If I told you I spent my Saturday, sitting in Trafalgar square, watching giant and oddly cartoon animals dance around a stage to catchy dance music, what would your first guess be with regards to where I might be? Japan Matsuri 2014 would be the correct answer.
Japan Matsuri (Matsuri meaning festival) returned this year to London boasting a brilliant programme on its main stage, and a whole variety of stalls besides. Arriving from Charing Cross station, you’re immediately greeted by a whole variety of different fashion sense, from those draped in traditional kimonos to those who are sporting trendy (and often very, VERY bright) Japanese street fashion. Walking through the crowd (if you can!), you will be greeted by more alluring smells that you could believe, with many a stall selling Katsu curry, Octopus balls and skewers of all other kinds of delicious. A unique aspect was the Japanese Shaved Ice stall which had a queue that extended nearly halfway across the square itself. There were also many stalls selling typically Japanese products such as kimonos, J-Rock (Japanese Rock) music and even language courses. However what you will notice more than anything about the place is the atmosphere of happy people from all walks of life, students, teenagers, families and the elderly, simply enjoying a unique day out.
The stage itself became hosts to albums worth of traditional and non-traditional Japanese musical groups, including the Green Chorus and Okinawa Sanshinkai, alongside some beautiful dance from places like the Taikyo School. Other slightly quirkier moments included a dog show of traditional Japanese breeds that will have you yelling “Get me a Shiba immediately!” and a periodical keep fit workout with Radio Taiso (which caused a sea of flying arms, making it impossible to cross from one side of the square to the other). My favourite moment was the Yurukyara mascot show. Something I did not know before arrival is that many towns and cities across Japan have their own Yurukyara mascot (all of which performed their own song and dance one of which you can see in the video below), and all of which had their own link, for example Tagatan, the mole in a hard hat below, is from a mining region in Japan.
Overall, the whole day was brilliant experience, and, as a bit of a newbie to the culture as a whole, it was fascinating. If you get the chance next year, I highly recommend it.