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Celebrating traditional culture for the 160th anniversary of French-Japanese relations

In a journey out of time, between music, theatre, and arts and crafts, Japanese culture and traditions unveil at Japan Expo. For the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Japan, they were more than ever in the spotlight. Let’s go back over four days of a completely other world!

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The 160th anniversary photo album

An important anniversary for Japan Expo

The 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Japan coincides with the 150th of the start of the Meiji period, when Japan opened to the Western world. After signing a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1858 in Edo, the former Tokyo, exchanges started in many fields, including the cultural area. In France, collectors and artists get interested in engravings and Japanese arts as early as the 19th century, an influence that shows in many fields, from decorative arts to fashion, theatre, literature, cinema, and of course arts – impressionism obviously comes to mind.

Since then, the interest of both countries for each other hasn’t faltered, it has even kept swelling. Japan Expo is a vivid example of the French attachment to Japan and the event pays a tribute to Japanese culture year after year, bringing together thousands of fans of Japan, and you proved it one more time last July.

 
 

From its first edition, Japan Expo started celebrating and sharing Japanese culture and traditions. In 2000, the festival presented over a few square meters a photo exhibit, and origami and calligraphy workshops. For this 160th anniversary and the festival 19th edition, over 11,000 sqm were dedicated to Japanese culture and traditions, with 15 activity booths set up with associations and the WABI SABI corner where 70 craftsmen showed their creations.  

Live shows were part of the program with 210 artists performing on the Sakura stage among others, which is entirely dedicated to cultural and traditional shows and reminds of kabuki stages with a hanamichi – a kind of proscenium on the side. In all, on all the festival stages, 48 shows offered over 20 hours of performances to the audience. A program you’re all eager to attend as showed by the figures, more than 25,000 people attending the Sakura program every year.

If you couldn’t attend the festival or wanted to go through the events again, Misaki IWASA, enka singer, and Chi, heroine of Chi's Sweet Home, followed them for you with daily video reports posted on JapanExpoTV every night. 

Japonismes 2018

For the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Japan, the Japonismes 2018 event is currently – and until February 2019 – presenting over 50 performances and exhibits in Paris and all of France. Japonismes 2018 is highlighting the riches of Japanese culture, from traditions to contemporary theatre and lifestyle. More about the program on their website!

In partnership with Bureau pour Japonismes 2018, Fondation du Japon, Japan Expo hosted a panel about the event. Mr. Korehito MASUDA, Chief Executive Officer of Bureau pour Japonismes 2018, Fondation du Japon, unveiled the contents of this large-scale event named, in the presence of His Excellency The Ambassador of Japan in France, Mr. Masato KITERA.

Still in the framework of this event, musicians Kenji FURUTATE and Keisho OHNO performed a concert of Japanese drums and shamisen. Between Japanese traditional music, Western rhythms, and electro, they revisited the wadaiko – Japanese drums – and the shamisen – a kind of luth with a long neck. Both artists also met you at signings.

Live shows

At Japan Expo, your journey is musical! Following the rhythm of the taiko, the melodies of the shakuachi, and the tunes of the koto, a whole new world of sounds unveils. The 19th Impact made you vibrate to the taiko of Satsumasendai Odori-daiko, a female group from Kagoshima, a city South of Japan. Tsunagari Taiko Center also proposed a taiko performance and initiated you to this art in the Tsunagari Village, a corner dedicated to music and dance demonstrations and initiations.

Other instruments unveiled featured on the Sakura stage, such as the little traverse flute shinobue that you discovered with Nozomi KANDA and musicians and students from the Atelier de Flûte school. Hideo SEKINO played another type of flute, the shakuachi, interpreting folk pieces and personal improvisations inspired from Japanese music. You also got spellbound by the delicate sound of koto, a silk string instrument performed by the virtuoso Gaho TAKAHASHI

 
 

Other performances mixed genres, such as AKARA’s, a J-trad Rock blending rock music and instruments such as the koto, shinobue, nôkan (a flute used in ), and tsuzumi (drums). In a whole other style, otonoha allied the guitar, bass, drums, synth, and traditional instruments to interpret famous anime and video game theme covers. Another surprising blend, that of music and plants with Utaniwa collaboration, a duo made of the soprano Tabata FUYUKI and the landscape gardener Okamoto MARISAI, whose show you could attend on the WABI SABI stage.

