Moon Viewing Party, though moonless, builds connections across the ocean

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Guests slowly poured into the Lakeside Park Garden Center and collected their traditional Japanese-style dinner at the welcome table before venturing into an already packed auditorium. Some audience members wasted no time grabbing chopsticks and diving straight into their Bento boxes–boxed dinners filled with sushi, an egg roll, skewered meat and vegetables. Other guests struggled to master the art of using chopsticks and elected to use their hands.

On Sunday, the Oakland Fukuoka Sister City Association (OFSCA) hosted their 50th annual “Otsukimi” Moon Viewing Party, which drew over 200 people. Each year the association–a nonprofit that promotes cultural awareness and friendship between Oakland and Fukuoka–celebrates the full harvest moon and shares Japanese culture and customs in their Otsukimi (or moon viewing) party. Though this year the actual moon viewing was cancelled due to rainy weather, guests were still entertained by performances and discussions.

“All this simply does is acknowledge their beautiful culture by way of eating Japanese food, having entertainment that is Japanese, and of course we acknowledge the event of the harvest moon,” said Becky Taylor, a 30-year member and past president of the OFSCA.

From the moment guests walk through the door, they were exposed to a different culture. Attendees could enjoy the Bento box dinners, provided by Musashi Berkeley, and handmade green tea or peruse the Bonsai garden behind the venue before the party officially started.

A Japanese tea ceremony was the first event of the night. The audience gathered around and watched closely as the tea server led a very traditional ceremony, while a volunteer explained what was happening. She took her time and made sure everything was perfect as she moved through each step effortlessly. The hostess wore a pink and white kimono covered in pink flowers and served audience members as well as four student delegates who had attended the Asian Pacific Children’s Convention (APCC), an international student convention in Fukuoka. The convention is an effort to help students of different cultures meet each other and build friendships while learning from one another.

After the the ceremony, the 11-year-old APCC students talked about their experience spending two weeks in Japan. They discussed how they coped with being so far away from home and what they enjoyed most about the country.

“When you travel, I think it’s the best education you can have,” said Ed Bantilan, president of the OFSCA.

Following the discussion, Eden Aoba Taiko, a Japanese-style drumming group, performed many complex songs that immediately grabbed the attention of the audience. Each rhythm and song was unique to Japanese culture and told a story with only the beat. The performers wore black, red, yellow and green, which pulled all eyes toward them as they played.

Once the taiko performers finished, it was finally time to view the full harvest moon, but due to inclement weather, the telescope couldn’t be set up. As an alternative, astronomers from the East Bay Astronomical Society showed a Powerpoint presentation about the moon.

The OFSCA plans to keep hosting “Otsukimi” parties in future. According to Bantilan, it’s an ongoing event and he thinks most people like it.

“I’ve come for a number of years,” party attendee Judy Nakadegawa said. “It’s a pleasant cultural thing to come to.”

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