Last Saturday I spent the day in London at the Japan Matsuri – London’s annual event celebrating Japanese culture. The event has grown over the few years that I’ve known it, and is now in its fifth consecutive year. For the second year running the event was held in Trafalgar Square. I admit I was sceptical about this venue last year, but it has proved to be a great location for the event. The Matsuri attracts the local Japanese community, people from London and other parts of the UK with an interest in Japanese culture, and lots of passers-by who wander through not quite knowing what’s going on but hopefully finding something of interest. It’s those passers-by that I think are most important, because if the event catches even one of their imaginations and inspires them to find out more about Japan, then it’s been successful as far as I’m concerned.
I spent most of the day working in a tent, talking to people about why they should visit Japan (not that people needed that much encouragement – it seemed like everyone wanted to go!). I always enjoy talking to people about Japan, as everyone has something different they’re interested in, and I always get excited by their excitement. It was especially encouraging to see that even people who had stumbled upon the event seemed open to considering Japan as a holiday destination.
During the day I managed a quick break for okonomiyaki (couldn’t possibly attend the Matsuri and not have okonomiyaki!)…
And whilst I was walking quickly around the event I came across a couple of interesting things. The first was this picture:
I assume this is a picture of the Choshu Five (長州五傑) – five Japanese men who left Japan whilst it was still illegal to do so and studied in England from 1863 at University College London. This year celebrates 150 years since their arrival in the UK.
I also ran into this colourfully dressed man:
He is part of Kyoto-based armourers Usagi Juku, and is modelling a type of armour called o-yoroi. There was an exhibition of this armour in London recently but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit it myself. You can find out more about it over at Sequins and Cherry Blossom.
Apart from that quick break, I didn’t really get to see any of the entertainment until after 6pm when my stall shut, and just caught the end of the Shamazing Hibiki Ichikawa on tsugaru shamisen as I was hunting for food.
I listened to the end of Hibiki’s set whilst munching on some delicious fresh sushi.
The first full act I caught was something rather unique. Here’s what the programme had to say:
Commissioned by the Barbican in 2011, Disruption was composed in response to the exhibit Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion. It is a unique work which draws on the work of designers and writers such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Junichiro Tanizaki with nods to contemporary music, electronica, dubstep and kyogen theatre (狂言). Jetsam are joined by guest performers: Tanroh Ishida, Dave Smith, Jimmy Norden and Chiel Busscher.
More than anything, I was captivated by this man:
The performance built up into something quite incredible, and I would have loved to have seen a longer show in a quiet theatre. You can listen to more on Jetsam’s SoundCloud page, and here’s a tiny snippet from the Matsuri:
After Jetsam, the tone was taken down a notch with some traditional music from Ten’yu, including koto and shakuhachi. Ten’yu are a new group which came together especially for the Matsuri this year.
If you’ve been reading my blog recently, you’ll know just how excited I was by the next act – SIRO-A. I’ve seen SIRO-A twice now, once in the Leicester Square Theatre and once at Hyper Japan, and this third performance was no less fabulous. SIRO-A are absolutely wonderful performers, and from watching the set up it was clear just how much work goes into getting everything just right. As soon as they finished in Trafalgar Square they dashed off to Leicester Square for another performance!
As always, the best was saved for last. The headline act at Japan Matsuri this year was Joji Hirota and the London Taiko Drummers – my favourites! However, this year they also had a special guest… none other than Tomoyasu Hotei!! You might remember that I saw Hotei-san perform in London at the end of last year and promptly fell a little bit in love with him, well it was wonderful to see him again! Naturally, he rocked.
After Hotei’s brief appearance, Joji Hirota and the London Taiko Drummers played a few more songs. There’s never enough – I could listen to them play all night!
As the crowd filed out of Trafalgar Square at the end of the Matsuri, London was still buzzing with the usual sounds of Saturday night. But all I could hear was the ‘don doko don doko don doko don’ of the taiko drums calling me back to Japan.