Culture Fairs

Arigatou gozaimasu!

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to our Japanese culture fair last weekend! It was wonderful to see guests from so many different countries enjoying calligraphy, shamisen music, Japanese sweets and tea, and handmade tsumami zaiku crafts.



Our next fair will be Sunday, November 19th, with a new and updated program – hope to see you there!

Culture Fair Upcoming Dates



Try a variety of hands-on Japanese activities in a beautiful Meiji-era garden and teahouse!

When: Sunday, October 15th and Sunday, November 19th

What: try several hands-on Japanese cultural activities, in whatever order and for as long as you like; there is no set schedule. In October we are offering kimono (men’s, women’s, and children’s sizes available; photography in bamboo garden also possible), shamisen, tea ceremony with your own handmade Japanese sweets, calligraphy and ink painting, and a type of Japanese handicrafts called “tsumami,” introduced to you by a group of friendly teachers with experience sharing Japanese culture overseas. November’s program TBD.

How: email japanfolkfestival@jffjff.com or call 052-413-8200 for tickets, or use the contact form at the top of the page.

Where: Nakamura Park Memorial Hall, a short subway ride from Nagoya Station (see here for details)

How much:

Advance (2 weeks or more):
Adults ¥4000, children 6-12 ¥2500 (children under 6 free)

Standard:
Adults ¥5000, children ¥3000

Admission includes all materials necessary for the day’s activities, and completed crafts, art, calligraphy, and sweets can be taken home as souvenirs.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Cultural background: ikebana



Japanese artists certainly weren’t the first people in the world to use flowers and other plants for decoration ? it’s likely that the practice first reached the country along with Buddhism from India via China, where it met the local Shinto custom of offering plants to the gods. However, in its long history, it has acquired a uniquely Japanese flair, and today ikebana is perhaps one of the most visible and widely studied aspects of Japanese traditional arts. Since the second world war, it has come to be practiced as an art form, but has never lost its religious roots; during the flourishing of Higashiyama culture, it was a crucial aspect of Zen tea ceremony, decoration, and meditative practice. Its popularity led to the proliferation of a number of styles,

One of the secrets of modern flower arranging is a tool called the “kenzan,” a spiky stand that allows flowers to stand at different angles inside a container. Trimming or bending flowers before placing them in a long-necked vase, as is done in some styles of ikebana, allows artists some ability to create shapes, and historically small flower holders with open holes have also been used at the bottom of vases. The kenzan, however, developed in the Meiji era, offered the ability to create long, sideways-arching lines, or to hold long flowers upright even in shallow ceramic containers. In addition to their ceremonial and decorative use, flower arrangements during this time also began to be seen as artistic works.



Most visitors to Japan have experienced flower arrangements in some form, and some travelers and long-term residents have the opportunity to make their own through acquaintances and friends, but the overwhelming variety of styles and schools can make choosing an ikebana teacher difficult. It is also often associated with tea ceremony and kimono wearing, which can be expensive hobbies. But with so many diverse schools and styles, there are also plenty of different teachers to work with, and in recent years a worldwide interest in ikebana has led to the creation of tourist- and English-friendly classrooms and lessons. Even if you don’t study long-term, a workshop or lesson may change the way that you approach decorating and give you a new, unexpected outlet for creative expression.

September 23rd Culture Fair



Update: new activity added to lineup: Mikawa Manzai!
Try a variety of hands-on Japanese activities in a beautiful Meiji-era garden and teahouse!

When: Saturday, September 23rd, 13:00 – 16:00
Where: Nakamura Park Memorial Hall, a short subway ride from Nagoya Station (see here for details)
What: try several hands-on Japanese cultural activities, in whatever order and for as long as you like; there is no set schedule. This month we are offering kimono (men’s, women’s, and children’s sizes available; photography in bamboo garden also possible), 13-string koto harp, tea ceremony, calligraphy and ink painting, and a traditional comedy performance called “Mikawa manzai,” introduced to you by a group of friendly teachers with experience sharing Japanese culture overseas.



