Just say kampai on Saturday, February 28, when the Matsuri Festival toasts 20 years of celebrating Japanese culture in downtown. A traditional Japanese sake keg cracking ceremony launches the weekend of festivities, followed by a lively procession of lion dancers and drummers parading its way throughout the park. Entertainment is at the heart of the festival, with appearances by Hanakoma, a troupe from Phoenix's Japanese sister city, Himeji, who perform dance, music and puppetry, and Fushicho Daiko, a local taiko drum group that presents a Japanese folktale called The Pine of Akoya. Japanese folk singing, classical dance, and traditional live music performances are also on the lineup.
Dozens of vendors and exhibition booths display everything from colorful koi and kimono to bonsai and ikebana, and the Garakuta Ichi Flea Market features bargain-priced souvenirs of your afternoon in Asia. And don't worry, Grasshopper, there are plenty of martial arts demonstrations all weekend long, including bujinkan taijutsu, karate and aikido.
For those with a yen for Japanese food, the festival's food stands offer sushi, gyoza, manju and other delicious (but difficult to pronounce) culinary creations. Be sure to watch the Magic Candy Sculptor mesmerize children by molding confections into unicorns and dragons.
The only thing this total immersion experience lacks is the price tag of a ticket to Tokyo; admission is free. Nearly 60,000 Arizonans are expected to turn Japanese this weekend, and after a visit to the Matsuri Festival, you'll want to, too. We really think so, think so.
Mask of Zarco
The man with many faces performs in Glendale
His masks are many: musician, muralist, sculptor, painter and mask maker. Take Zarco Guerrero at face value and, at the very least, cash in on cultural understanding. Melding Japanese, Balinese and Chicano influences, the Mesa native presents "Face-to-Face in a Frenzy" on Thursday, February 26, at Glendale's main library, 5959 West Brown. The solo show -- a fusion of poetry, comedy, satire and social commentary -- sees the masked man morph into myriad characters, such as "Indio," "Nerd" and "Rasta." Part of Glendale's Live at the Library series, the free performance starts at 7 p.m. and is open to the public, no reservations necessary. Call 623-930-3573 or see members.aol.com/zarkmask for more information. -- Jill Koch
Women roar at Rebirth Festival
Ah, spring -- perfect time to shuffle loose the shackles of misogyny and celebrate your inner goddess. Local grrrl-power groupies get a head start Saturday, February 28, with the Rebirth Festival at the Icehouse, 409 West Jackson. More than 30 different female-inspired events are scheduled, including workshops on everything from yoga to homemade menstrual pad making. Local and national performance artists will be present, including DJs, indie rockers, spoken-word artists and ethnic dancing troupes. The rough-and-tumble girls from AZ Roller Derby "man" a spanking booth and bake sale, while locals Eve of Destruction stage an elaborate fire performance. The festival "celebrates creativity and accomplishments of women across all different mediums," says event organizer Maggie Garcia. "Basically, it's like a big party." The estrogen-challenged needn't fear, as everyone is welcome. The festival lasts from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., with workshops from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $10. Proceeds go to local women's charities. Visit therebirthfestival.com. -- Benjamin Leatherman
All's Faire In Love and Yore
Blast to the past at the Renaissance Fest
Knights in white satin bridal gowns? That day just got closer, now that the Arizona Renaissance Festival hosts weddings. (Yea, verily, the judiciary needs must do its 'til-death-do-us part.) Engaged or not, those besieged by modernity can shed 500 years of ugly progress from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through March 28. Life's pleasant for the peasant at the Ren Faire, and for lords and ladies, too, what with forkless feasts, comedy shows, jousting and comely wenches. Revelers travel east through time on U.S. 60 past Apache Junction. Advance tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for children, available online or at Fry's markets. For more information, see www.renfestinfo.com or call 1-520-463-2200. -- Kim Toms
Keepin' It Reel
Black film rolls onward
In honor of Black History Month, do the right thing: Support African-American film. From Thursday, February 26, through Saturday, February 28, the third annual Arizona Black Filmmakers Showcase calls directors, writers, producers, actors, editors and movie buffs to South Mountain Community College, 7050 South 24th Street. Offering screenings, workshops and seminars, the showcase aims "to provide independent Black filmmakers with a public forum in which to display their works and share their individual and cinematic experiences." Call 602-625-5959 or see www.azblackfilmmakers.com for a schedule. Gain some historical perspective at 2 p.m. Sunday, February 29, when Pamela A. Thomas visits Glendale's Foothills Branch Library, 19055 North 57th Avenue, to screen her 1994 documentary Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies. Dial 623-930-3843 for details. -- Jill Koch
There's a culture hub in Peoria
Although you'd be hard-pressed to find proof in our always entertaining and rarely accurate history books, the contributions of African Americans to American society and culture cannot be overstated. Set history straight at the Ninth Annual Northwest Black History Celebration, Saturday, February 28, and Sunday, February 29, at the Peoria Municipal Complex, 8401 West Monroe in Peoria. Art, food, music, dance and an appearance by national gospel artists the Mighty Clouds of Joy promise a weekend as rich as African-American culture itself. Admission is free. Call 623-204-0959. -- Craig Wallach