For literature and performance enthusiasts, .ekotumi. brought back to life the Kojiki, the oldest written text in Japan, to the sound of her voice and rhythm of her dance steps. She took you back in time to the stories of ancient Japan with a light touch of pop modernity.

Dancing is essential to Japanese folk culture, brightening every festival and celebration. Awa odori is an important part of the awa odori festival held on August 12-15, during O-bon, the Buddhist commemoration of the spirits of the ancestors. On top of Tsunagari Taiko Center, the group Takarabune, the first professional awa odori dancers ever in Japan, invited you into their lively choreographies, the name of which meaning the "loonies’dance".

With as much energy, 6 yosakoi groups were brought together, an exception gathering with over 80 dancers on stage! Koidoukai, Odoritsuru, Raiden, Vogue Miyabi, Yosakoi London, and Yosakoi Paris Hinodemai also taught you the basics of this dance, a blend of a traditional style with modern moves and a rhythm full of energy, at the Tsunagari Village

 
 

The choreographic style of martial arts blends wonderfully with music and dance: the group Aki Hiroshima Busho-Tai performed the story of famous samurai Motonari MOURI and his fellowmen, a leap back in History, 450 years ago, to the Sengoku era (the period of provinces at war) between rock, dance, and swordplay.

In another style just as sharp, Katanaya Ichi showed a perfect mastering of the sword in a show mixing aikidô, dance, and period costumes. Samurai-kamui performed Kill Bill-like fights, and there is nothing to wonder about that as the group leader, Tetsuro SHIMAGUICHI is used to working with film or commercial directors and collaborated with Quentin TARANTINO in Kill Bill in which he is Miki, member of the CRAZY 88.

Let’s go to the theatre now! Actress Izuru AMASE introduced a lesser known genre reminding of kabuki: Takarazuka. Whereas kabuki is performed by men only, male actors playing female roles too, the Takarazuka review is composed of women exclusively. And like in kabuki, actresses play male parts, like Izuru AMASE used to do. She came to the festival with other actresses to talk to you about Takarazuka theatre. You also had a couple occasions of meeting her at signings.

And to support all those people, we could always count on the oendan from Gamushara! These traditional supporters as you can come across them in manga and anime – you may remember those in High School! Kimengumi – cheered you up and performed a show that you can't see everywhere!

 
 

If music and dance unveiled on stage, you could also practice in the Tsunagari Village. Several associations shared their passions with you and taught you the basics of their arts.

Kids and adults alike gave their first notes with the shinobue flute with Nozomi KANDA, or of sanshin – a kind of luth – with Paris Sanshin Club, or even gave rhythm to the day beating the taiko with Tsunagari Taiko Center. The latter also invited the audience to dance awa odori, following their instructions while the six yosakoi dance associations – KoidoukaiOdoritsuruRaidenVogue MiyabiYosakoi London, and Yosakoi Paris Hinodemai – dragged the attendees into their joyful choreographies. 

Arts & crafts

WABI SABI is about aesthetic values, a kind of imperfect, incomplete, and timeless beauty, but also a series of exhibits presented at Japan Expo since 2011. For the eighth year in a row, the WABI SABI corner showed Japanese arts and crafts, a world that reveals delicate items made by over 70 craftsmen who came to share their passion. It spread over 840 sqm this year and showed a miscellany of items from Eiichiro OKAWA’s kendama, traditional wooden toys similar and cup-and-ball games, to Yuko OKAZAKI’s pure ceramic tableware and Rie FUJITA’s, in a more elaborate style named komon

 
 

Many were wishing to unveil their traditional, sometimes ancient, methods, used to create jewels or accessories, everyday items or decorations. Wasai as an example is a sewing concept applying to several techniques which results in Katsunori HIRANO’s folded material (tsunami zaiku) baubles, Chizuko MATSUKAWA’s ukiyo-e embroidery sketches, or Makiko OGURA’s pandas and Sonoko TAKIGUCHI’s felt figurines. Mizuhiki, weaved and starched rice cords, is also used by Emiko SATO to make accessories. Other more known techniques showed that they could become lovely baubles and accessories in the hands of skillful craftsmen, such as washi paper, temari (silk thread balls), or origami. Dolls were also exhibited and miniature items such as Momoko TAKAKURA’s figurines and Naho MIYAZAKI’s fake dishes.

