The Japan Festival: A unique showcase of the best of Japanese arts and culture
With Diwali now behind us and a thick smog settling over the national capital, Delhi isn't the best place to be at the moment. However, for those of you in the city looking for something to take your mind off this perennial predicament, the Japan Festival taking place in the city for the next month and a half is as good a distraction as any.
Organised by the Japan Foundation, an institution dedicated to promoting cultural exchanges between Japan and other global powers, Delhi will see Japanese culture take centre stage. Between 27 October and 8 December, the festival will present a diverse cross section of Japanese music, cinema, and dance that is sure to enthrall Delhiites.
With 2017 being declared the year of Japan-India Friendly Exchanges, and also marking the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Cultural Agreement signed by the two countries, the timing of the festival could not be more fitting.
Speaking about the festival, Kaoru Miyamoto, Director General of the Japan Foundation, New Delhi, said, “On this occasion, we hope Indian audiences will enjoy the various aspects of Japanese culture, which is a blend of traditional values and the modern spirit. We also hope that this continuous people-to-people exchange will continue to promote mutual understanding between the two countries.”
A showcase of Japanese music
The festival will begin, quite literally, on a high note on 28 October, with a performance by Makoto Kuriya Creative Jazz Ensemble Japan. While jazz is a genre typically associated with the Western world, the roots of Japan's tryst with jazz began almost a century ago when American and Filipino jazz bands began touring the country.
The style was quickly adopted by local musicians, who added a distinct Japanese touch to make it more palatable to the culturally conservative Japanese elites. Overcoming multiple bans, especially during World War II, Japanese jazz has grown to the point where it has become a well established part of Japan's modern musical culture.
While the jazz community in Japan is admittedly small, it has produced multiple prodigies with Kuriya one of the contemporary scene's most prominent members. The eminent pianist has worked with multi Grammy-winning musician Chuck Mangione and other jazz virtuosos across the globe. It promises to be a night to remember for music lovers in the city.
With the Creative Jazz Ensemble representing the more contemporary form of Japanese music, the festival has also curated a more traditional musical display the following day. Wasabi, a four-piece group, use only traditional Japanese instruments in their effort to keep Japan's ancient traditions alive.
A play on the name of Japan's famous culinary staple, the band's name is actually a combination of wa which means “Japan” or “harmony”, and sabi which means “the catchy part of the song.” Accordingly, the band combines the sounds of the Tsugaru-shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese instrument), Shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), Taiko (Japanese Drum), Koto (17-stringed Japanese harp), to produce a uniquely Japanese sound, but in a more catchy style that appeals to contemporary audiences.
Film and dance
With Japanese cinema a force to be reckoned with on the global stage, the Japan Foundation has gone out of its way to curate a wonderful selection of contemporary cinema that showcases the sheer breadth of Japan's film industry.
From anime to documentary to drama, the Japanese Film Festival 2017 will see 15 of the latest Japanese releases screened at the PVR Sangam Theatre Complex between 10-15 November.
In addition to this, the Stein Auditorium at the Indian Habitat Centre will host a screening of director Yoshinori Sato's film Her Mother. The screening will be followed by an interaction with Sato.
And what tableau of Japanese cinema would be complete without a hat tip to the master of Japanese cinema – Akira Kurosawa. By popular demand, the Japan Festival will be screening four of the master's finest – Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Red Beard, between 2-5 November as part of the Akira Kurosawa retrospective.
The festival will end on 8 December with a unique dance performance that will combine traditional Japanese dance forms with Kathak and Indian classical music. The dance troupe consists of five dancers who represent a diverse range of Japanese schools of dance. With Indian elements seamlessly woven into their performance, it will be a fitting way to depict the growing Indo-Japanese ties the festival aims to foster.