Madison Chen, 4, left, and her brother Jacob, 5, make...

Madison Chen, 4, left, and her brother Jacob, 5, make a friend during the Asian-American Festival on Saturday at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

A Japanese tea ceremony, taekwondo demonstrations, calligraphy lessons and food from across Asia could be found at the annual Asian-American  Festival in Port Washington on Saturday.

The festival, returning for the first time to North Hempstead Beach Park since the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, drew a crowd of hundreds who perused the dozens of tents and tables selling wares and showcasing Asian culture through art, cuisine and exhibits. There, attendees could observe a Japanese tea ceremony, model kimonos, practice origami, bang a gong and observe cultural performances. 

The tastes and sights of Afghanistan, China, India, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines and more were on full display at the celebration. The festival was cut short because of rain and wind that moved into the area Saturday afternoon. 

The Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, a Buddhist priest, practiced calligraphy at the festival and gave attendees the opportunity to  try calligraphy themselves. Nakagaki, 61, of Bellerose, was taught shoto, Japanese calligraphy, by his father. He explained that calligraphy, which takes training to learn the skill, is more than simply an art form or handwriting.

“The mind and the bodies are together in calligraphy. It’s not handwriting. It’s body writing,” Nakagaki said. “What you are thinking appears in the calligraphy.”

He highlighted the three styles of Japanese calligraphy by writing the same character in different ways: kaisho, the most common “block style,” which is slower and deliberate; gyosho, known as the “running hand style,” which flows faster; and sosho, a fast cursive style known as “grass hand.” The same character looks different depending on which style the calligrapher uses. Gyosho is Nakagaki’s favorite, he said, because it “has a warmth to it.”

Ranjan Panchal, 52, of Huntington, and Rehana Sidiqee, 57, of Hicksville, decorated the hands of attendees with henna at their booth. Panchal said she was thrilled to share henna, a popular South Asian body art, with people who weren’t familiar with it. Henna, a dye made of plants, is commonly used to celebrate weddings and other special or joyous occasions.

“Henna is a symbol of happiness,” Panchal said. ”We do this for all the happy moments.”

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena called the festival’s return “triumphant” and praised the rich offerings at the celebration, which highlight the town’s diversity.

“The Town of North Hempstead is so fortunate to have such a vibrant and engaged Asian American and Pacific American community,” said Council Member Mariann Dalimonte.

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