WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - From bon dancing to taiko drumming, thousands of people from Japan head to Hawaii each year to share their culture at the Honolulu Festival. But there's sadness at this year's event as Japan tries to recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
The theme of this year's event is "We are all neighbors around the world." That's certainly true as festival-goers try to rally around the people of Japan.
It's an annual celebration designed to perpetuate the cultural and ethnic ties of people in the Asia-Pacific region. But this year, hearts are heavy at the Honolulu Festival as Japan, which traditionally represents the largest contingent from out of state, suffers through a catastrophe.
"We really hope that people from Japan can feel how many people from Hawaii understand Japan and think about Japan," Kanako Uchino, festival spokesperson, said.
About 3,300 people from Japan were expected to participate in the three-day festival, people who spent a whole year preparing in order to make a good showing here.
"We have some performers missing," Uchino said. "Some groups that they, you know, looking forward to come couldn't make it."
Toshiji Kudo is with the group Hirosaki Neputa from Aomori Prefecture. He was already on Oahu working on a huge float for the festival's grand parade, when he got the paralyzing news.
He tells me his friend's family's entire town is completely gone, the tsunami took it away. He says his true feeling is he must do what he came here to do to the best of his ability, but then would like to return home as soon as possible.
Festival organizers set up boxes to collect donations for the recovery effort. Out of respect for the earthquake and tsunami victims, the Nagaoka fireworks show, the festival's finale, has been canceled.
"The mood of the festivity has been somewhat affected adversely," Yoshi Kamo, Consul General of Japan, said. "But I think the spirit is still there."
The 17th annual Honolulu Festival will wrap up with the grand parade on Kalakaua Avenue starting at 4:30 PM Sunday. Until then, you can drop off donations for the Japan recovery effort at the Hawaii Convention Center.