|London Welcomes Festival Fun, Japanese Style.|
Cries of Irrashaimase ("Welcome!"), the beating of taiko drums, women dressed in colourful yukata,the smoky smell of grilled chicken and a wandering Samurai signified that the Japan Matsuri had arrived. With the London Eye towering over proceedings, thousands of Londoners and tourists alike wandered between stages to stalls soaking in the atmosphere.
The Martial Arts Stage provided some fighting spirit in a disciplined and well-mannered form, of course. The Hizen Kendo Club gave an impressive demonstration of the sport with members dressed in their superb Kendo fighting outfits. Everyone surrounding the stage seemed utterly transfixed as pairs of fighters faced off and cracked sticks, each bout being explained in the process. In contrast to the fighters' energised shouts and at the opposite end of the stall-lined street, the Belvedere Stage welcomed the Hibiki Ensemble. Played with great skill and grace, the soulful sounds of the koto,(13 stringed instrument), shamisen (three stringed lute), and shakuhachi (flute) entertained and mesmerised.
The Main stage on the terrace of County Hall provided further highlights of Japan’s rich heritage of music and dance. Hiroko Tanaka's Nihon Buyo, or traditional Japanese dance team, consisted of individual performances from exquisitely dressed women who all moved beautifully with subtle strength and poise. Thames Daiko followed, with their powerful drum beating performance keeping the crowds riveted.
No Japanese festival would be complete without some hearty fare on offer. The hungry crowds were drawn in by takoyaki (octopus in dough balls), okonomiyaki (Japanese style savoury ‘pancake’ with sliced cabbage, pork/seafood) and yakisoba (fried noodles). Chefs were busy slicing away fresh salmon, bento boxes were piled high and cans of asahi were happily gulped down.
Whilst performances ran aplenty, there was also a myriad of stalls selling sweets, snacks, sake, kimonos and a variety of other Japanese wares. People looking to help the recovery effort in Japan after the devastating tsunami and earthquake hit in March, also set up shop to raise money for the cause. A wonderful initiative taken by a group of mothers has seen the creation of the Muslin Square Project. Selling baby clothes and muslin squares at the Matsuri, and raising awareness for their campaign, the project sends these much needed muslin squares to help mothers and mothers to be care for their babies. A simple yet brilliantly effective idea put into action. Indeed, whilst celebrating Japanese culture, there was also an emphasis on remembering those affected by the tragic events of six months ago. Following on from Hyper Japan the strong, poignant and beautiful exhbition, Yet I Still Dare to Hope, took centre stage inside the majestic County Hall. Through a series of thought provoking photographs, visitors were given an insight into the lives of those living in the town of Shichigahama, one of the worst affected areas. With volunteers on hand to guide and answer questions it was a powerfully informative and wonderful way to keep their story alive for all of us so far away.
Photography by James Carmody