Japan Matsuri 2009

LONDON-JAPAN FESTIVAL SPETEMBER 19TH 2009

It’s a humid and hectic Saturday afternoon in The City Of London and Spitalfields Market, just off Liverpool Street Station, has miraculously transformed into downtown Tokyo. Organised by The Japan Society and The Japanese Resident’s Association, the main aim of the London-Japan Festival is to celebrate a hundred and fifty years of Anglo/Japanese relations. But something tells me they didn’t expect such an epic turnout. It’s as if the entire Japanese community of London (if not the U.K) has transcended onto Spitalfields. The crowd itself is an astounding, relentless mass of homesick Asians desperate for Teriyaki, fresh Sushi and Takoyaki (Octopus balls).

Mesmerised by the thunderous pounding of Taiko drumming I find myself squeezing through the polite, bustling hordes towards the main stage. I’m astonished to discover that this intricate and majestic roar of the gods is being performed by a group of very stern looking school children no older than twelve. As they leave the stage actress, singer, TV personality and compare Naomi Suzuki introduces the next act: a rare performance from anarchic purveyors of prankster pop mayhem Frank Chickens. Originally formed as a duo in 1982 and championed by the likes of John Peel, Frank Chickens have since grown into a surreal ensemble of frantic costume changes, sporadic dance routines and bizarre compositions such We Are Ninja (Not geisha) and My Husband Is A Spaceman. Fronted by writer, performer, musician, artist and founding member Kazuko Hohki, Frank Chickens are a brilliant example of extremely entertaining post-punk weirdness. With an irreverent sense of humour and the energy of someone half her age, Kazuko Hohki’s sincere objective is steeped in the true Rock ‘n’ Roll tradition of freaking out the squares whilst keeping everyone else entertained.

As the day wears on the remarkably friendly and engaging atmosphere is far too infectious for even the most reserved London resident to resist. After unwittingly joining the final procession I am once again lead to the main stage. For me the Japan Matsuri ended with a performance by London based Japanese band Hanjiro. Juxtaposing polite, jazz infused melodies with frenzied, psychedelic explosions of accessible experimentation you could say that Hanjiro’s approach to music certainly reflects the dual aspect of their nation’s character. Young, talented, incredibly original and on top of their game, the saddest thing about Hanjiro’s sonic defying performance was that this was their last show. After a gruelling regime of gigs around the increasingly mediocre London circuit, Hanjiro have finally called it a day, which I have to say (especially after seeing such a momentous reaction from the audience) is a great shame.

As I make my way back to Liverpool Street station to catch my train home I’m already eagerly anticipating next years matsuri. Occasionally glimpsing small groups of underground commuters dressed in fine, colourful kimonos I can’t help but feel that I have witnessed a truly insightful and unique event, far more special than anyone could have possibly predicted.

Words: Robert Makin

Photos: Sue Verschoyle