Hawaiian and Pacific Rim Cultures Unite at the 24th Annual Honolulu Festival

Every March, the ever-popular Honolulu Festival on Oʻahu invites visitors and locals alike to experience a weekend of moving, educational and fun events around the hub of Waikīkī. Last Friday we had the pleasure of attending the Friendship Gala to kick off the Festival’s 24th year.

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While we waited for the Exhibition Hall doors to open, we learned about the history of the Honolulu Festival through a linear timeline display.

Hosted in the grand Hawaii Convention Center, the Friendship Gala is all about bringing divergent cultures together in one space, a space devoted to fostering friendship and goodwill. And what better ways to bring people together than through entertainment, live performances and, of course, food?

At the Friendship Gala, food comes first, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to stroll through the nine sumptuous dining stations at the start of the event. Some of the top chefs on the island presented unique creations inspired by Hawaiian and Asian-Pacific flavors. In attendance this year were Artizen by MW, Eating House 1849 Waikiki, Nico’s Pier 38, Chef Chai, 12th Ave Grill, Stripsteak Waikiki, EAT Honolulu, Halekulani, and Honolulu Coffee Company. Some of our favorite dishes of the evening include…

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Ginger Lemongrass Chicken Congee from Eating House 1849 Waikiki.

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Maui Cattle Co. Beef Tataki from 12th Ave Grill.

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Jidori Chicken Stew with Black Pepper Gravy from Artizen by MW.

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Fresh Ahi and Salmon Poke Dip with Toasted Sesame Seed and Crostini from Chef Chai—my personal favorite!

While we agreed that each of the restaurant’s specialty dishes were delicious, the Fresh Ahi and Salmon Poke Dip definitely took home top honors in our book (when we ran out of crostini, we opted for a fork to finish off the leftover dip!).

But the Friendship Gala offers more than just gourmet dining. Throughout the evening, the event’s emcees Dave Lancaster and Kei Segawa and the series of talented performers reminded everyone in attendance of just how special this gathering of cultures truly was. From the diverse group of attendees to the brilliant cultural displays to the varied entertainers keeping us thrilled and entranced throughout the evening, the Gala was another exceptional reminder of the importance of cultural unity, whether that culture be Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, or Okinawan.

Japanese culture, however, was definitely at the forefront of the celebration, as this year marks the landmark 150th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants in Hawaiʻi. Following Tunui’s Royal Polynesians’ riveting keiki hula performance, we were treated to a brief video narrating the history of these immigrants, and how they shaped and were shaped by the new country they called their home.

Following the video, we enjoyed a performance by Sakura Komachi Wagakudan, an all-female group that incorporates traditional Japanese instruments into their songs. Many of these instruments I’d never seen before, and included the Tsugaru Shamisen (percussion), Wadaiko (wooden and leather drum), Shinobue (bamboo flute), and Koto (Japanese harp). Each of the women deftly handled her instrument, keeping us engaged throughout their performance.

As the event went on and we finished sampling the restaurants’ creations, we continued to enjoy live performances by Inspired Arts, a youth dance troupe; Un Bijou, a feisty troupe of three Japanese dancers; and Ryukyu Koten Afuso Ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Hawaii Choichi Kai, a branch of the Hawaii United Okinawa association. Closing out the evening was a short set by Keauhou, one of Hawaiʻi’s most popular up-and-coming musical groups.
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An impressive lineup of entertainment ensured the fun never stopped!

Eventually the Friendship Gala came to a close, and we left the Hawaii Convention Center inspired by the cultural narratives woven throughout the evening’s elegant dining and captivating performances. More than just a festival kick-off event, the Friendship Gala (and the Honolulu Festival, too) serves as a venue for storytelling and relationship building. The Festival is a unique opportunity found only in Hawaiʻi to share cultural identities and rich histories, all while meeting new people in paradise. And who doesn’t want to learn a little more about their vacation destination and the people, history and culture that embody it?

The Honolulu Festival is a three-day extravaganza that takes place every March. Stay tuned for updates on next year’s spectacular cultural festivities!

Happy adventuring!

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