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Combat, kimonos at Stony Brook Cherry Blossom Festival

Senior Kai Dix, 21, of Queens, left, and

Senior Kai Dix, 21, of Queens, left, and junior Anthony Infantino, 20, of Babylon, perform with the Taiko Tides, a drumming club on campus, during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival at Stony Brook University's Charles B. Wang Center. (May 4, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

Wearing a purple kimono with pink flowers, Carolina Favorite sat underneath a cherry blossom tree, watching students from Stony Brook University’s drumming club perform.

“They drummed their hearts out,” said Favorite, 25, of Port Jefferson Station. “With the beautiful drumming and light breeze, it felt like being transported to Japan.”

Favorite was among the nearly 200 people passing through the 13th annual Cherry Blossom Festival at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center on Saturday.

Gerard Senese organized the festival, which began in 2000, but has been held at the Charles B. Wang Center since 2007, to immerse the community in Japanese culture.

“Japanese culture has a lot to offer in terms of appreciating nature and polishing one’s character through expression of art,” said Senese, director of community outreach programs for the university’s Japan Center and owner of Ryu Shu Kan Japanese arts school in Farmingdale. “We wanted to bring all that to Long Island.”

The festival featured exhibits from local Japanese artists and craftsmen, an origami workshop for children, a Japanese chess tournament, traditional Japanese tea ceremony, dance performances and martial arts demonstrations, among other things.

Anthony Infantino, a junior at the university who performed with its Kaiko Tides Japanese drumming club, was thrilled to perform at his first Cherry Blossom Festival.

“What I love about this type of drumming is that it’s not about cramming the notes in. It’s more of a feeling of calm rushing over you,” he said. “We get our energy from the crowd’s energy.”

Because of his appreciation for Japanese culture, Infantino plans to study at Waseda University in Japan as part of a year-long exchange program, beginning in September.

“The last time I visited Japan, it gave me a much broader perspective of other cultures and I just can’t wait to spend an entire year there to learn even more about the country,” he said.

Joseph Kowalski, a sensei at Ryu Shu Kan, sparred using wooden swords -- known as kendo -- with Gus Doumanis at the festival.

“Kendo sparring gives the audience a taste of Japanese culture,” said Kowalski, 22, of Selden. “With kendo, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, it’s a mental game.”

It was Elfriede Runkel’s first time at the festival, but she made sure to bring a group of friends with her to take advantage of learning how to arrange Japanese flowers.

“Honestly, we came here for the flowers,” said Runkel, of Stony Brook. “It’s the most beautiful day and I’ve always wanted to learn the art of Japanese flower arrangement. And the best part is that I get to bring some home with me.”

Just before performing with his students from Ryu Shu Kan, Senese said how happy he was that so many people came out to get a taste of Japanese culture.

“Where else can you find flower arranging advice, martial arts performances and a traditional tea ceremony all at one place?” he said. “You can’t miss this festival. It’s worth it.”

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