Keep your diary free for September as the JAPAN MATSURI makes a return appearance to Trafalgar Square, London. The annual event features a variety of stage performances, singers, Japanese food, stalls and much more!
Part of the theme for this year’s Japan Matsuri is yuru-kyara or mascots – a popular method of Japanese towns and cities to promote themselves.
Winner of the 2013 Yurukyara Grand Prix mascot competition was Sanomaru, official mascot of Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture. Sanomaru is notable for his traditional clothing as well as his ramen bowl hat and potato fries sword. All are designed to illustrate Sano’s food specialities of ramen noodles and potato fries with a special sauce.
Other finalists for the Yurukyara Grand Prix include Ieyasu-kun – a mascot designed to promote the city of Hamamatsu, which is perhaps best known for popular tourist destination Hamamatsu Castle. In fact Ieyasu-kun is based on the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu who was responsible for building Hamamatsu Castle.
Meanwhile, Gunma-chan (who placed No. 3 in both the 2012 and 2013 competitions) is a cute pony character popular with all ages. Gunma-chan has been around since 1994 and sports many different costumes depending on the occasion.
Other popular mascots include Kumamon, a mascot originally created in 2010 for a campaign to attract tourists to the Kunamoto region after the Kyushu Shinkansen trainline opened. Kumamon rapidly became popular and in 2011 was the top finalist in the Yurukyara Grand Prix competition.
The town of Tagawa, in Fukuoka Prefecture, recently achieved recognition via the UNESCO Memory of the World programme due to the work of the painter Sakubei Yamamoto. As part of Japan’s mining industry in the early years of the 20th Century, Sakubei also developed skills as a painter and his work illustrated the day to day events of an average coal miner. This is reflected in the design of the town’s mascot, Tagatan.
Naomi Suzuki, an integral part of the Japan Matsuri, contributed to this effort by penning the song ‘Taga Tango’, which acts as Tagatan’s theme song.
“Japanese people are crazy about mascots” comments Naomi, “ There is a lot of mascot competition and they want to vote, vote, vote and say: ‘Come on, can you vote for my town’s mascot?’. So each city has different mascots they want to show off!”.
The Japan Matsuri will be showcasing this very particular side of Japanese culture as Naomi Suzuki leads a special performance show encouraging attendees to sing and dance with the mascots.
As well as the Yurukyara Show ®, The Japan Matsuri will be presenting its usual schedule of stage performances and music. This includes special guests and the return of the Nodojiman competition in which talented singers can win a flight to Japan.
Also on the bill for Japan Matsuri is an appearance by Radio Taiso, the radio exercise NHK TV show in Japan. Radio exercise is a popular activity in Japan, where schools and offices exercise for 3 minutes every morning to energise their students and workforces. The presenters of this TV show will be appearing at Japan Matsuri to put the attendees through their paces!
Fashion will also be making an appearance in a special Fashion & Kung Fu performance. Models will grace the catwalk in front of a backdrop of the four Japanese seasons. These 4 Japanese-themed worlds will showcase a collaboration of music (including shamisen and taiko drums), kimono co-ordination, dynamic dance and kung fu performance. The team behind this performance includes music producer and violinist Ryoma, a talented artist who has worked on over 300 movies, dramas and TV commercials. Joji Hirota is the best taiko drummer in the UK. David Cheung is an amazing professional stunt actor and martial arts specialist who has worked on various feature productions (including Skyfall and 47 Ronin). Naomi Suzuki will also be lending her unique vocal talents to this special performance.
※ The word ‘yurukyara’® was created by Jun Miura and is a trademark of his and Fusosha Publishing.
Text by Paul Browne
14th August 2014