WAIKIKI, Hawaii - For three days, residents and visitors celebrated the unique relationship Hawaii shares with its Pacific Rim neighbors during the 15th Annual Honolulu Festival here, March 15-18. The festival brought thousands together to showcase the diversity of the people of the Pacific Islands and Asia through arts, crafts and performances in and around Waikiki.

Rain trickled down the windows of the convention center as spectators walked around inside, stopping at numerous vendor booths to participate in cultural crafts including origami, painting and cloth sandal making, Saturday.

Children fished for yo-yos, tried on kimonos and sat in front of the cotton candy machine watching in awe as the sugar was spun into fluffy clouds of sweetness.

Booths offering samples of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Polynesian foods teased attendees.

Additionally, a large stage housed numerous performances throughout the weekend.

Leilani Hula Studio performed native Hawaiian dances and Group Koto Ranman entertained the crowd with traditional Japanese instruments in concert.

A few miles down the road, spectators hid from the rain and watched the geishas from the Hachioji Karyukai of Tokyo perform an ancient Japanese dance at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.

Along the Waikiki Beach Walk, the Ibaraki City Dance Drill Team, World Wings (from Osaka, Japan) twirled batons as audience members clapped along to the beat.

The Ala Moana Center also staged numerous performances including Ritsumeikan University Dig Up Treasure, which is the best double dutch jump rope group in the Kansai, Japan, area, and the Obama girls, the famed hula group from Obama, Japan, who embarked on an "Obama for Obama" campaign during the presidential election.

The entertainment continued Sunday, ending with the grand parade. Thousands sat on the sidewalk to watch participants stroll by. Hula girls gracefully passed, as batons twirled in the air and geishas walked by bowing gracefully at spectators.

Pearl Harbor survivor retired Maj. Henry Heim, U.S. Air Force, sat in the back of a Chrysler Sebring convertible waving at the crowd.

His eye caught that of 5-year-old Tokyo resident Haro Tanaka, and he winked and nodded at the child. The shy boy smiled and softly waved back at Heim.

"This is a great lesson for him," said the boy's mother, Yukiji Tanaka. "In a very short time, the relationship between cultures has come a long way. This is a celebration of that."

Under the banner of "Pacific Harmony," the 2009 festival focused on the theme, "Heart of the Pacific, Creating Our Future."

The Honolulu Festival started in 1995 to help promote cultural understanding and harmony between the people of Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific.

"My family and I come here every year for this festival," said Seattle resident Mary Hough. "We learn so much about the history of Hawaii and Japan.

"There is such a diverse culture here," added Hough. "It's harmony at its best."

Hough's 7-year-old daughter Alyssa agreed.

"I like the geisha," said Alyssa.

The Honolulu Festival Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to administer activities that preserve the cultures, customs and traditions of the Asians and Pacific Islanders through community outreach and charitable efforts, supported the festival.

"It's true what they say," said Hough; "this place is magical."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16