The Osaka Garden Festival, a free annual festival usually taking place in September, celebrates the sister city relationship between Chicago and Osaka.. Osaka Garden is a gift from Japan to Chicago from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. To get to Osaka Garden, which is a traditional Japanese Garden, you need to walk through Jackson Park. The garden is actually on the northern end of the Wooden Island in Jackson Park.
This festival is one of the most unique ways to experience Japanese culture in Chicago. A wide variety of ethnic food is available to try. My favorite item is Takoyaki, which are octopus balls. The name is a bit intimidating, but it is made from chopped up octopus meat and rolled into a batter, which is very lightly fried. We also tried Takkatsu, which is like breaded and fried meat. It comes served with a tasty sauce and some shredded cabbage. More standard fare such as fried rice and a variety of noodle options are available at various booths. Also for sale are steamed edamame and cans of green tea.
Before you get to the food booths you will pass a stage set up for live music and dance performances. Bamboo flutes, drums, and traditional maiko dance are some of the performances you can expect to see. There’s also a small section of mats laid out for martial arts demonstrations such as Aikido, Ninpo and Judo.
Just past the food booths are several arts and crafts booths set up in a section called the Japan Bazaar where you can fine unique items. We saw some wonderful Japanese brush paintings, paper umbrellas, hand-made jewelry and purses for sale. A florist booth was set up selling bonsai trees and feng shui floral arrangements. We spent a significant amount of time browsing through the Japanese books at a bookstand. They offered Japanese cookbooks, origami, Japanese arts and several books on philosophy.
The highlight of the festival is of course the garden itself. The natural beauty of Osaka Garden and its traditional Japanese-style elements inspire the visitor. Entering the garden through its wooden entrance gate takes visitors away from the bustling festival and into a peaceful world of lagoons, lush trees, paths, an arched bridge and even waterfalls. Garden tours are available as part of the festival.
After walking through the garden you will find women dressed in traditional Japanese costumes and performing a traditional tea ceremony in a wooded house. Only about fifteen can partake at the ceremony at one time and we did not wait, but it is definitely on my list for next year.
A kid’s stage is set up past the Japan Bazaar. Ongoing kid’s activities include chigiri-e paper artwork, water balloon yoyo games, ramune ring toss, the chopstick challenge, 1000 paper crane making and getting their name written in Japanese. Story tellers, origami, kite making, mask making and other activities are scheduled throughout the weekend.