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Valley of the Rising Sun

Martial arts onstage at Matsuri.
Beth Cole

If you hear the booming thunder of Japanese taiko drums in the next couple of days, follow the catchy rhythms to Heritage and Science Park, where Matsuri, A Festival of Japan, will kick off a weekend of events -- including the expertly choreographed drumming provided by the Japanese American Citizens League's Kyo Rei Taiko Kai.

Nippon-obsessed visitors will have a field day at what is arguably the largest Japan-related event in the state. But for attendees unfamiliar with the joys of Japanese culture, Matsuri will still be an entertaining introduction to the traditional arts. The main stage will feature a diverse presentation of music and performance, from nihon buyo classical dance to an archery display. Martial arts enthusiasts will get a kick -- literally -- out of the demonstration lineup scheduled for the secondary stage, including karate and kendo.

In conjunction with Matsuri, the Valley of the Sun Koi Club will hold the Greater Phoenix Open Koi Show, a competition, sale and auction of the colorful carp. Bred for centuries for their jewel-toned hues, koi are therapeutic to watch, says club member Mark Donnelly. "It's great to come home from work and sit by the pond," he says. Fifty tanks of these special fish will make this the largest such show in the Southwest.

There will be plenty of booths and exhibits for the throngs to enjoy. Expect the whole spectrum of Japanese arts and crafts, including ikebana and bonsai displays, pottery, calligraphy, origami and clothing, as well as activities for the kids.

And don't forget to sample the homemade edibles. Fill your tummy with steaming yakisoba noodles or fresh hand-rolled sushi. Sweeter offerings will include daifuku rice cakes and sugary creations from a talented candy sculptor. If the quickest way to your heart is through your stomach, at Matsuri you'll find it easy to fall in love with Japan.

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