Artists also settled at the WABI SABI corner, among whom about 30 calligraphs showing their works. Calligraphy was also the star on stage. The calligraphy master Okazu uses the art of sumi-e and only works with India ink to paint historical and military characters, as well as the manga, anime, and video game characters who made him famous. He performed on the Sakura stage and also on the Saiko Stage. Taro FUKUSHIKA improvised a work on which characters were as artistic as inspiring. Miho, a professional calligraphy artist rewarded the Ministry of Culture in Japan, performed on the Sakura stage. 

Traditional or modernized, kimono charmed those who visited the WABI SABI corner, whether the easy-to-put-on version by CAMYs POP, Kan CAVALLERIA SOUKAN’s exceptional material, or the modern and surprising printed fabrics of MATERIKA’s designers and calligraphs. On stage, the kimono, sometimes updated in modern outfits, was the star of Refashion Caravan and JapanPromodel Collection’s fashion shows. 

Other clothes were exhibited, like Keiko SHIRAKABA’s hanten – Japanese overcoats – with Japanese tattoo patterns, or, more surprisingly, traditional underwear. Color experts were attending, including Michiko ONUKI, specialized in yuzen dyeing, and Kazuyuki YAMADA who developed his own dyeing technique to produce indigo blue. 

 
 

If you could admire all those techniques and creations at the WABI SABI corner, you could also learn and try them. Wannabe artists could meet at Yuai Association’s booth where workshops were organized all day long for children and grownups: sumi-e, India ink painting; calligraphy; mizuhiki and kumihimo, two weaving techniques; furoshiki, the art of wrapping pretty much anything in a square piece of fabric; or orizome dyeing, used in the making of kimono or to decorate paper. The association members, and also Tengumi’s, also invited you to make origami with them.

Last but not least, for traditional clothing enthusiasts, associations Yuai and Paris Komatchi taught you how to put on a yukata – a light summer kimonoand invited you to try one on, an occasion for a beautiful picture of you in a Japanese outfit!

Lifestyle

Japanese culture and traditions are also part of daily life and lifestyle, as is the art of tea. Several booths invited you to get initiated to the fiddly preparing of tea and the discovering of Japanese green tea types. Other booths proposed the necessary crockery and many other traditional items. Everything to make tea like in Japan!

The youngest took their first steps towards Japanese culture through kamishibai. Yuai Association organized shows of this "paper theatre" which became very popular again in the 50s and 60s and which dates back to the 8th or 13th century depending to sources. A teller recounted stories illustrated by winded-on images, adding sound effects to the story to make it more real.

The well-being corner is definitely one of your favorite spots at Japan Expo: Institut de reiki and Iokaï Shiatsu Paris offered you a break in the quiet of stalls set up for the occasion. Behind curtains, practitioners proposed free relaxation sessions. Butsu Zen Zone’s welcomed you for your first mediation, no stress and all fun!

 
 

Other associations invited you to play! With amateurs or facing fierce opponents, many traditional games were organized, with initiations for beginners. Go, mah-jong, othello, or shôgi, for the most famous, were introduced by Ligue Île-de-France de go, Fédération française de mah-jong, Fédération française d’othello, and Fédération française de shôgi. The association Soleil Levant also taught you the basics of shôgi, as well as Yôkai no Mori, a game inspired from the latter. You also tried Gomoku, a board game, and card games such as Goita Shôgi or hanafuda, more traditional and of which more games were organized at Asian’Efrei’s booth.

Kendama players could also visit the Grain Theory team who has transformed this traditional game into a freestyle sport. On stage or at their booth, they performed skillful demos and proposed initiations. 

 
 
 
 

Japan Expo featured a rich program to immerse you into the heart of Japanese culture and traditions for the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Japan, which will keep on being celebrated until February 2019 through Japonismes 2018!

Tags :

  • Music
  • Culture & traditions
  • Lifestyle

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