Aki Matsuri Festival celebrates Japanese festival in Las Vegas

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The final celebratory bon odori group dance at Aki Matsuri. Photo by David Santiago

For a day, Henderson’s Water Street district became a hub of Japanese culture and celebration. Aki Matsuri, the beloved annual Japanese culture festival, came alive Saturday, Oct. 23rd lasting from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Las Vegas came together to celebrate Japanese culture and customs, both old and new, with everything from rappers and anime-inspired masks to taiko drums and traditional yukata robes.

“My favorite part is seeing the Las Vegas Japanese community being assembled in a single festival. The entertainment/show line up is also amazing to see not only Japanese individuals performing their traditional and cultural performances, but also see other non-Japanese individuals who have taken an interest and have performed as well alongside them,” said UNLV student, David Santiago, who attended the festival with UNLV’s Japanese Culture and Language club.

Performances at Aki Matsuri featured Japanese rapper, Tomoro, Ikebana flower arrangement workshops, a community haiku contest, and a sake taste-tasting pavilion. The stage and projector also gave homes to J-pop singers, taiko drums, hula dancing, aikido demonstrations, and a bon odori as downtown Henderson was overtaken by pure love for Japan and the Japanese American experience. 

UNLV’s Japanese Culture club made a point to visit the festival this year. Member Dannielle Doplayna said her favorite part of the festival was how she “was able to put together an accurate yukata ensemble just through the vendors at the festival, and I was also able to find someone to help me put it on correctly.” 

“There were also lots of free activities, with the huge bon odori dance at the end of the night being the perfect end. I arrived at 11 a.m., and stayed until 8 p.m., and never felt like I was out of things to do.” 

She was not the only one to notice the full pavilion of local vendors. Shopkeepers brought their goods, imports, and even toilets to the festival, sharing hand-painted butterfly clips, anime-inspired masks, and jade jewelry, among many other items. Local Japanese restaurants also showed up, serving steamed buns, sushi, Hawaiian rice bowls, and more.

UNLV student and Japanese club member Pierre Vi said, “I came to the Aki Matsuri festival to experience a slice of the Japanese community in Las Vegas. Hearing people speaking Japanese made me feel for a bit that I had traveled to Japan. It was truly a culturally enriching experience from beginning to end.”

Enriching and heartfelt are two perfect words for the festival. It was truly suited for all ages, with sake and beer-tasting for adults and masks and toys for kids. It was something that everyone could get involved in, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or background. Aki Matsuri gave space for the Vegas community to celebrate and respect the Land of the Rising Sun, even in light of Anti-Asian sentiments in the COVID-19 world. It was a place to learn, exchange, honor, and enjoy the fullness of another culture, without any fear or disrespect, and that was a beautiful thing to be a part of. To the organizers of Aki Matsuri, arigato gozaimasu!

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