Ginza Holiday Festival

Ginza Holiday is MBT’s annual fundraising event that has been bringing Japanese American food, culture and entertainment to Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood for over 65 years. We’ve had an uninterrupted run of our annual Ginza event from it’s humble beginnings in 1955 up to 2019.

In 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, we compiled a video “History of Ginza – A Virtual Experience” for a program that we held in place of the real event. “Virtual Ginza” parts 1 & 2 are a combined 2+ hours of stories, photographs and even some audio from 65 years of Ginza Holiday. Then in 2021 we released a “condensed” version that runs 17 minutes and still manages to add some new content. You are welcome to view all three videos here!

2020 Virtual Ginza
Part 1

2020 Virtual Ginza
Part 2

2021 History of Ginza
(condensed version)

A Brief History of Ginza Holiday

Back in 1955, our temple decided to create an ambitious fundraising event that would introduce Japanese food and entertainment to the temple’s neighbors. The name Ginza Holiday Festival is taken from the famous district in Tokyo, which for centuries has been a center of shops and entertainment. Today with its brightly lit neon signs, the district still attracts millions of visitors.

Our early Ginza was also brightly lit with Japanese lanterns lining the street outside our temple and featured an authentically decorated stage and traditional red torii gates at the festival’s entrances (if you visit Ginza Holiday these days, you will still pass through these original torii gates).

Entertainment consisted of classical Japanese dancing, minyo (Japanese folk dancing), musicians including shamisen and koto artists, and demonstrations of martial arts, including judo, karate and kendo.

At the first Ginza, we introduced our now-famous chicken teriyaki, a family recipe of an early temple member. This was the very first time many visitors had experienced Japanese culture and cuisine, and it was a resounding success. Throughout the years, the Ginza Holiday Festival has grown and become a significant neighborhood event on Chicago’s summer calendar.

(click image to enlarge)

Ginza Holiday Today

(Editor’s Note: The features described in this section refer to our Ginza Holiday Festival “pre-pandemic”. Due to Covid-19 we had to cancel our festival in 2020 and 2021. In 2022 we came back with “Ginza Lite”, a scaled-down version of our Ginza Holiday. In 2023 we are thrilled to return to a full Ginza Holiday Festival.)

As part of our cultural showcase, we host exhibitors of Asian arts displaying their beautiful work in bonsai (miniature trees) and ikebana (flower arrangement).

In the late 1970s, we began a long association with the Waza, an organization of more than 100 Japanese artisans, each mastering a craft that has been handed down through their families for 300 years since Japan’s Edo period. Each year, various Waza craftsmen travel throughout the world to share their artistry and in August a small group of artisans participate in our Ginza Holiday Festival. Visitors are able to purchase samples of their unique art, which include beautiful hand-thrown pottery, delicately detailed Japanese dolls and silkscreened cloth towels often framed as works of art.

Our stage entertainment continues to feature minyo folk dance and martial-arts demonstrations. Since the mid-1970s, performances of taiko (Japanese drumming) have become one of the most popular attractions on our Ginza stage.

Although our famous chicken teriyaki is our most popular food item, over the years, we’ve added sushi, udon, teriyaki veggie burgers, corn on the cob and edamame to our menu.

In addition to the varied offerings of food, entertainment and exhibits, our resident minister opens the hondo (temple hall or chapel) and invites visitors to tour the temple and learn a little about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The Ginza Holiday Festival provides an opportunity to experience a different culture, connect with new acquaintances and to reconnect with old friends.