Sisters Mia Atalig, 5, left, and Ari Atalig, 9, during the 41st Japan Autumn Festival at the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park in Tumon Nov. 19, 2022.
Shigeharu Toyoma, with Kosaikai, the caretakers of the mikoshi, during the 41st Japan Autumn Festival at the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park in Tumon Nov. 19, 2022.

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Sisters Mia Atalig, 5, left, and Ari Atalig, 9, during the 41st Japan Autumn Festival at the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park in Tumon Nov. 19, 2022.
Shigeharu Toyoma, with Kosaikai, the caretakers of the mikoshi, during the 41st Japan Autumn Festival at the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park in Tumon Nov. 19, 2022.
After a two-year absence, the beating of taiko drums and traditional Japanese dance performances returned Saturday to the park at Ypao Beach in the 41st Japan Autumn Festival.
The festival, or Aki Matsuri, has traditionally drawn large crowds of locals and visitors looking to enjoy games and carnival foods from Japan. It was canceled the past two years due to COVID-19.
It’s a big year back, said Daigo Takeishi, of the Japan Club of Guam, the main coordinator for the event.
“We’d like to revive or reboot from COVID and after two years try to have a really good time with everyone,” said Takeishi, director of the club’s Youth Division.
Autumn is celebrated in Japanese culture as the time for harvest, specifically rice.
“This festival started to let Japanese kids know about Japanese culture, but in addition to that, we like to show our appreciation to the local people,” Takeishi said.
While this year’s event is a little smaller, with about 85% of the vendors showing up due to manpower issues caused by the pandemic, the turnout still was good.
Food stalls lining the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Beach Park served up taiyaki, yakitori and Japanese sake for the adults.
One of the big events, Takeishi said, was the distribution of 1,000 packages of sashimi to the first 1,000 guests.
“We have a giant tuna-cutting performance with some support from the Japanese government,” he said.
Alongside that, a team from Saipan was flown in to perform the Awa Odori dance, one of the most famous traditional dances from Tokushima Prefecture. Takeishi said he was proud to see the performances are flourishing among kids in Micronesia.
Besides the long-awaited return, this year’s festival also coincided with the Japan Club of Guam celebrating 50 years.
Shigehara Toyoma, a Guam resident for five decades, said he was in charge of the first Autumn Festival back in 1977. Now, he’s with the group Kosaikai, the caretakers for a set of mikoshi, or portable shrines, that are paraded around Ypao during the festival.
In Japan, he said, the mikoshi are paraded during a festival for those who can’t make it to the temple.
“They go into town, to carry it all over so everyone can pray. Same thing here,” he said.
While he’s no longer taking the lead, Toyoma still helps with the parading of the mikoshi and takes to the stage to beat the drums during traditional performances.
He said it was remarkable to see how the festival had grown on Guam.
“(It was) in the Okura Hotel before, … maybe only 500 or 600 people. Now so many people are coming, maybe 20,000 to 30,000,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Taitano II at
JTaitano@guampdn.com.
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Staff reporter tackling Government and Politics, Health Care and more.
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