Japan Matsuri is London’s annual celebration of all things Japanese. Arguably Hyper Japan is bigger, but it’s more commercial and you have to pay to get in, while Japan Matsuri is free to all. This year it was held in Trafalgar Square for the second year running and attracted an eclectic mix from London-resident Japanese through die-hard Japan fans to passers-by attracted by the fun and not quite sure what it was all about.
So what is it all about? Japanese culture and Japanese food mainly. There are two stages filled with performers all day long, stalls selling fabrics, knick-knacks, toiletries, dolls ceramics, prints and much more while the specialist travel companies encourage you to take a trip to Japan. And then there’s the food stalls, packed together, always crowded, selling the best of Japanese street food to long and appreciative queues. Here’s a quick run through what I found at Japan Matsuri.
To start with I was thrilled to come across Usagi Juku posing for photographs. I covered the modern armour made by Usagi Juku in my last-but-one-post so I was happy to see the very pieces I’d seen on display being worn. Usagi Juku hail from Kyoto and their work keeps a traditional Kyoto craft alive.
The mix of travel and Japanese goods stalls on the terrace outside the National Gallery attracted a lot of interest.
On the main stage when I was there was the Nodojiman competition – a karaoke competition in which the singers sang in a variety of styles from minyo (folk songs) to passable impressions of the latest J-pops stars.
On the terrace, the privileged few in the guest area had a great view across the square to the stage.
Of course it wouldn’t be Japan Matsuri without the Lolita fashion. There was a Lolita fashion show on stage but you could also find Lolitas in the crowd.
But it’s the food that is really the heart of the festival. Two long rows of food stalls down each side of the square selling everything from okonomiyaki to sushi to kara-age, which is fried chicken with a dry crispy coating.
I was particularly attracted by Yaki Japanese Bakery who were selling Tai-yaki, a fish-shaped waffle with a filling that can be either sweet or savoury. They were baking them on the spot in traditional iron moulds and the smell of hot waffle was irresistible. Their shop is at 53 Goodge St and flavours include ham and cheese, and green tea custard white choco.
This year’s hot new restaurant, Shoryu, did a roaring trade with their famous Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen. Shoryu is on Lower Regent St and has a second branch in Soho.
And Nice Ice were selling kakigori, a kind of Japanese shaved ice covered in flavoured syrups. Despite the rather threatening skies there was no shortage of takers. They have plans to open a shop but, for the time being, you can find them at events around the country.
The show closed with Siro-A, a great technodelic video illusion group, who are back at the Leicester Square Theatre until 2 November, the Joji Hirota London Taiko Drummers and the headline act, Tomoyasu Hotei, the Electric Samurai, performing his original song “Battle Without Honour or Humanity,” well known as the iconic Kill Bill theme song. I expect Nelson slept well that night.