Japan Matsuri 2016! 日本祭り2016!

Last week was Japan Matsuri in London, an amazing day of the year where the whole of Trafalgar Square is taken over for a massive Japanese festival! 😀

I’ve included as much as I can about the day, but there is a lot I haven’t been able to cover.  Also I have put up a couple of videos you can watch here

The festival goes on all day from 10am – 8pm, naturally I was there from start to finish!  There are loads of food stalls, activity stuff, merchandise and Japanese goods etc, with a main stage and live events all through the day.

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I turned up a little early to beat the crowds, getting there at 9.45am meant I was able to get straight in at 10am and near the front of the main stage before everyone else.

The day kicked off with around 15 minutes of taiko drumming by the London Taiko drummers.  A great act and this was just the warm up for the day.

dsc_0012(London Taiko Drummers / ロンドン太鼓)

Once they were finished there was around 15 minutes to kill till the opening ceremony for the event.  There weren’t many people around at this point, so it seemed a good time to grab some breakfast while the queues were empty.  I decided to get my takoyaki fix out the way nice and early, what an awesome breakfast!

DSC_0017.JPGThis actually turned out to be some of the best takoyaki that I have had in England, really was an ideal start to the day!

Now I had some fuel in me it was time to head back to the main stage for the opening ceremony, there were speeches from a few people, including His Excellency Mr Koji Tsuruoka, the Ambassador of Japan.  With speeches out the way it was time to crack open the sake barrels to get the day started! (Sadly only those on stage got a drink!).

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A short while after it was time for a procession of the mikoshi procession, a mikoshi is like a portable shrine, don’t generally get to see this outside of Japan, so it was great to see the mikoshi being carried around Trafalgar Square!

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After that was the first main event of the day, the Aozasa Shishi-Odori (青笹しし踊り, a traditional dance group who flew in from Aozasa, Iwate prefecture in Japan just for Japan Matsuri.  Shishi-Odori (しし踊り)roughly translates as ‘deer dancing’.

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(青笹しし踊り、the Aozasa Shishi-Odori)

A picture doesn’t really capture the amazing performance, so please watch them on video (In the playlist at the top of this page)

The headwear weights as much as 7-8kg, and is just held on by one strap around the neck!

After this I decided to go roaming for a bit to explore the area, there would still be acts on the live stage, some choirs, and singing, but I could still hear them while I explored the stalls.

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As with most Japanese events in the UK, it didn’t take me long to run into Domo! There was also a big tv screen near the stage that would often be playing Domobics, which as it turns out is a really catchy tune that was stuck in my head for large parts of the day! (Just search YouTube, you’ll understand!)

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I made a few passes by the main stage while looking around, in terms of stalls there were the usual places selling Japanese snacks, tableware and a few other things.  One was selling things where proceeds would go toward a fund helping those in Kunamoto, so I decided to spend my money on a few things there.

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After a lengthy que for a free prize draw (of which I won nothing!), I decided to get some more food,  by now the queues were insane! Thankfully I managed to find a short queue at an udon stall, acquiring some really tasty, yet typically UK priced beef udon.

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It did taste great to be fair, but it was £9! That’s about 1200 yen for a really small pot of udon!

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Around the middle of the day there was a karaoke contest, of which the top prize was a ticket to Japan!!! I had known about this before, but as you had to sing in Japanese I didn’t think I was quite ready to enter a competition like that! So tempting though to learn something for next year!  There were some really great singers, though personally I’m not sure what the judging was based on or if something was rigged, but it seemed a lot of the best ones didn’t get in the top 5 places for prizes.  I’m sure one of the prize winners just got points for dressing up! But anyway, there were some great singers there.

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While exploring there were a few more performances, some classic Japanese songs,

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The brilliant London Okinawa Sanshinkai (ロンドン沖縄さんしん会),  they really are great, the music and spirit is fantastic!

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I then decided to quickly grab another snack of yakitori and a macha cupcake, the cupcake wasn’t actually all that great 😦  I should also put into context that this was a long day, with lots of hours in between all this food, I wasn’t just eating every 5 minutes!!

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In addition quite often through the day I was joining in with NHK’s Radio Taiso (ラジオ体操), they are insanely famous in Japan, pretty much everyone in Japan knows them, and has at some stage done their exercises!  They were on stage around 8 times throughout the day, I think I took part maybe 5 or 6 times, some parts were not possible, as when in a crowd around the stage swinging your arms out at maximum stretch to the sides would probably result in casualtiesDSC_0080.JPG

After a bit more Radio Taiso exercises, there was a good run of acts on the main stage.  Kicked off by Jiro Yamauchi (山内二郎) who was singing enka music, as well as a track from Princess Mononoke.

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This was followed by Reijiro Tsumura (津村禮次郎) and a supporting cast, performing some sort of noh theatre tradition, with a dance, ballet, opera thing going on.  If I remember correctly the story portrayed the tale of a Japanese gold medalist who died during a war.  It was a very interesting performance to watch.

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There was another round of Radio Taiso, before Naomi Suzuki took to the stage with her band, she’s a great singer and actually was also on stage a lot as one of the hosts / presenters for the day.  She also created a song specifically for Japan Matsuri, which somehow I found myself singing along to even though I didn’t know the words (Yeah, I have no idea how that works either!).

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One of the next acts up on stage (this was actually his second time performing, but I’d missed him earlier while queuing for food), was Taiju Fujiyuama (藤山大樹), who is a magician specialising in traditional tezuma magic.  The performance and tricks were amazing to see, but also made more impressive by the fact he had only landed in London from Japan at 7am on the same day!

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With his performance over there was a short break, till Naomi Suzuki took back to the stage, everyone joining in with the Japan Matsuri song and dance for one last time.

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As the end drew near, there was a short speech and thank you as part of the closing ceremony, before the stage was handed over to Joji Hirota & the London Taiko Drummers once again.  They put on a great piece, with Joji Hirota nailing a few kickass solos between each song!

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They were on for around 20 minutes to close out the festival, at times they were switching and sharing drums mid song! Once they played their final song there was almost a brief glimmer of hope from the crowd that there would be an encore and it wouldn’t end, but sadly it wasn’t to be.

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That drew and end to Japan Matsuri for this year, but I’ll be back for next year! (Though hopefully I’ve found a way to get back to Japan by then!).  As it stands I’ll now look forward to Hyper Japan Christmas Market, at Tobacco Dock in November, while I work on a plan to get back there.

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