Gods, cards and music

LIHUE — Chris and Darlene Azar had more than a special interest in attending the Japanese Cultural Festival at the Kauai Museum.

“We just moved here and are interested in finding out more about the community,” Chris Azar said Saturday. “But more than that, Darlene is half Japanese, her dad is from the Arakaki family who operate Arakaki Store on the Big Island.”

The Azars were among the near-capacity crowd that huddled under the additional canopy erected by Kauai Museum as a hedge on the threatening weather. Most of the audience were glued to their seats, taking in the live performances by community groups, including the Joyful Noise taiko ensemble led by Aki Conquest.

The taiko performance marked the beginning of the day during which elements of the Japanese culture were presented, including an exhibit featuring artifacts of the Japanese who were brought to Hawaii to labor on the sugar and pineapple plantations.

There were also activities.

“I did reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing,” said Bradford Kaeo. “I was busy for the entire time starting with the taiko.”

Her husband, Harold, occupied himself at the Hanafuda, a Japanese card game based on 12 different flowers — one for each month of the year. He was joined by Dr. Monty Downs, recently honored as a Kauai Museum Living Treasure, and Judy Segawa, whose roots trace back to Okinawa.

Alan Hiranaka and the Hui Alu Okinawa club filled one of the demonstration slots with a live sanshin performance, on an Okinawa stringed instrument which has overtones of the Japanese shamisen. The performance also included Okinawa taiko and dance by ladies garbed in traditional Okinawa wear.

Gladys Fujiuchi, in addition to explaining different Japanese folklore, showed off a set of seven lucky gods.

“These belonged to Marge Konishi,” Fujiuchi said. “I didn’t even know she had them. Her daughter found them while cleaning, and I had to do the research on it because I only knew about the one they talk about in Las Vegas.”

She was refering to Hotei, the god of contentment and happiness who is associated with a bag of food and treasure that never empties.

Hotei is joined by Ebisu, Benzaiten, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Jurojin and Fukurokuju. The group’s origins date to the late 15th century from Japan, India and China. The popularity of the seven deities rises during New Year’s when children placing a picture of the seven gods aboard a treasure ship under their pillows. Custom says if they have a good dream, they will be lucky for the entire year.

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