The sixth annual Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival, now in its third year as a statewide event, gets underway Sunday in Hot Springs and organizers expect the largest crowd yet, with all seven of its workshops already completely booked.
Celebrating Hot Springs' 30-year relationship with its sister city, Hanamaki, Japan, in January, Hot Springs has fostered the cultural connection in recent years with more Japanese-oriented events and businesses.
The festival will be held in Bank OZK Arena adjacent to the Hot Springs Convention Center, 134 Convention Blvd., and feature several cultural performances and demonstrations on top of the workshops, experiences, exhibits, shopping and contests.
The Hot Springs Sister City Program said this week the taiko drum group Dallas Kiyari Daiko has been added to the festival's lineup.
"Personally, I love the taiko drums," said Mary Zunick, cultural affairs manager at Visit Hot Springs and executive director for Hot Springs Sister City Program. "That pounding rhythm, you can practically feel it in your bones. It's awesome."
Dallas Kiyari Daiko has been performing traditional Japanese drumming, also known as "Taiko" or "Wadaiko," in the metroplex since 1992, a news release said.
"A symbol of communities, Taiko was originally used for ceremonies, festivals and traditional dance, but has evolved into a musical art known around the world for its deep, resonating beats, driving rhythms and powerful physical movements. The group will share and introduce Japanese culture with dynamic rhythm and sounds of taiko drums, one beat at a time," it said.
Also playing and demonstrating taiko will be Arkansas Tech University professor Kae Reed, who has lectures to present at the festival.
Another musical feature of the festival will be koto and odori performances. Koto, a "plucked half-tube zither instrument," is the national instrument of Japan and has been popular throughout the island nation's history, the release said. Maika Yamaoka, outreach initiative coordinator of Japan, will join from Japan to perform.
Odori, a traditional Japanese dance, is a new addition to the festival performed by Masae Sotouchi.
A Kyoto native, Sotouchi will teach a workshop on yukata, a light, summertime kimono. Sotouchi is the founder of New York Kimono Academy and a licensed kimono dresser. After her odori dance, she will demonstrate bon odori and invite guests to join in the festival dance, it said.
The Arkansas Kendo Club returns for its second year to show attendees the martial art that uses bamboo swords.
Other highlights include a kimono exhibit, traditional children's festival games, a Japanese shopping booth and two contests. The anime cosplay contest presented in partnership with the Garland County Library will have winners in multiple age categories while the winners of the Arkansas Haiku Contest will be able to claim their prizes and recite their haikus.
"It's just wonderful that our community and visitors from across that state can enjoy these rare cultural performances right here in Hot Springs," said Zunick.
The Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival begins at 12:30 p.m. Sunday and ends at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit https://hotspringssistercity.org/arkansas-cherry-blossom-festival-2/.