Sakura Helping Hands set for Oktoberfest

The Seymour Oktoberfest celebrates German food, music and traditions, but a group of Japanese women work all year long to share a little bit of their own culture.

This year marks the 28th year for Sakura Helping Hands to be a part of the event by making and selling traditional Japanese arts, crafts and gifts and donating the proceeds back to the community.

Leading the group this year are Miki Tanahashi, Hidemi Watanabe, Noriko Udo, Megumi Yamada, Yasuyou Miyagawa and Mariko Kobayashi.

Meeting at the home of one of the women, each of them was wearing a happi, which is a traditional tube-sleeved Japanese coat usually worn only during festivals. The happi typically features symbols or text on the lapels with a larger design on the back of the coat, typically the name of the festival.

The entire group consists of around 30 women living in Seymour temporarily while their husbands work at local Japanese-owned companies, such as Aisin and Nippon Steel.

“Typically, we live here for two or three years, then return to Japan,” Kobayashi said. “We make items all year long to prepare for the festival.”

Each item is made from traditional Japanese materials, and a wide selection is offered at the booth.

The group has made around 1,000 items this year, including some of their favorites, like origami paper ball ornaments called kasudama and fabric flowers. Princes range from $1 to $30.

The booth is a favorite for many festivalgoers, some of whom come back each year to purchase a different item.

This year, they have added several new items, including ninja swords, magical wands and small knit toys, many of which are owls.

They agreed the most difficult item to make is the crane origami, which takes around a month to complete.

“We enjoy the opportunity to share our traditional handmade crafts and want to share the Japanese culture and tradition,” Miyagawa said.

The women said they enjoy making the items and hope others appreciate and enjoy them, too.

Sakura Helping Hands was started as a project to help get Japanese women more involved in the community and as a way to teach others about their culture and heritage.

“We wanted to do something for the Seymour community to show our appreciation,” they said.

The group also serves as a way for the families to give back to their new community. Each year, women usually raise more than $2,000 at their Oktoberfest booth, which is then distributed to various local organizations, such as Seymour Community School Corp., Jackson County Public Library, Schneck Medical Center, the city and other groups.

Oktoberfest, now in its 48th year, transforms downtown Seymour into a three-day street carnival complete with rides, games, entertainment, contests, crafts, a beer garden and lots of food.

The Sakura Helping Hands booth is located at Chestnut and Third streets near city hall and is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Oct. 2.

This year, the group is inviting kids to come by the booth at 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday to play a fishing game and win a prize.