Reservations:

Email japanfolkfestival@jffjff.com or call 052-413-8200 for tickets, or use the contact form at the top of the page. We look forward to seeing you there!

We will also be offering different activities on our upcoming programs (October 15th and November 19th; future dates TBA) so follow this blog or our Facebook page for updates.



Tickets:

Advance (reserved by September 8th):
Adults ¥4000, children 6-12 ¥2500 (children under 6 free)

Standard:
Adults ¥5000, children ¥3000

Admission includes all materials necessary for the day’s activities, and completed crafts, art, calligraphy, and sweets can be taken home as souvenirs.

Cultural background: Yosakoi Dancing



As with large-ensemble taiko drumming, Yosakoi is a relatively new style of performance that, in a few short decades, has come to represent Japanese culture internationally. Also similar to Taiko, it incorporates elements of folk culture from one region of Japan with a number of Euro-American influences, and has been interpreted in a wide variety of ways due to its popularity.

The word Yosakoi comes from an old Shikoku folk song, the Yosakoi-bushi, which was the basis of the piece that Ehime composer Takemasa Eisaku wrote for Kochi City’s inaugural Yosakoi Festival in 1954. Originally intended as a response to Tokushima’s famous Awa-odori festival, the Yosakoi festival featured a new original type of dance that makes prominent use of hand clappers that were traditionally used to scare away birds, an innovation of the composer. This celebration of rural culture, is consistent with the tradition of many summer Obon dances, which often feature gestures, lyrics, and costumes that recall the daily work of its participants. But unlike traditional Obon dances, Yosakoi was performed walking along the main streets of the shopping districts, in a bid from the Chamber of Commerce to boost spending and revitalize the local economy. It became extremely popular with the local residents, with dance groups gradually adding their own innovations to the new style of dance.

The second important step that Yosakoi took toward global popularity came in the early 1990’s, when students from Sapporo visiting Kochi envisioned a similar event in their hometown. The Yosakoi Soran festival kicked off a trend of Yosakoi festivals around the country, and also began a tradition of incorporating local folk dance into the style ? “Soran” here refers to a popular fisherman’s folk song and dance from Hokkaido. Although the original Yosakoi festival stipulates that all participants must make use of naruko clappers and at least a portion of the 1954 Yosakoi song in their performance, other festivals are less strict in their regulations, leading to the widespread incorporation of music styles and dance trends from around the world, though almost always with at least a nod to Japanese tradition in music and costuming. The vitality and flexibility of Yosakoi dancing makes it a popular candidate for Japanese festivals overseas as well, and will likely continue to evolve and develop into the future.

Cultural background: tea ceremony



Chances are that if you are friends with an elderly Japanese woman, she has arranged an opportunity for you to try tea ceremony. It is perhaps one of the most accessible forms of Japanese traditional culture, and can often be found (albeit in a more tourist-friendly form) at temples and other tourist attractions throughout the country. A number of schools also host tea ceremony clubs for their students. But what exactly is the “ceremony,” and why does it remain so popular in modern Japan? The conventional English translation obscures the real nature of this unique practice, which blends cuisine, design, meditation, and choreography in an act that is ultimately about building human relationships.

The wide variety of tea ceremony styles trace their heritage back to the figure of Sen-no-Rikyu, who rose to fame as the tea master of Oda Nobunaga in 1579, though elements of the modern tea ceremony had existed before then. He perfected a particular aesthetic that was defined by its simplicity and appreciation for long-term wear (wabi-sabi). Unfortunately, for reasons that remain a mystery, Sen-no-Rikyu was ordered by Nobunaga’s successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi to commit seppuku, but his legacy lives on in the practices of the matcha tea ceremony schools. The design of teahouses, selection of pottery, the flow of the ceremony, and the tools used were all affected by his philosophy.

