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Celebrate Japan’s fall holidays at the Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden

BY RODOLFO ROMAN
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
Thanksgiving is more than a week away, but South Floridians can get a head start by celebrating the holiday, Japanese style.
Friends of the Japanese Garden and the City of Miami will host two traditional religious rituals from the Land of the Rising Sun from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden, 1101 MacArthur Causeway, adjacent to Jungle Island. Parking will be free.
The rituals: Shichigosan, which translates to “Seven-Five-Three”, and Niinamesai, which roughly means the Great Festival of Thanksgiving.
“Both are old Japanese customs and we want to introduce it to the people of the United States,” said Agnes Youngblood, executive director of the non-profit organization Friends of the Japanese Garden.
Nakanishi Masafumi, who is a kannushi — and ordained Shinto priest — will be flying in from New York to conduct the religious ceremonies.
Youngblood said she had been working on the project since spring.
“It took me a while to look for a Shinto priest,” she said.
In Japan, where Niinamesai is a national holiday, the ceremony is performed by the emperor.
The feast is an important date for the Shinto religion celebrated on November 23. The first fruits of the year’s grain harvest are offered thanking the deities for their blessing, said Youngblood.
Shichigosan, a festival day dedicated to three-, five- and seven-year-old children, will also be celebrated. Traditionally, kids dress in kimonos and visit Shinto shrines to pray for a healthy life. At the same time, chitose ame, or thousand-year candy, is distributed to youngsters. Wrapped in edible rice paper, the red-and white candy is given in a bag with a crane and turtle — symbolizing longevity in Japan. The children are only invited to participate in the ceremony to receive a blessing from a kannushi. The holiday is celebrated on Nov. 15.
Coconut Grove resident Etuko Kawamura will be participating with her daughter, Shiori Kawamura, 7.
“It is a good chance for her to study and learn about Japan,” said Kawamura, who is from Tokyo, Japan. “It is a great family event.”
The Japanese garden, which is about an acre in size, was donated by Kiyoshi Ichimura, founder of Ricoh Corporation of Japan, in 1961.
In addition to the ceremonies, there will be a bonsai exhibit, origami, ring tossing and kendama, a children’s game. There will also be Asian food and items for sale.
The affair will be a learning experience, said Youngblood.
“I think people have a curiosity of seeing a kannushi and seeing him dressed in his clothes,” she said in a phone interview. “They need to witness it. It is very Japanese.”
For information visit www.friendsofjapanesegarden.com.

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