Even when I’m not in Japan I frequently find myself drawn to “things Japanese”. So I felt very lucky when I realized I was going to be on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia during the annual Japan and Friends Day organized by the Japanese Society of the Gold Coast (held on Saturday, 23 March 2019). In the end, being there made me feel very homesick for Japan.
While most matsuri in Japan are centered on a shrine or an historical event, this festival was a more general celebration of Japan. It had all the trappings of a Japanese matsuri such as one would experience in Japan, which were undoubtedly a draw for the Japanese community in the area: food, games, drums, even a bon-odori dance. But it offered even more as there was a day long program of 15-20 minute demonstrations and performances to introduce Japan to neophytes–a sort of community outreach–while giving local groups that focused on these various performing arts a chance to strut their stuff. And just about everything was bilingual.
The entire festival was centered on a local hall: the Albert Waterways Community Centre, inside which were the ongoing performances.
I arrived in time for a demonstration of how to put on a kimono, accompanied by a performance on the koto. Just after that was a tea ceremony demonstration, with an explanation of each part of the ceremony and why each move of the ceremony was the way it was.
I also watched a few dance performances. Both the dances and the colorful costumes and fans used by the dancers were visually stimulating. After one performance, there was short “dance workshop” at which the meaning of various dance moves were explained and the audience was encouraged to stand up and given them a try. Good fun!
There were also flower-arranging and karate demonstrations, a talk on rugby (after all, Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup in just a few months), and Japanese songs performed by students of a local public school. Apparently the entire event was kicked off by a local wadaiko drum troupe (I missed that), although there were intermittent drum performances near the entrance throughout the day, and of course drumming with the bon-odori that closed the event.
There were some small stands around the perimeter of the hall, including a long table of children’s games and a display by a local university promoting language learning. Curiously I was more drawn to the latter than the former.
Outside the hall were two sections of temporary stands, one for food and drink and the other for commercial endeavors. Most of the commercial stands were set up by local Japanese entrepreneurs, largely women, who had created their own unique, largely hand-crafted, products to sell.
Other vendors included a local Zumba school, a Japan-oriented travel company and a stall selling Japanese style curry mix. The salesman at the latter had recipe cards (in both English and Japanese) with clever suggestions for how to use the mix, some traditionally Japanese and others appealing to a Western palate.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a festival without food stalls. Just about any festival food one would find in Japan was on offer: yaki soba, yaki tori, tai yaki–you name it, it was there.
I was particularly intrigued by one stand, as the offering was something I had never seen before: nikumaki. It turns out that nikumaki is a large rice ball wrapped in thin slices of marinated pork and roasted. Cheese and other toppings were available. I had a chat with Shoji, the owner of the stand (well, a meal wagon, actually), who explained that he got the idea for this product from a friend in Miyazaki, where apparently this is a common snack food. Originally from Tokyo himself, Shoji’s been living on the Gold Coast for 25 years. He started his nikumaki business in Southeast Queensland just over 10 years ago and laments only that sometimes his product is too much in demand. A nice problem to have!
Perhaps because it was such a hot, sunny day the shaved ice stand seemed to be doing a particularly brisk business, with people queuing for their bowls of hand-shaved ice drizzled with fruit-flavored syrup. The folks selling Japanese beer and eda-mame looked pretty busy, too.
The events of the day ended in true matsuri fashion with a bon-odori. Participants–that’s everybody, by the way–danced around the paper lantern-festooned bandstand where a series of drummers kept the dance beat on a taiko, while traditional bon-odori songs (and later some Japanese hip hop selections) were broadcast over loudspeakers. Maybe this is the reason so many people came wearing their cotton yukata. It was especially fun to watch the small children joining in–this is how traditions are continued, after all
This little festival was a wonderful taste of Japan away from Japan. I’m so glad I came across it. As with other Japanese festivals, I hope I’ll be able to join again in the future.
© 2019 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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