Asian art and food come to Port Washington

A Japanese tea ceremony, taekwondo demonstrations, calligraphy lessons and food from across Asia could be found at the annual Asian-American Festival in Port Washington on Saturday.

The festival, which returns to North Hempstead Beach Park for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, drew crowds of hundreds who roamed the dozens of tents and tables selling merchandise and showcasing Asian culture across art, cooking and exhibitions. There, attendees were able to observe a Japanese tea ceremony, model kimonos, practice origami, strike a gong and watch cultural performances.

The tastes and curiosities of Afghanistan, China, India, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines and many more were on full display during the celebration. The festival was cut short due to rain and wind that battered the area on Saturday afternoon.

Reverend T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, a Buddhist priest, practiced calligraphy at the festival and gave attendees the opportunity to try calligraphy for themselves. Nakagaki, 61, from Bellerose, was taught shoto, Japanese calligraphy, by his father. He explained that calligraphy, which requires training to learn the skill, is more than just an art form or handwriting.

“Spirit and body are together in calligraphy. It’s not handwriting. It’s body writing,” Nakagaki said. “What you think appears in calligraphy.”

He highlighted the three styles of Japanese calligraphy by writing the same character in different ways: kaisho, the more common, slower and deliberate “block style”; gyosho, known as “running hand style,” which runs faster; and sosho, a fast cursive style known as “grass hand”. The same character looks different depending on the style used by the calligrapher. Gyosho is Nakagaki’s favorite, he said, because he “has a warmth”.

Ranjan Panchal, 52, of Huntington, and Rehana Sidiqee, 57, of Hicksville, decorated attendees’ hands with henna at their booth. Panchal said she was excited to share henna, a popular South Asian body art, with people who were unfamiliar with it. Henna, a herbal dye, is commonly used to celebrate weddings and other special or happy occasions.

“Henna is a symbol of happiness,” Panchal said. “We do this for all the happy times.”

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena called the festival’s return “triumphant” and praised the richness of the offering at the celebration, which showcases the diversity of the town.

“The Town of North Hempstead is so fortunate to have such a vibrant and engaged Asian-American and Pacific-American community,” said council member Mariann Dalimonte.