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Traditional Okinawa Artist to Headline Lakewood’s International Festival Stage

Ms. Kiyoko Toma, a traditional Japanese artist from Okinawa, will headline the entertainment stage at Lakewood’s 10th Annual Lakewood International Festival, Saturday, August 22nd in the Student/Conference Center at Clover Park Technical College, 4500 Steilacoom Blvd SW, Lakewood.

The festival begins at 11:00 a.m. and will include international musical performances until 4:00 p.m., as well as a children’s art and play area, food and craft vendors, and raffle prizes including the grand prize of 4 nights in Hawaii, plus $1,000 for airfare or expenses.

Ms. Toma will perform during the festival opening ceremonies, which begin at 12:00 noon. Singer, dancer and sanshin player, Ms. Toma has received many awards for her renditions of traditional Japanese art, including the grand prize with the Ryukyu Folk Song Music Association, best singer at the Shimauta contest on Okinawa, and the outstanding performance award with Nomura style traditional music. Performing with Ms. Toma will be her daughter and granddaughters.

In addition to her many performance awards, Ms. Toma has been recognized for her Sanshin (three string Okinawa guitar) teaching to visually impaired people, entertaining at medical centers, and visits to child care centers. She is currently an officer of the Japan Sanba Association, instructor and workshop trainer.

The 2009 festival is free to the public and honors Lakewood’s cultural diversity and its Sister City relationships: Sister City with Okinawa, Japan and Bauang, Philippines and Friendship City with Gimhae, Korea and Danzhou, China.

Okinawa was Lakewood’s first Sister City. Located south of the main islands of Japan, Okinawa has important U.S. military bases and many connections to Washington State. In addition to Ms. Toma’s performances, the Washington state Okinawa Kenjin Club will perform sanshin music and a locally based Taiko group will provide rousing ensemble percussion drumming performances. The Taiko group recently played prior to a Mariners game at Safeco field.

Sanshin literally means “three strings.” It is a traditional Okinawan instrument, and precursor of the Japanese shamisen. Often likened to a banjo, sanchin consists of a snakeskin-covered body, neck and three strings. Taiko is ensemble percussion featuring intricate rhythms and highly choreographed movements of drum players. Together with the opening ceremony, Ms. Toma’s performance, sanshin and Taiko, the festival feature on Okinawa will last about two hours.

The mission of the Lakewood Sister City Association is to promote international harmony through people-to-people diplomacy for meaningful cultural, educational, tourism and trade exchanges. The organization provides:

The international festival is the organization’s major annual activity and major fund raising event. While festival entry is free, raffle tickets are sold for $1 and people need not be present to win a variety of prizes including golf and gardening baskets, art from Sister Cities, and the grand prize of 4 nights in Hawaii plus $1000 for airfare or travel expenses. Funds raised through the festival support such annual activities as student and business exchanges between Lakewood and its Sister Cities.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Tom Irei, founding board member and community activist who was instrumental in developing the Sister City relationship between Lakewood and Okinawa. In addition to his work on behalf of cultural and business connections, harmony and peace, Irei worked tirelessly for educational exchanges between the people of Okinawa and Washington, especially Lakewood. His legacy is remembered through this festival honoring his work and the ties between Lakewood and Okinawa.

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