Sunday, June 20, 2010

The History of JapanTown

Did you know that JapanTown isn't the first major annual Japanese street festival in New York? From the late 1980s to late 1990s, the local East Village Japanese community association held a festival of Japanese food and culture—called of course, the Japanese Festival—every year on Stuyvesant Street. The Japan Society then took over the responsibility of organizing it for two years until 2001.

In 2005, the Howl! Festival asked Hiroyuki Takenaga, our current director who was also involved in producing these past Japanese Festivals, to help revive it within its own event. Fifty-four diverse Japanese restaurants and businesses participated and sold everything from T-shirts to kimonos to tofu to dog food. Hiroyuki called this a one-day Japantown, and after that festival, all the Japanese restaurants in the East Village were packed.

Hiroyuki, whose background is advertising, believes that identifying a physical Japantown in New York is the best way to attract people to Japanese businesses and strengthen Japanese culture.

"When I saw the word 'Chinatown,' I thought: That's the best form of advertising. It doesn't cost them anything. But that happens every day in Chinatown."

Our JapanTown festival is the first step of many to secure a strong foothold for Japanese businesses in New York City. Perhaps one day these steps will pave the way to creating a permanent Japantown for New Yorkers to visit every day, but for now, all our vendors and sponsors look forward to having their products represented on three special days in the following months.