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Pan-Pacific Festival showcases Japanese culture

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The 41st annual Pan-­Pacific Festival is underway after a five-year hiatus. Various events are being held around Waikiki and Ala Moana with free performances slated at the Ala Moana Centerstage through today. Kolohe Ukulele Group performed Saturday at Ala Moana.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

The 41st annual Pan-­Pacific Festival is underway after a five-year hiatus. Various events are being held around Waikiki and Ala Moana with free performances slated at the Ala Moana Centerstage through today. Kolohe Ukulele Group performed Saturday at Ala Moana.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Halau Hula o Alohilani performed Saturday at Ala Moana’s Centerstage.
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Swipe or click to see more

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Halau Hula o Alohilani performed Saturday at Ala Moana’s Centerstage.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The 41st annual Pan-­Pacific Festival is underway after a five-year hiatus. Various events are being held around Waikiki and Ala Moana with free performances slated at the Ala Moana Centerstage through today. Kolohe Ukulele Group performed Saturday at Ala Moana.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Halau Hula o Alohilani performed Saturday at Ala Moana’s Centerstage.

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Pan-Pacific Festival returns after hiatus

After a five-year hiatus, the Pan-Pacific Festival returned to Hawaii this weekend, showcasing traditional Japanese cultures.

“The pandemic hit, and when things got back to normal for festivals in 2023, our teams here and in Japan weren’t ready. So, we took a gap year and came back this year,” said Francis Arakaki, vice president of the Pan- Pacific Festival Foundation. The three-day festival wraps up today.

Arakaki said in 2019 the festival attracted 100,000 attendees, and he’s hopeful that this year’s festival will bring a similar number.

“The festival has evolved over the years and is meant to symbolize bringing cultures from around the Pan Pacific together to celebrate our global community with performances from both local and Japanese artists ranging from taiko to hula,” Yusuke Komoriya, president of the Pan-Pacific Festival Foundation, said in a statement.

The Pan-Pacific Festival, formerly known as Matsuri in Hawaii, began in 1980 with the aim of allowing both locals and visitors in Hawaii to experience Japanese cultural heritage.

Throughout the festival, performers from Japan — including hula halau, musicians and artists — join local groups and artists to showcase and share music, traditions and foods to celebrate diverse cultures.

The festival was initially managed by Kintetsu, a Japanese tour company, but due to funding concerns the responsibility was transferred to a nonprofit organization in 2021.

“It was all about Japan … in the past, Japan had a big say,” Arakaki said. “Now, we can control the festival locally here.”

The 2024 festival features 52 local vendors, an increase from the approximately 30 vendors in 2019.

Mini Gupta, a tourist from North Virginia, said she’s excited to try out all the food selections and immerse herself in Japanese culture at the festival.

“I’ve been here for a few days and it’s been so amazing, I love it,” Gupta said. “With all the festivals going on, that’s what makes Hawaii so culturally diverse. You can learn about all the different traditions and cultures here.”

The 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture — a celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders — began Thursday and runs through June 16, with more than 2,200 delegates, including artists, cultural practitioners, scholars and officials from participating nations.

A Japanese tourist, Hikari Ito, visiting Hawaii with her husband on an anniversary trip, said Saturday she had just learned about the Pan-Pacific Festival after walking around Waikiki.

“We watched some of the local Hawaiian musicians perform yesterday and also saw some Japanese performers,” Ito said. “It’s funny because we came to Hawaii for vacation and found ourselves surrounded by so much of our home culture.”

Ito said that while she initially had no plans to attend the festival, she and her husband have been adjusting their itinerary to check it out.

“I love how Hawaii is very respectful of all the different cultures,” Ito said. “As a Japanese person, I feel very safe and appreciated here.”

While the total budget for the Pan-Pacific Festival remains undisclosed, the foundation received $50,000 in funding through the Hawaii Tourism Authority Signature Events Program — a program aimed to support major events that have broad appeal and align with Hawaii’s destination image and brand, according to HTA.

HTA has been funding the Pan-Pacific Festival since 2007 and plans to continue supporting it in the coming years.

Mufi Hannemann, HTA board chairperson, said that festivals like Pan-Pacific not only attract visitors to Hawaii but also provide locals with opportunities to experience cultural exchange.

Hannemann said that he anticipates 800 participants from Japan and 2,000 local participants for the three-day event.

HTA is expecting an attendance of 19,000 people for the Pan-Pacific Parade alone, which is scheduled today from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., marching from Fort De Russy Park to Kapiolani Park.

Hannemann said a group of 130 people from Taiwan and approximately 100 people from Saipan will be joining the parade.

“I’m very happy because it’s so vibrant and reflective of Hawaii’s multicultural communities and also underscores the international cultural exchange, especially with Japan,” Hannemann said.

“It’s an opportunity to show that we are a great place to have these types of events, especially with FestPAC going on at the same time.”

In 2024, the HTA allocated $7.5 million for cultural enrichment activities across all islands, including events such as the King Kameha­meha lei draping parade and the 10-day FestPAC, with $500,000 provided by the Legislature.

“We can have these multicultural festivals at the same time; I don’t see them as competing or clashing,” Hannemann said. “We are a very diverse culture, so that’s the appeal — we are a great place to have all these festivals.”

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