrations of the Japanese culture,” she said.

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