Festival highlights haiku, dance, storytelling

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Matthew Shores, a Portland State University instructor, will perform rakugo, a traditional Japanese comic art of storytelling, at the Skosh festival May 11 at Mt. Hood Community College.

From haiku to handmade paper, bunka to bonsai, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Japan at Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St., when it hosts the Skosh — “a little” — Japanese Children's Festival & Cultural Fair on Saturday, May 11.

The free festival runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and features dance, music, storytelling, arts and crafts displays, talks and food. Here's a sampling of what you can see at Skosh.

• Folk dance: Ann Shintani and Tara Gibbs will perform traditional Japanese dances.

“Participants may find traditional Japanese dance graceful,” Shintani says. “Japanese traditional dance performance is a way to share different perspectives, the special clothing and importance of dance.”

• Haiku: Cara Holman is the newly elected Oregon Regional chairwoman of the Haiku Society of America. “Many of us were first introduced to haiku in elementary school, and remember it as being a 17-syllable poem,” she says. “While some still count syllables when writing haiku, there is more emphasis these days on capturing a moment in time, often nature-based, by juxtaposing two brief parts."

Haiku allows people to create “meaningful poems that they can share with others,” she adds, noting she'll give a short presentation on how to write haiku and encourage participants to write a poem.

Holman says participants also will make “weathergrams,” which are strips of paper with haiku written on them in permanent ink that are intended to be hung outdoors.

“What attracted me to haiku in particular is that with a few well-chosen words, you can tell a whole story,” she adds.

• Suminagashi: Portland resident Setsuko Gion will introduce folks to this way of marbling paper.

“Suminagshi means 'floating ink,'” she says. “During my demonstration, people will see how the swirled ink patterns are printed on sheets of paper. Traditionally, black sumi ink is used, but I’ll be using colorful marbling ink to make it more appealing for children.”

Suminagashi encapsulates the Zen idea of living in the moment, she adds.

“Because water moves, the distribution of ink on the surface of the water at the moment you lay the sheet of paper on the water is what determines the shape of the image,” Gion says. “You don’t know exactly how the image transferred to the paper will look until you lift it. It is … an unprecedented, unrepeatable and absolute moment.”

• Rakugo: Matthew W. Shores teaches Japanese at Portland State University and specializes in the comic storytelling art of rakugo.

“It might be likened to U.S. stand-up comedy, only rakugo is done sitting down Japanese style, and the performer wears a kimono,” he says. “There is time for original material at the beginning of the story, but rakugo is an oral tradition with a repertoire.”

Shores says the best rakugo dates from the turn of the 20th century and adds that for those “who cannot speak Japanese, fear not, I will be performing in English.”

Shores adds he fell in love with rakugo while studying in Japan.

“I was fortunate to apprentice with two prominent masters while there, and they instilled in me the value rakugo has,” he says. “I love to laugh, and I love it if I can bring people to laugh. Even if it is at my expense.”

For more information on the festival, visit

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