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Powell Street Festival marks milestone

Japanese-Canadian culture fest celebrates 35th birthday
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Performing at this weekend's Powell Street Festival on Saturday night is San Francisco's Goh Nakamura.

At age 35, the annual Powell Street Festival is officially all grown up now that it's no longer a part of the 18-to-34 youth demographic.

A lot has changed for the returning Japanese-Canadian cultural event, which has grown from a humble community gathering to one of the city's hottest summer events. It's held annually in the-diamond-in-the-rough part of the city formerly known as Japan Town.

"Turning 35 is definitely a huge deal for us and something to be really proud of," said festival general manager Julia Aoki. "A lot of our beloved festivals in the city are kind of in precarious positions, so it is great if people can come out and show their support by being there."

The largest Japanese-Canadian festival in the country and the longest-running community arts festival in the Lower Mainland, the Powell Street Festival kicks off again this weekend at various venues centred around Oppenheimer Park.

Aoki admitted that, in the early days, the festival tended to appeal more to older Japanese-Canadians who had to drag along their reluctant offspring in order to teach them about their heritage, but those days are long gone.

"I feel like we work really, really hard so we can appeal to a diverse audience. There may be some things that a younger crowd may not be all that interested in, but that's good because we have things for them and the older crowd as well. We try to hit a whole bunch of notes, so there's the traditional Japanese content along with more contemporary things that may not be as easily identifiable as Japanese or Japanese-Canadian but is still a means of expression that is important to the community."

Highlights of this year's instalment include a Saturday night double-bill of San Francisco's Goh Nakamura and hit Tokyo-based duo NikaSaya.

Manga fans also won't want to miss a special reading by Nina Matsumoto, the Eisner Award-winning artist behind the Yokaiden series and The Last Airbender: Zuko's Story, better known by her nom de guerre Space Coyote.

The festival will also see the premiere of Tashme, a new play by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa, exploring one of the darker periods of Canadian history when Japanese-Canadians (including a young David Suzuki) had their homes taken away and were put in internment camps during the Second World War.

"The two met a couple of years ago and realized that both of their families had been interned at Tashme," said Aoki, 30. "What they did is they had a series of conversations with people that had been there and that is what the play is based on. These are things that definitely need to be explored still and what these stories still mean to us today."

Other performers in the eclectic lineup include hip hop artist Nish Raawks, the 605 Collective dance troupe, experimental jazz act Ro-bots on Fire, electro-acoustic group Densabi, international singing group Sei Trio, and children's taiko ensemble Chibi Taiko and Aboriginal Youth Drumming Group teaming up to bang the drum for cross-cultural collaboration.

For a complete rundown on the two-day festival, taking place from 11: 30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, visit powellstreetfestival.com.

afleming@gmx.com