Kumi Alderman grew up in Japan and moved here from California with her husband, Dave, and their kids in 2007. The West Knox resident was instantly home; the climate and landscape felt familiar, and the people were friendly. What puzzled her, though, was that although she knew there were people of every Asian culture in the area, both at the university and in local businesses, she didn’t see any way for people to find out about those cultures.
“I thought, maybe they don’t know about us. What can we do to let them know us?” she remembers.
The idea of an Asian cultural festival in Knoxville captured her imagination and wouldn’t let go. By 2012, she was in serious planning mode and had a cadre of volunteers and businesses at her side. The first Knox Asian Festival attracted a few thousand people to Krutch Park to sample authentic Asian foods and watch performances of traditional arts.
Alderman counts Mayor Madeline Rogero as the festival’s first supporter. The two have since traveled to Knoxville’s sister city, Muroran, Japan, together, and Muroran representatives were here for the fifth festival.
From 2015 through 2018, the festival was held in Market Square. The crowds grew bigger and bigger, with more than 40,000 people attending last year. This year’s Knox Asian Festival, to be held Sunday, Aug. 25, will be at World’s Fair Park.
A kick-off parade, with national representatives in traditional dress, takes place at 10:45 and the last performance begins at 8 p.m. Almost three dozen food vendors will be represented, and there will be wine and sake tastings plus a tasting with Sapporo beer.
Performances will take place on two stages. Highlights include Matsuriza Taiko, traditional Japanese drummers from Disney World; Nepalese dancing from Atlanta-based Mystical Arts of Tibet; Chinese arts, including acrobatics, from New York-based Chinese Traditional Art Center, plus Knoxville’s own Chinese cultural performers; and traditional Japanese music.
Dancers from Thailand and martial arts demonstrations from several countries have been part of the festival since the beginning. For the first time, groups from Bali and Bangladesh will be participating. Cedar Bluff Middle School Orchestra will also perform.
There will be remarks by Mayor Rogero and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, as well as from the festival’s sponsors, who include VISIT Knoxville, DENSO and Regal.
This year there will be an Asian business seminar on Friday before the festival at the Knoxville Chamber at 1 p.m. The speaker is Masami Tyson, Tennessee’s global director of foreign direct investment and trade.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, there will be a related film festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the East Tennessee Historical Society. The emphasis is on documentaries that show various aspects of Asian countries and immigration journeys.
The festival is family-friendly, with lots of activities for kids. A “passport” program will allow kids and interested adults to visit areas representing various countries and learn all about them.
“Our Asian countries have such rich cultural heritage,” Alderman says. She loves the part the festival plays in opening people’s eyes to that culture, particularly children.
“There’s no politics, no religion. We’re just connecting people to people,” she says. “We bring the world to East Tennessee.”
Volunteers are still needed for the festival. For info on volunteering, attending or sponsoring, visit https://www.knoxasianfestival.com/.