Arigato in London: A Saturday in the Sun

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!

Arigato in London

The Arigato in London beer terrace at County Hall is open July 28th – August 2nd, 11:00 – 22:00, August 3rd, 11:00 – 18:00, and Aug 4th– Aug 11th 11:00 – 16:00.

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.

Keisaku Sano (Chairman, Japan Association in the UK)

Keisaku Sano (Chairman, Japan Association in the UK)

Junko Koshino (Designer)

Junko Koshino (Designer)

Dai Takahashi (Former track and field athlete)

Dai Takahashi (Former track and field athlete)

Hidetoshi Nakata (Representative director of Take Action Foundation; Former national football player

Hidetoshi Nakata (Representative director of Take Action Foundation; Former national football player

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.

Arigato in London

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.

Keiichi Hayashi (Ambassador of Japan in the UK)

Keiichi Hayashi (Ambassador of Japan in the UK)

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.

Hiroshi Hattori (Vice President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the UK)

Hiroshi Hattori (Vice President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the UK)

Graham Holman (Japan Society board member) and David Lee (Helping Hands for Japan) received small gifts for their huge support and hard work in response to the disaster in Japan last year.

Arigato in London

Graham Holman (Japan Society board member) (Right)

David Lee (Helping Hands for Japan)

David Lee (Helping Hands for Japan)

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.

Arigato in London

One of the main features of Arigato in London is the ‘N Bar’, a sake bar produced by former footballer Hidetoshi Nakata.

N Bar (Japanese sake bar)

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.

N Bar (Japanese sake bar)

There weren’t many shops or stalls at Arigato in London, which was a bit of a shame, but there was one lovely craft stall from Wagumi (和組), selling beautiful Japanese gifts such as kokeshi dolls:

Wagumi

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!

At Arigato in London there is a small “en-nichi” or “community festival” area, where you can enjoy traditional games such as “wanage” (hoopla) and “yo-yo tsuri” (yo-yo fishing).

Wanage (Japanese hoopla)

Wanage (Japanese hoopla) – you don’t win the cool toys though, just some small snacks or something.

Yo yo tsuri

Yo-yo tsuri – catch the “yo-yo balloon” with the hook, but don’t make the paper wet or the string will snap!

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.

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

Joji Hirota's Taiko Ensemble

After the taiko I had another encounter with Kibitan (キビタン) – Fukushima’s mascot, who I had met at Japan Festival 2012 on Thursday.

Future from Fukushima

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 Matsubara

Miyu Matsubara

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

Kanami Ajima

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

Koshi Fujita

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! 😉

Me & Kibitan

Arigato in London continues until 11th August. For more information about their programme of events, please visit their website: arigato-in-london.jp.

2 thoughts on “Arigato in London: A Saturday in the Sun

  1. Looks like a great event! By the way, the morning TV is showing a story about how popular Japanese food is in London. There was a nice looking restaurant called “Koya”, specializing in sanuki udon. Also a girl who made salmon and cream cheese sushi rolls, which kind of shocked the presenters! Anyway, looks like Koya is in central London somewhere; if you like udon, you should check it out!

    Like

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