Culture & traditions: photo album
Japan Expo is the meeting place of all enthusiasts of traditional and folk arts, and of fascinating stage performances. The festival offered close to 50 traditional shows, in all over 24 hours of programming.
132 artists featured on the festival stages, and more specifically on the Sakura stage. The latter reminds of traditional kabuki stages with a hanamichi, a sort of proscenium set on the side of the stage. Traditional artists greatly contributed to give you an insight on yesterday’s and today’s Japan.
At Japan Expo, the journey always has a soundtrack! Following the rhythms of taiko, and the melodies of shamisen and koto, the attendees find out a new universe. And many among you fell for the nagauta tunes of the shamisen player Fuka MARIWO and her crystal-clear voice. She gave a modern touch to this music style that usually goes with kabuki plays and buyô dances with her show Nagauta Pop Live!. Gaho TAKAHASHI, a virtuoso koto player, unveiled the subtle music of this silk-stringed instrument. MisaChi, a prodigy of folk songs, took you to the heart of traditional Japan with her soft yet powerful voice.
Other musicians modernized traditional music. Tokyo-rickshaw is a group of rickshaw drivers, shafu, who take tourists around the historical area of Asakusa in Tokyo. In 2015, they launched themselves as a music group, on top of their shafu activities which they didn’t stop. They performed their pop ballads at Japan Expo and invited you for a rickshaw stroll! Photoshoots were also planned with them, in front of Asakusa pictures.
In a totally different style, Kazumasa & AKIRA proposed a mix of tsugaru shamisen (a more rhythmic local variant to regular shamisen) and beatbox. Their Sharakü show featured a blend of traditional tunes and of jazz and hip hop. Another shamisen duo, KUNI-KEN, performed for the first time in Europe but with a rock blend. Traditional folk music fits all types of mix and NeoBallad proved it with their techno-rock-folk show!
A few artists taught you the basics of their arts. The flute player Nozomi KANDA welcomed you on her booth to show you how to play shinobue, a traditional bamboo flute. Tsunagari Taiko Center also invited you to discover taiko on their booth and on stage.
Dance is a very important aspect of Japanese folk culture. It has an important place at most of traditional festivals and celebrations. Awa odori is danced at the festival named after it occurring on August 12-15 in Japan, during O-bon, the Buddhist commemoration honoring the spirits of the ancestors. On top of Tsunagari Taiko Center, Takarabune, the first professional awa odori dancers in Japan, showed you the choreographies of this crazy dance. They update awa odori with shows full of energy and joy.
More subtle, nihon buyô unveiled its secrets with the troupe Mutsumi Shuzuki Shachû, a slow dance, made colorful through the dancers’ kimono. To the sound of her voice and her dancing steps, .ekotumi. brought back to life Kojiki, the oldest written story in Japan. She took you away back in the old Japan with a touch of pop modernity. To finish with, the troupe Yoshiwara Kitsune Shachû performed on the WABI SABI area stage Yoshiwara Kitsune, a dance often associated with New Year, dressed in bright kimono and nô masks representing foxes. Yosakoi Paris Hinodemai, a French troupe full of energy, showed you the yosakoi dance.
Some of the artists also enjoy blending music, dance and martial arts, and sometimes even more! Aki Hiroshima Busho-Tai told you the story of the famous samurai Motonari MOURI and his companions: a leap back 450 years ago, at the sengoku era (the era of the provinces at war) midway between rock, dance, and sword games. Haten Kohro performed choreographied samurai fights with folk songs blended with metal. Two unusual shows!
Yasuda MAI’s brushed danced along with Ninja Kagerô’s blades: calligraphy, ninja arts, and kenbu – traditional sword dance – blended in an enthralling performance. In a style closer to musicals, 30-Delux choreographied chanbara and invited the viewers to give it a try.
KAIEN’s futuristic show took you to another dimension, with music, dance, lightning effects, and holograms: a new universe coming to you.
And to support all of them, Gamushara’s oendan were always ready! Those true supporters, like the ones you can see in anime – some of you may remember High School! Kimengumi – were here to support you and to give you an unusual show!
If you like theatre, two panels told you more about two Japanese theatre genres. Bibliothèque nationale de France – National Library of France – deciphered kabuki make-up, highlighting their influence on pop culture with the help of 19th century engravings from their collections.
Actress Izuru AMASE shed light on a less known genre, though some of its characteristics remind of kabuki: Takarazuka. Like kabuki is traditionally only performed by male actors only, some of them specialized in female parts, the Takarazuka review is composed of women only. Like in kabuki, some of those actresses are specialized in male roles, like Izuru AMASE. She came with another actress to introduce you to Takarazuka theatre and perform some extracts.
Arts & crafts
WABI SABI are aesthetic values, a kind of imperfect, incomplete, and timeless beauty, but also a series of exhibits presented at Japan Expo since 2011. For the seventh year in a row, the WABI SABI exhibit showed Japanese arts and crafts, a world that reveals delicate items made by craftsmen who come share their passion. It spread over 840 sqm this year.
Over 50 creators attended the festival to display the charms of ceramics, calligraphy or painting. Photographs showed their works, as well as craftsmen making model landscapes and sets, fabric items, kimono, masks, fans, and many more.
A few Japanese cities also had a booth at the WABI SABI area and their mascots came to visit the attendees!
If some calligraphy artists exhibited their works at the WABI SABI area, come performed their art on stage. With their Kagome Kagome (from the name a children’s game) show, KIRIE seduced the audience with a blend of dancing brushes and artists. Miho, a professional calligraphy artist rewarded the Ministry of Culture in Japan, also performed on the Sakura stage with beatboxer Waccha and the koto player Gaho TAKAHASHI.
At the booth of the association Pigments et Arts du Monde, art in the air too. The booth presented nihonga – Japanese traditional painting –, calligraphy, origami, and etegami – a drawing with a few words on a card. Workshops were organized for the attendees, and they could also admire the works of the artists Koyo EGAWA, Valérie EGUCHI, Eriko MATSUDA, and Priscilla MOORE. Yuai Association, on top of origami, invited you to try calligraphy and orizome.
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!
Associations also taught you how to play traditional games such as go, shôgi, or othello, or even mah-jong, a Chinese game very popular with the Japanese. Soleil Levant proposed other more unusual games with karuta (a card game with symbols), sakura (similar to the goose game), gomoku (board game), or Yôkai no Mori (close to shôgi). Learning the rules, improving your skills, entering tournaments: all was there to have a good time with friends or family, and to challenge other players.
Well-being is part of Japanese lifestyle: you could try the effects of reiki or shiatsu in the quiet of the booths of Institut de reiki and Iokaï Shiatsu Paris. Behind the booth curtains, practitioners offered free relaxation sessions.
You could also chill out in the Hello Kitty’s Japanese garden: a kawaii change of scenery with the traditional red bridge, the zen garden and tanabata tree full of wishes.
Children were in too and could discover Japanese culture at the Kids’ area with origami workshops and tale reading (Bibliothèque nationale de rance), as well as kamishibai shows (Japanese traditional paper theatre, with Yuai Association). A kamishibai teller told folk tales illustrated with pictures.