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Community leaders excited for the return of more ethnic festivals on Oʻahu

Hon Fest performers.jpg
Honolulu Festival
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HPR
The Honolulu Festival features local and international performers. The 3-day festival is set to return in person in March.

The Night in Chinatown festival was last held in 2019. Due to the pandemic, organizers canceled the popular Lunar New Year staple for the past three years. But this year, they are ready to bring it back.

“We finally decided we’re going to just take the bull by the horns and go for it,” said Leonard Kam, president of Chinatown 808, which took over the planning of the event. “And we’ve been getting a lot of really good feedback from the community, how excited they are about what we’re going to do.”

New Year Ohana Fest taiko.png
Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi
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HPR
The New Year's ʻOhana Festival returns on Sunday with live entertainment, including taiko performances.

While many cultural staples returned last year, Night in Chinatown and others were still put on hold due to the pandemic. Community leaders say they are excited for the return of many more this year.

Night in Chinatown returns on Saturday, Jan. 14, with live entertainment, food, games and the popular parade down Hotel Street.

Kam, who has helped to plan about 20 Night in Chinatown festivals, is one of 12 volunteers who helps to organize it. It takes about 100 volunteers to run the event.

“I have fond memories of coming to Chinatown with my grandparents,” he said. “And then when we’re doing these events, I see the other side of it — I’m walking down the street, and I see kids with their grandparents. And they’re having a great time.”

Hon Fest hula.jpg
Honolulu Festival
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HPR
Hula and other cultural performances are a popular staple of the Honolulu Festival.

Honolulu Festival Foundation president and chairman Ted Kubo is also excited to experience that sense of community. The 3-day festival was canceled in 2020. It has been held through virtual programs the past two years.

Organizers considered many factors before deciding to bring it back in March, Kubo said. Although there will be fewer international performers, the event will return with popular festivities and will feature more local groups.

He said they have about 100 staff who plan the festivities and need about 500 volunteers to run the three days of events. The festival returns on March 10 to 12 with live entertainment, cultural displays and the Nagaoka Fireworks show in Waikīkī.

“Something that I’m looking forward to is to go to many of these programs and activities and see how the cultural exchange is happening in action,” Kubo said. “We believe these interactions and activities will enhance the mutual understanding of the culture, the people, the history, all the different regions from the Pacific Rim.”

Keeping traditions alive while juggling changes is also a reality for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi. The nonprofit organizes the annual New Year’s ʻOhana Festival, which returns in person on Sunday, Jan. 15.

The event was canceled in 2021 and held virtually last year.

Hon Fest parade.JPG
Honolulu Festival
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HPR
The Honolulu Festival's parade down Kalākaua Avenue returns this year.

“It’s a festival that I’ve literally poured blood and sweat and tears into,” said JCCH president and executive director Nate Gyotoku. “So it does mean a lot to me to have it back.”

He said they decided to plan for a scaled back festival this year. It will be held on the JCCH’s grounds in Mōʻiliʻili and not expand to the field across the street, like in previous years.

The event will have live entertainment, food, crafts and an on-site COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Gyotoku said they have about 10 volunteers in their core planning group and about 80 to run the event.

After two years of pandemic impacts, he said they’re both nervous and excited to see it return.

“Last year, it was a real good virtual festival…,” he said. “But there’s something different about hearing a taiko group in person and feeling that energy and coming here and eating some of the food and just being around people.”

Jayna Omaye is the culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at jomaye@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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