Taiko drums and a traditional rice cake pounding ceremony ushered in the Japanese New Year Sunday as part of the free Oshogatsu Family Festival in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

Hundreds gathered at the Japanese American National Museum for the New Year's celebration and to welcome the Year of the Snake, which is believed to be a time of prosperity and peace.

In Japan, Oshogatsu is observed throughout the month of January, although the most important day is Jan. 1, when sacred traditions are shared with family.

"What's great is to see generations of folks come in, as well as a diverse audience," said Helen H.

"Shan the Candyman" creates cranes from candy at the Oshogatsu Family Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles Sunday.
"Shan the Candyman" creates cranes from candy at the Oshogatsu Family Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles Sunday. (David Crane / Staff Photographer)
Ota, spokeswoman for the museum.

Children and parents filled the arts and crafts tables to color and paste calenders with all the Asian zodiac signs. They learned to fold origami snakes and watched candy artist Shaun Ichiyanagi twist melted confections into colorful snakes and dragons on a stick. Later in the day, real reptiles would be brought in, and children would be taught how to play Japanese Taiko drums.

"We love the crafts and the candy making," said Lynn Pratt of Pasadena, who has brought her children Taryn, 6, and Parker, 8 to the event many times before.

"We have a big New Year's celebration at home, and this becomes the follow-up."

Hubert Wong, of Fullerton, brought his twin girls, Julia and Ella, to the event for the first time.

As they cut paper into serpentine shapes, Wong asked his daughters what the Year of the Snake meant to them.

"Ssssssss," one replied.

"That pretty much says it," he said. "This is the first time for us and it's lots of fun. The museum has put together a great event for parents and children to spend time together and to experience the culture."

Opened in 1992, the Japanese American National Museum has been celebrating the Oshogatsu Family Festival for years. The museum is the first in the nation dedicated to sharing the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry as part of U.S. history. The museum's goal is to safeguard the cultural identity of Japanese Americans by preserving the oral histories of first generation immigrants, as well as artifacts, photographs, written records and other documents of the lives of Japanese Americans before, during, and after the World War II mass incarceration.

The annual Oshogatsu festival attracts up to 3,000 people a year, Ota said.

The event is always free to the public.

Sarah Matsui Von Guetzow, 20, of Woodland Hills, said she has been coming to the museum for Oshogatsu since she was a baby. Her parents even donated a brick with her name on it to the museum, which is placed in the courtyard. She calls herself a "courtyard kid."

"It's fun to see all the little kids at the crafts tables," she said, remembering herself at that age.

Her mom, Karen Matsui, said the event offers anyone who is interested a chance to share in the old traditions and even learn some new ones.

"It is so generous for the museum to open itself up to the community so that everyone can come and learn about the culture," she said.