In addition to the method by which the matcha is prepared and the selection of sweets to pair it with, tea ceremony focuses on a prescribed choreography of movements that emphasize the relationship between the host and the guest or customer, emphasizing mutual appreciation and respect. After entering the teahouse in a low, crouched manner, the guest first enjoys a sweet snack while the host carefully prepares the matcha, each movement carefully prescribed according to their particular school. The proper appreciation of the tea room’s decorations and ceramic ware in which the matcha is served is one of the guest’s main responsibilities, along with respectful greetings to the other guests respectfully acknowledging their participation. In the case of large numbers of guests, particularly for tourists or those unfamiliar with tea ceremony, the final serving of matcha can be abbreviated so that all guests receive tea at the same time, as opposed to the more traditional individual preparation and serving. In formal gatherings of tea ceremony schools, this ritual may be much more elaborate, involving thick, high-grade “koicha” matcha and possibly even a full course meal.

In the last decade matcha has become popular worldwide, and in Japan it is enjoyed in a variety of forms, from snacks to noodles to lattes; there is no need to visit a tea house to enjoy matcha. Nevertheless, trying matcha in a quiet teahouse in a garden, perfectly decorated with flowers, ceramics, and a hanging scroll to match the season, is a quintessentially Japanese experience, for both casual visitors and for those who would like to learn more about traditional Japanese culture.

Cultural background: taiko drumming



One of the first forms of Japanese music many people encounter is the dramatic and powerful taiko drum ensemble. A perennial favorite at festivals and fairs, both throughout Japan and overseas, the driving rhythm has come to represent the spirit and strength of Japanese culture. Thus, it’s surprising for many to learn that taiko ensembles are in fact a modern innovation, though they make use of one of the oldest instruments known in the country. This phenomenon was made possible by Japan’s peculiar national situation in the 20th century and by the dedicated efforts of one percussionist.

Since ancient times drums had been used in a number of settings in Japan, particularly ritualistic ones, but in the warring states they acquired a new prominence as instruments of communication during battle. The warlord Takeda Shingen, in particular, assembled a corps of 21 taiko performers who conveyed messages to faraway allies and pounded out appropriately dramatic background music during battles. (That NHK historical drama’s climactic battle scene may have been more realistic than you thought!) Following the death of Takada Shingen, a distinctive taiko music continued to be played in the Yamanashi and Nagano areas as part of his legacy, but it slowly died out, until in the 1950s the jazz drummer Oguchi Daihachi was asked by a relative to translate an old page of sheet music that was a relic of this Osuwa-taiko style. He decided to not only recreate the traditional songs, but to add original layers, and assembled a team of drummers on instruments of various sizes in the spirit of Takeda Shingen’s drum corps.

This style of music quickly spread, gaining notoriety in particular from Oguchi’s group’s appearance at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The simple yet dramatic nature of this style struck a chord with a Japanese public searching for a way to connect with Japan’s historical legacy in a Europeanized, postwar country. A massive number of taiko groups in this style quickly sprang up, first around Japan, then in the United States, Australia, and Europe. One of the first groups to perform in the U.S., Ondekoza, achieved notoriety for running the Boston marathon in their taiko performance attire, a testament to the Spartan training they cultivated during their training on Sado Island in Niigata. A breakaway group, Kodo, maintains enormous success, touring, teaching, and hosting Sado Island’s annual Earth Celebration festival.

The taiko drum ensemble has become such a popular staple throughout Japan that it’s hard to imagine such groups weren’t around less than a century ago. Thanks to a nationwide revival of interest in traditional Japanese performing arts and the dedicated efforts of Oguchi Daihachi, Ondekoza, Kodo, and performers worldwide, this modern take on Japan’s most ancient instrument is a huge draw for players and audiences, and continues to spread and develop in fascinating new ways.

Penang, Malaysia: Part 1

We were thrilled to once again arrange the stage performance for the annual Bon Odori festival in Penang, Malaysia. The two Japanese groups, DDM Company and Kinjokai Taishogoto School, were extremely well-received by local audiences. Our first stop was at the Penang Japanese School, pictured here! More updates to follow.