Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Japan Matsuri 2014

At the end of September London was lucky enough to still have a nice warm day for one of the big cultural events of the year. My Japanese-American friend and I attended the Japan Matsuri in Trafalgar Square.

There were stalls lining the grounds selling irresistible-smelling trays of ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki and nabe (all of which we tried), aside from other staples like sushi, onigiri, donburi and tempura, and desserts like kakigoori. Other stalls sold Japanese prints, kitchen crockery, souvenirs, and even kimono.

The festival officially started with a thunderous performance of Taiko drumming.

Part of the opening ceremony was the carrying of the shrine, or mikoshi, around the festival grounds.

Children and teenagers in colourful costumes roamed the stalls and posed for pictures.

The 'manga wall' was another favourite with the younger attendees, who were happy to take up markers and pens to draw their favourite characters.

There were traditional cultural numbers, like the Taiko and several displays of festival dancing.

In between were more quirky entertainments that have become part of Japanese life. Our favourite was Rajio Taiso, a radio exercise program that is part of Japanese daily life, from schools to corporate offices to senior housing. We were too busy bending and stretching (perhaps too enthusiastically) to take pictures, so here is a video for those who want to join in:

More cuteness ensued with a parade of costumed mascots, representing Japan's major provinces, introduced by the day's perky Japanese announcer.

This is Ieyasu-kun. For history buffs, yes, he is that Ieyasu. Yes, I know.

Tagatan is the mascot for the coal industry. He also has a blog.
A closeup of Tagatan with his pickaxe, smoking chimney and miner's helmet,
decorated with the poinsettia, the symbolic flower of his native Fukuoka.

Sanomaru is a samurai puppy who loves ramen and potato fries,
the specialities of his native Sano City.
Our favourite, Gunma-chan, was first conceived as the mascot for the 3rd
National Sports Competition for Intellectual Disabilities. He's a pony!
On the side stages were martial arts demonstrations of judo and kendo. Kendo is the formal sword art developed from the deadlier samurai practice kenjutsu. Students spar with bamboo swords, and points are scored with hits on the hand (lowest), body (second) and head (highest).

Later everyone cooed over a selection of Japanese dog breeds that emerged for a brief show called the Wan-wan Corner. It was really difficult to get a picture among the adoring crowd!

One more Taiko performance and invigorating session of Rajio Taiso and we were ready to go, full of international goodwill and the infectious cheer that is the mark of Japanese summer festivals.

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