On Saturday 6th October Trafalgar Square in London was taken over by Japanese culture for the annual Japan Matsuri. Each year the venue has changed, starting at Spitalfields in 2010 and moving to County Hall last year (see my post about last year’s festival), and I wasn’t sure if the new larger venue would work, but it was pretty good. The event attracted huge crowds, which made buying food and souvenirs pretty difficult, but the main stage was always accessible and visible (the martial arts stage was impossible to get to because of crowds) and the day was quite enjoyable. I think the event attracted not only people who were already interested in Japanese culture, but also people who just happened to be passing. Despite the obvious signs saying ‘Japan’ everywhere, I did hear a few ignorant people saying that it was a Taiwanese or Chinese festival, but hopefully the majority realised what was going on and enjoyed it.
As someone who has now been to a lot of Japan-related events in the UK, I found that a lot of the entertainment was the same as I’ve seen at other events, but there were a couple of new acts and one fabulous blast from the past. I’ve give you a little summary and some highlights…
The Japan Matsuri opened in usual matsuri style with the smashing of a sake barrel:
I spent most of the day by the stage, leaving only to do circuits of the stalls and buy food. The food was all the usual stuff, and I managed to satisfy my cravings for takoyaki…
…and matcha ice cream throughout the day (which happened to be a glorious, sunny day).
The entertainment on the main stage kicked off with Thames Taiko – a taiko drumming group formed originally for the 2008 Thames Festival.
One of the highlights of the day, simply because it was something unusual, was Rajio Taiso (radio exercises) performed by Hajime Tago, Risa Kaneko and Arisa Oshimi from NHK television.
The audience was hesitant to join in at first, but by the time the evening came everyone was having a go!
Now that’s not something you see in Trafalgar Square every day!
One person who made numerous appearances on stage throughout the day was the lovely Hibiki. He played shamisen with his own group and also guested on a few other people’s acts, but more about that later.
A lot of the entertainment was more on the traditional side of Japanese culture, but in the middle of the day there was a Lolita fashion parade by the Tea Party Club to satisfy pop culture lovers. I wasn’t in the best position to get good photos, but here are a few…
I do love those frilly frocks.
One of the main features of the Japan Matsuri is the Nodojiman competition. Based on NHK Nodo Jiman (NHK のど自慢) which is broadcast in Japan every Sunday, Nodojiman is a karaoke competition in which the singers (in this version) must sing in Japanese. The entrants were all very good sports with varying degrees of talent, and the winner was this deserving guy (sorry, I didn’t catch his name):
I was happy to see the Okinawa Sanshinkai performing at the Japan Matsuri, after having very much enjoyed their performance at Okinawa Day earlier this year. They really are a wonderful group, and they entertain me every time I see them.
There were various taiko drumming groups throughout the day, and the next one up was Taiko Meantime, formed in Greenwich in 2001. As well as wonderful taiko drumming, Taiko Meantime have this fun act they do with hand cymbals…
After Taiko Meantime was an act which was a real blast from the past for me. I’ve seen them live a couple of times before, and they never fail to entertain (even if they are completely bonkers)… Frank Chickens!
This next song is the song that made Frank Chickens famous – We Are Ninja (Not Geisha) – and there was a special guest star at the beginning…
Yes, it’s Hibiki again!
Frank Chickens have been around since the ’80s, and their act doesn’t seem to have changed that much (although the members have changed a bit), but it was great to see them again.
The schedule of events ran very smoothly and everything seemed to be on time and without a hitch, which just shows how well the event was organised. By the time the evening came it was getting a little chilly, but the entertainment on stage kept coming and I managed to dance a bit to the bon dancing to stay warm. There was a collaboration between two groups – London Bon Dancers and Bu U [舞遊] – which was really good!
Naomi Suzuki was next up, and one of her songs was slightly interrupted by an over-zealous fan who decided to join in…
Naomi Suzuki, who was also one of the MCs for the day, is a well-known J-pop singer, who sings songs from anime as well as her own songs. I didn’t recognise any of her music, but my guess is that the song in the video above was probably from an anime!
The day finished with a spectacular taiko performance from the London Taiko Drummers – students of the wonderful Joji Hirota. There’s no better way to end a matsuri than with taiko, and as I walked away from Trafalgar Square my heart was still going “don doko don doko” to the rhythm of the music.
There’s a lot more I could say about the Japan Matsuri, but I’ll leave it there for now and may well come back with features on a couple of things I came across while I was there. I’ll finish with my favourite overheard quote of the day:
Boy of about ten, talking to parent: “According to the laws of physics, anything that’s Japanese… ROCKS!“
Nice one, kid! (*^_^)v
The photos and videos above are only a selection of those that I took on the day. If you’d like to see more, please visit my Flickr collection and YouTube playlist (I apologise for the quality of my videos!). If you were one of the performers and would like a copy of photos/videos featuring your act, please get in touch.