At last year's Japanese Festival, the crowds were massive. We're talking Shinjuku-subway-crowd-at-rush-hour massive. Happy, sweaty people wandered cheek-to-jowl through the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard; 314-577-9400 or www.mobot.org) from morning to night, eagerly taking in the martial-arts demonstrations, the taiko drummers, the comedic sleight-of-hand of the Candyman and acres of yakisoba noodles. As always, there were small oases of quiet to be found throughout the garden, despite the size of the crowd: The Top Man worked his spinning magic for a happy group of families near a less-busy side of the trail; the candlelit walks through the Seiwa-en Japanese Garden were made even more enchanting by the koto player ensconced in a darkened clearing; and, of course, the traditional Tea Ceremony brought a serene calm to all who witnessed the sublime grace of this arcane ritual.
And then came Koryu and Sunahama. The retired sumo wrestlers held sway over a full-to-bursting amphitheater, discussing the life of the sumo wrestler with the easy charm common to laid-back Hawaiians. Answering questions, demonstrating painful-looking stretches you won't believe a 300-plus-pound man can achieve and sparring with volunteers from the audience, Koryu and Sunahama owned the crowd. Children and adults sweated it out good-naturedly in a long line after the presentation, chatting with the big men and taking photos together.
Happily for everyone, Koryu and Sunahama return to this year's Japanese Festival, which takes place Saturday through Monday (September 2 through 4). The garden opens at 10 a.m. all three days, and admission is $3 to $10 daily, but the Tea Ceremony costs extra.