There’s so much going on in London at the moment, and with not one by TWO Japanese culture festivals happening right now I was spoilt for choice. Japan Festival 2012 started on Wednesday 25th July and continues until Tuesday 7th August, at Broadgate Circle, near Liverpool Street Station. I popped along on Thursday after work to see what was going on, and had a fabulous evening.
When I arrived, there were a few people on stage talking about Fukushima, but sadly not many people seemed to be paying attention. Broadgate Circle is the kind of place where cool and trendy city types stop by for a few drinks after work (especially when the weather’s nice) and there didn’t seem to be that many people at the festival who were there because of a love of Japan. Most of those that were, were Japanese. I hope some of the people who just happened to stop by got something out of it and that the entertainment later in the evening maybe sparked an interest for Japanese culture or travel to Japan.
I made my way to the front as I had spotted some empty seats and, feeling a little self-conscious, got my camera out. Almost immediately a lovely lady came to speak to me and to give me gifts from Fukushima.
I was delighted, and she seemed thrilled to find a non-Japanese person who was interested in what was going on. There was a little quiz about Fukushima, and I learnt that “Fukushima” (福島) means “happy island” (although it is actually not an island), and I received another gift for answering a question correctly (with a little help!).
Kibitan is very cute, but I’m not sure many people in the audience really got the concept of town mascots. To me now, this is such a normal idea, but I have to remind myself that we don’t usually have town mascots in the UK (imagine if we did!).
After a short break, the second part of Thursday night’s show began with a prayer from Narita Shinshoji – a temple in Narita which I was lucky enough to visit last year. Two Buddhist monks chanted and performed a ritual:
At the end, they threw out lucky cards:
Narita Shinshoji is closely tied with Rikuzentakata Kenka Drum Group (Kenka Daiko), who then performed:
You may remember that I recently wrote about the “Ippon-matsu of Rikuzentakata” (陸前高田の一本松) – the solitary pine tree which was left after the tsunami. After the taiko performance, I was honoured to receive a gift from Rikuzentakata – a good luck charm featuring the ippon-matsu, made from the wood of the trees which did not survive.
This is something I will carry with me every day and treasure as a reminder of what happened, and as a reminder to save my money so I can visit Tohoku.
Other entertainment on Thursday included an energetic violin performance from Mayuko Suenobu:
Mayuko was then joined by Shinya from the band Luna Sea, who accompanied her on drums.
Next up was a performance from the Ikki Drum Group with the calligrapher Fuyou Kobayashi painting in the background.
Each piece of calligraphy is representative of one of the four seasons, starting with spring on the left and finishing with winter on the right.
This guy seemed to be playing a stone during parts of the drumming:
The Ikku Drum Group also played by themselves:
I love taiko, so that’s always a highlight, but aside from the taiko one of the highlights of the evening was a performance from a male singer called Toshiyuki Isobe. He was just so sweet and energetic, and his songs were really good.
He did a really upbeat song which involved audience participation – clapping and singing – so I’m afraid I couldn’t film that one! (I discovered I can barely sing in Japanese and clap at the same time, so I certainly can’t film too!)
Also performing that night were the London Bon Dancers, who I really enjoyed:
And enka singer Etsuko Shimazu, who has been in the music business for 25 years. This song is originally from the Tohoku region:
Etsuko did this amazing quick change – she must have been wearing two kimonos for the first few songs!
Etsuko’s last song was, appropriately, the Sukiyaki song, which got me sort of singing along (as much as I know, anyway!).
The purpose of Japan Festival 2012 is to introduce Japanese culture but also to thank the people of the UK for their support during the disaster of March 2011. Sadly, I think the majority of people in Broadgate Circle on Thursday night had probably already forgotten that anything had happened in Japan. But, of course, I hadn’t, and for me the event just reinforced my desire to visit Tohoku as soon as possible. As soon as I hear the beat of a taiko drum, or the melodic sound of a folk song, I know my heart is very much still in Japan.
Japan Festival 2o12 continues until 7th August. Please visit their website at japanfestival.jp for more information about the programme of events.