Opa and Kampai!

Cover your cultural bases at the Japanese Festival and the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Festival

On first glance the Japanese and Greek cultures appear to have little in common. For one thing, "cheese" doesn't seem to be a word in the Japanese language; the Greeks, they set the stuff on fire. Sake versus Greek wine, pita or rice -- the differences look as if they could go on and on. But then when you examine things a bit closer, you begin to spot some similarities. Example: Each culture seems to like the festival-style celebration, and this is where you, the St. Louisan, have an embarrassment of riches. See, both the 88th annual St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Festival and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Japanese Festival are this weekend. So whether you're a little Greek, turning Japanese or none of the above, you will be embraced with open arms by both festivals (see? another similarity). So why not go to both? Here's a mini-guide to all the food, fun, entertainment and shopping.

Since you go to these things primarily for the food (it's OK, you don't have to admit it out loud), we're going to go ahead and cover that first. The Greek Festival has quite the embarrassment of riches, from gyros to saganaki (hey, that kinda sounds Japanese!), and from Greek salads to loukoumathes (deep-fried dough covered in honey and nuts). There's even a 100-foot long dessert table, so save some room! Now, at the Japanese Fest, you can try things like sushi, yakisoba (fried noodles) and green-tea ice cream -- there may not be 100 feet of it, but the stuff's bound to be pretty good.

Now that your belly's full, you're looking for a nice place to sit down and be entertained. You're in luck! The Japanese Festival offers music once daily from the St. Louis Osuwa Taiko student drum group, sumo demonstrations twice daily and even kimono fashion shows. And the Greek Fest answers back with St. Nicholas tours, musicians Bouzouki Pete and Christo, plus two Greek dance troupes. The two musicians are said to "have captured the soul of Mediterranean rhythm" -- much like we imagine the Taiko drummers similarly speak for the heartbeats of the Japanese.

But what's a valuable cultural experience without a souvenir? To fulfill your gift-giving needs -- both to yourself and to others -- each fest offers nice authentic items for purchase. At the Greek Fest, set your sites on imported jewelry, packaged deli items (yay! Food!) and other Mediterranean treasures. And at the Japanese Fest, you can walk away from the open-air marketplace with stuff like comic books, kimonos, bonsai plants and more.

So worry no more about your plans for the weekend! Spend one day at the Botanical Garden, the other in the Central West End, and rest on Monday -- even though both fests will still be kicking it, you'll be too tired, and too full, to move, and you have to work tomorrow! -- Alison Sieloff