As I said in my last post, there’s an awful lot going on in London at the moment. Right now there are two Japanese festivals happening at the same time. On Thursday last week I attended Japan Festival 2012, which you can read about here, and on Saturday I went along to Arigato in London. Arigato in London is being held at County Hall until 11th August, and had its opening ceremony at midday last Saturday. It was a particularly nice, warm, sunny day – perfect for a cold beer and some entertainment!
The purpose of Arigato in London is to show Japan’s gratitude for the worldwide help, assistance and courage given after the Great East Japan Earthquake and also to show how Japan is recovering from the disaster. The opening ceremony started with a dynamic taiko drumming performance from the wonderful Joji Hirota and his taiko ensemble.
Following the taiko performance which certainly got everyone’s attention, the Executive Committee, organisers and supporters were introduced.
A football signed by Japanese elementary school students living in London was presented to Hidetoshi Nakata, a former national football player. The students wrote messages to students living in Tohoku to encourage them after the earthquake and tsunami last year, and Nakata will deliver the ball to them. He has been traveling around Japan for last three years, and now he is taking his journey to Tohoku. Nakata committed to Arigato in London because he has discovered so many beautiful features about Japan and wants to share them with the people gathering in London for the Olympics right now.
The Ambassador of Japan in the UK, Keiichi Hayashi, also gave a short speech, welcoming everyone to the event. Speaking on behalf of the Japanese who wanted to give thanks, he said “we should now give hope and courage back to the world.“
Hiroshi Hattori (Vice President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the UK) also said a few words, and made reference to the phrase “keep calm and carry on”, which he said was just as relevant in Japan as it is in England, and that people followed this philosophy after the crisis in March 2011.
Arigato in London was officially opened with a “kagami biraki” – the opening of a sake barrel. Smashing open a sake barrel like this is the traditional way to open an event or mark a celebration (such as a wedding) in Japan, and is said to bring good luck.
One of the main features of Arigato in London is the ‘N Bar’, a sake bar produced by former footballer Hidetoshi Nakata.
With cooperation of Hasegawasaketen (an official distributor of Japanese sake at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa), ’N Bar’ opens daily during the event and you can enjoy the taste of 26 kinds of sake from 18 brewers from all over Japan. Nakata says, “I am very excited to introduce one of the greatest Japanese cultures, sake, to a number of people gathering in London from all over the world. Because of the recent Japanese food boom, I have realised people start acknowledging more about sake. I believe the sake bar provides a great opportunity to let people enjoy various kinds of sake. It would be great if all of you has become a fan of Japan through the experience of ‘N Bar’.” The ‘N’ of ‘N Bar’ comes from both ‘Nippon’ and ‘Nakata’, and was named by Nakata himself with the hope of attracting people from all over the world.
Wagami actually have a shop in London (in OXO Tower Wharf), so I will have to pop in there someday and check out what they’ve got!
Later in the day, just as I was about to slip away and do something else, Joji Hirota and his taiko ensemble came back on for another performance, and so I grabbed a seat in the front row. They really are the best taiko group I have ever seen – such energy and enthusiasm, and the music is flawless.
The same group of people – representing Future from Fukushima – were at Arigato in London too, and they also brought along some visitors from Fukushima, who shared their stories with the audience.
Miyu Mitsubara, a Junior High School student, told the touching story of her grandad’s peaches, saying that her grandfather will continue to produce “nice and sweet” peaches and just hopes that people will trust that they are safe and eat them.
Kanami Ajima, a High School student, wrote a letter to her grown-up self, reminding herself of the events of March 11th 2011, and how she had to take shelter in a local gymnasium and see her house demolished because it couldn’t be saved. She tells her grown-up self to never forget that day, and to live with a smile on her face for the people who lost their lives. ”Don’t let memories of that day fade away,” she says.
Koshi Fujita, a farmer from Fukushima, spoke passionately about how difficult it has become to farm in Fukushima because people don’t believe the food is safe. He believes it is up to the farmers themselves to get things back up and running again, and doesn’t believe he can rely on help from the government. He said he wouldn’t be leaving Fukushima – he would continue farming despite the difficulties and pressures.
These three speakers from Fukushima will serve as ‘Ambassadors for Fukushima’s Recovery’, having won an essay writing contest run by Fukushima Minpo newspaper.
I somehow managed to find myself on stage by the end of it all, dancing around with Kibitan, wearing a happi – serves me right for sitting in the front row!
Arigato in London continues until 11th August. For more information about their programme of events, please visit their website: arigato-in-london.jp.