Tacoma Moon Festival celebrates variety of Asian cultures

Anni Liu’s Chinese roots run deep.

She and her family moved to Tacoma from Beijing two years ago so she could attend Annie Wright School, where she’s an eighth-grader.

College student Ariel Dennison developed an interest in Japanese culture after family members gifted her with an authentic kimono.

And 9-year-old Zaniaha Dewitt only had to look across the street from her Tacoma home to see yet another element of Asian culture on display at the Shadow of Koga Martial Arts School.

All three were part of the sun-kissed Tacoma Moon Festival, which took place Saturday at Chinese Reconciliation Park near Old Town. The festival celebrates Asian cultures, with a nod to the traditional Chinese festival that honors the bounty of harvest time and the heavenly orb that symbolizes harmony and unity.

Anni performed a song that played off the festival moon theme on an instrument called the guzheng.

The song tells the story of a fisherman who embarks at night as his boat is tossed by ocean waves. By song’s end, he sees the moon, which brings good luck and a bountiful catch.

Anni was about 4 years old when she began learning to play the guzheng, a 21-string instrument that traces its origins to ancient China.

She said her parents took her to an instrument store and she chose it.

“I didn’t know it was so hard to learn,” she said.

But she said that with practice, playing got easier.

Dennison dances with the Tacoma Kabuki Academy under the Japanese name Akina. She travels from Silverdale for lessons.

She said her exploration of Japanese kabuki performance began after she received the kimono. She found the academy, and started dancing three years ago.

“I did ballet when I was younger,” she said. “This is so different.”

Dennison wore a green kimono, white face makeup and stark red eye and lip makeup. She said the exaggerated makeup originally developed as a way to make performers’ faces visible in candlelight.

She danced a story called tenaraiko, or butterfly girl, which tells the story of a young girl who is distracted on her way home from school by a meandering butterfly.

Zaniaha began studying a form of karate with Sensei Fred Thompson, her martial arts school’s instructor, three years ago. She now has a green belt with a black stripe.

Zaniaha and other students from the school demonstrated their martial arts moves at the festival.

She said learning martial arts has taught her discipline. And she has learned one of the most important aspects of martial arts discipline: to only employ her skills as a last resort.

“We only do it if we need to defend ourselves,” Zaniaha said.