By: Caitlin Brown
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, each of which holds its own distinct history and cultural identity and contributes to the overall essence of the area. Even years after first visiting Chicago, I still find myself surprised by the diversity that each cross-section of streets exudes.
This weekend, I attended the Kodomo Matsuri (or, “Children’s Day”) festival at the Japanese American Society of Chicago (JASC) and once again felt that I was stepping into an exuberant new community. The JASC was established in 1930 to help form connections between Japanese and American cultures through education, dialogue, and cultural events. And while Chicago’s Chinatown is likely the better known Asian-American epicenter, make no mistake–the Japanese-American population spread throughout city is a massive 24,000 people, according to 2005 data.
In all my time exploring Chicago, I had never come across the JASC. In truth, I only became aware of Saturday’s festival when writing an entirely separate article about upcoming holiday events within the city. But, tempted by the promise of Japanese food, crafts, and cultural exhibits, I piled onto the 22 bus with my older brother in tow (I’ve found it’s easier to never go into the unknown alone) and set off for something new.
After sheepishly passing through the doors and greeting members of the JASC, we moved toward the cafe area. Here, I found my stride: I have a love of all Japanese food. And, as I soon found, so do many, many other Chicagoans. The small room was overflowing with puffy-winter coat bodies jostling for miso, Okonomiyaki, gyoza, onigiri, and, of course, sushi. Somewhat exhausted from the excitement, I squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder with a couple enjoying their own spread. Having moved from out-of-state, I’m always caught off guard by just how kind Chicagoans are–the simple act of sharing a crowded space, conversing, and exchanging extra meal tickets is imbued with so much heartwarming sentimentality.
After an extraordinarily delicious (and frankly, alarmingly massive) meal, we headed to the bustling shopping section. Rows upon rows of tables held the best assortment of collectibles–handmade pottery, accessories crafted from old kimono fabric, record albums of Japan’s greatest eighties pop stars. Every shop vendor I passed stopped to inquire about my interest in the JASC and encouraged me to feel welcome–and really, I did.
If you’re now disappointed that you missed out (and you should be), don’t fret–the JASC hosts many interesting events and classes each month. Upcoming events include the center’s 32nd Annual Holiday Fundraiser and Bonenkai (a silent auction, cocktail reception, and dinner), an exhibition and talk about 17th-19th century art, and language classes.
If you find yourself getting a little cabin-fever-y this winter, or even if you just need a reminder of the epic cultural diversity that exists in Chicago, go visit the JASC.