I love Japan. The food, the sights, the history, the arts—everything about this beautiful country amazes me. Especially after spending over a month living there this summer, I couldn’t get enough of it and desperately wish I could go back. Regardless, with each passing year, Japanese culture is becoming more renowned throughout the world, thanks to video games from Nintendo, food, various manga and anime series, and even music. It’s truly incredible, and it makes me wish I could go to Japan-promoting events like London’s upcoming Japan Matsuri 2016.
Japan Matsuri is a festival held annually in London, celebrating Japanese culture and friendly relations between the UK and Japan. For a full day, people can enjoy pieces of Japan’s culture, such as dancing, music, and food. Approaching its eighth year, this charity event has become a beloved time, not only for London citizens, but also for the entertainers and those who put the event together. It is supported and organized by a number of volunteering groups, including the Japan Foundation, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the UK, the UK’s Japan Association, the Nippon Club, the UK Japanese Embassy, the Mayor of London, and the Westminster City Council. In fact, this year’s Japan Matsuri is commemorating the 125th anniversary since the Japan Foundation was formed to raise feelings of friendship between both countries.
Personally, I wish I could go to this festival simply because of all the stalls and events. Countless stalls will be serving amazing foods such curry, tempura, and okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes). Other stalls will sell crafts and other products, give information about Japanese tourism, and TV Tokyo will be searching for Japan enthusiasts to appear on a show detailing their travels through the country. There will be stage performances from international Tezuma magician Taiju Fujiyama; the return of stars from the national TV exercise program, Radio Taiso; awe-inspiring beats from Joji Hirota and the London Taiko Drummers; the first-time appearance of the deer-dancing group, Aozasa Shishi Odori; and so much more! I could spend pages discussing every single aspect of this festival. However, because this publication focuses on music, I have decided to focus on the major artists performing, including the London Okinawa Sanshinkai, Joji Hirota and the London Taiko Drummers, and Naomi Suzuki, the renowned singer hosting the event.
The London Okinawa Sanshinkai is a group who loves the folk music and dance from Okinawa. They have a variety of members, both Japanese and other nationalities, and the group is happy to accept anyone who is interested in joining. During the festival, they will be performing using instruments like the sanshin, a three-stringed lute, and showcasing the Eisa folk dance. They do this to share and promote the Ryukyu people’s culture, and after watching some videos of their performances on YouTube, I am definitely intrigued. The music isn’t as energetic as a rock song, but combined with their swaying dances, the London Okinawa Sanshinkai draws your focus.
My interest continues to grow watching videos of Joji Hirota and the London Taiko Drummers. Joji Hirota started out studying percussion and compositions at the Kyoto Arts University, and later traveled to Europe in the 1970s, winning the Time Out Award for Best Dance Company as Musical Director for a group who performed in The Lindsay Kemp Dance Company’s production of Onnagata. Since then, he has won various awards and directed performances in a variety of productions and groups. He put together this particular group in 1971, astounding audiences with thundering taiko drums and incredibly rhythmic melodies. The group’s movements are phenomenal, showing such powerful intensity beating their drums while shouting out fierce cries all throughout. It’s astonishing to watch and my heart seems to hammer along with each note. Although, there is one more performer that captivates me even more so.
Naomi Suzuki has not only hosted this festival every year since its inception, but she is also one of the most well-known Japanese singers in the UK, the first to perform at Parliament in London. Polygram Records brought her to the UK in the late 90s and she has accumulated much success since, placing 12th on the UK dance chart and 14th on the US radio charts with Philipp M. Moll in their musical duo, AJ Unity. She is also a radio personality on “Naomi’s London Calling,” a show that presents information about London to the people of Japan, and she has been releasing CDs to help support the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster. Her single, “Our Song,” was recorded for this purpose, produced with Andy Wright, a Grammy award winner.
During the event, she will be singing and performing the festival’s theme song, “Ibuki (Breath),” as well as her song “Smile at Me.” I listened to both songs, and while I enjoyed the energetic J-Pop feel of “Ibuki,” I enjoyed “Smile at Me” more. It is a beautiful song, reminding me of so many anime endings. It has a sad, melancholic feel to it, but at the same time, Naomi’s singing sounds hopeful. While listening to it, I imagined myself lying in a field of flowers, surrounded by sakura trees and memories, both happy and sad. It’s hard to describe due to the language barrier, so I encourage those reading to look it up for themselves, because it affects everyone differently.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend this awesome event (unless someone wants to buy me a ticket to London), but if you’re reading this and live in the UK, please go check this festival out! It will be held in the Trafalgar Square on Sunday, September 25, from 10 am to 8 pm. Plus, it’s absolutely free! This culmination of Japanese culture has thrilled Londoners of all ages for the past seven years, and it’s sure to do so again this year, so go see for yourself this coming Sunday!