Anime Japan 2014
22 – 23 March
The word ‘anime’, short for animēshon, stems from the Japanese transliteration of the English word ‘animation’. In Japan, it refers to all types of animation, but in the rest of the world it is used to describe Japanese-produced animated films. For decades, anime films were a major phenomenon only in Japan but over the last 20 years they have also become extremely popular in other parts of Asia and the world. Anime Japan is an annual convention that showcases the best of Japanese animation. This two-day event held in Tokyo is the perfect way to experience the artwork, the nuances and the cultural relevance of this art form in all its glory.
Japan is a country full of history, centuries-old traditions and exceptional natural beauty. A trip to Japan is a wonderful cultural experience at any time of year, but there is no better season to visit this country than in spring. From mid-March to the beginning of May, the sakura (cherry) trees are in full bloom, giving rise to the celebration of hanami, the Japanese tradition of flower viewing, before which the entire country watches the blossom forecast to plan ahead for the event. Although cultural festivals are organised throughout the country, the true spirit of hanami lies in the simple act of enjoying a picnic in the park with family and friends while marveling at the beauty of nature.
18 – 19 May
Sanja Matsuri is one of the three largest festivals in Tokyo. This Shintoist festival celebrates the three founders of the Sensoji Temple who are revered at the Asakusa Shrine. It begins on Friday with the Daigyoretsu, a large Edo Period-themed parade that ends at the Asakusa Shrine. On Saturday, nearly 100 mikoshi from the 44 neighbourhoods of the district, portable shrines that bring good luck, are brought to the temple to receive their yearly blessing. On Sunday, the last day of the festival, the portable shrines are paraded through the streets to spread good luck and prosperity to the neighborhoods and to bless the nearly 2 million revelers who have gathered for this occasion. Sanja Matsuri is a great opportunity to experience one of the most popular traditional festivities of Tokyo.
Takeo Yamaguchi at the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art
Until 29 June
Takeo Yamaguchi was one of the most prominent Japanese artists of the 20th century. His work achieved international recognition in the mid-1950s due to the minimalist and post-abstract quality of his paintings. From the Venice Biennale to MOMA New York, his paintings have been exhibited in some of the world’s most important contemporary art institutions. Until 29 June, the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art will be hosting a comprehensive retrospective display of Yamaguchi’s paintings, which will showcase more than 200 of his best works. The Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art is found in the gorgeous setting of the Hokuso Plateau and allows its guests to enjoy a walk on its nature trail, surrounded by nearly 200 kinds of trees and more than 500 species of plants.
7 July (Tokyo) and 7 August (Sendai, Akita and Aomori)
The seventh day of July is the day of Tanabata Matsuri, a festival that was celebrated for the first time nearly 2,000 years ago. During this day, trees and streets are adorned with paper lanterns and tanzaku, colourful paper strips on which people write poems or wishes. Tanabata Matsuri is the celebration of the legendary love between two deities embodied by the stars Altair and Vega and is therefore celebrated on the day when these two stars are close to each other. The traditional outfit for the day is the yukata, a summer version of the kimono. Due to the differences between the solar and lunar calendar, this festival is celebrated on different dates in Tokyo and Sendai, Akita and Aomori.
Unlike western countries, where fireworks are mainly used to celebrate New Year, in Japan pyrotechnic shows are organised exclusively during the summer. Traditionally, fireworks were used to keep evil spirits at bay but nowadays hundreds of shows are organised each summer for the enjoyment of the Japanese people and tourists alike. Perhaps the most popular of them all is the Omagari National Fireworks Competition where only the best pyrotechnic teams of the country are invited to showcase their talent. Firework shows are extremely popular and the competition for the best viewings spots can be fierce, with people showing up hours in advance to reserve the best spots.
Sumida River Fireworks: last Saturday of July, along the Sumida River around Asakusa Station, Tokyo
Tokyo Bay Fireworks: second Saturday of August, visible from Harumi, Toyosu and Odaiba, Tokyo
Omagari National Fireworks Competition: fourth Saturday of August at Marukogawa River, Omagari/Daisen, Akita Prefecture
12 – 15 August
Obon is Japan’s most important religious holiday, celebrated during the summer. It is believed that in August the gates of heaven and hell open, allowing the spirits of the deceased to communicate with the living. Though celebrated throughout Japan, the highlight of this festival is the Awa Odori held in the city of Tokushima on the Island of Shikoku between 13 and 15 August. The Awa Odori is a frantic dance performed to the mesmerising beat of the drums. Perhaps the most beautiful ritual of this religious holiday happens at night, when the toro nagashi, floating lanterns, are released on the surface of nearby rivers or into the ocean as a way of guiding the dead back into the underworld. During these days, the island, which normally has a population of 260,000 inhabitants, receives nearly 1,5 million tourists.
Throughout Japan and in Tokushima, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku, Japan
Tokyo Game Show
18 – 21 September
From Super Mario to Megaman, from Final Fantasy to the Legend of Zelda, Japan is home to some of the greatest video game franchises of all times. Tokyo Game Show is the annual place of pilgrimage for video game enthusiasts from all over the world. The convention is a chance for fans to participate in developer press conferences, buy limited edition games and memorabilia and, perhaps most importantly, the perfect opportunity to be the first ones to try out unreleased games and consoles. Another fun thing to do at the TGS is to seek out some of the extremely talented cosplayers that participate in the event: cosplay is the art of impersonating characters from manga, anime or, in this case, video games. Tokyo Game Show is a huge event that sets international video game trends for the entire year.
Lee Mingwei and His Relations at the Mori Art Museum
20 September 2014 – 4 January 2015
Lee Mingwei is one of the most fascinating artists of Japan’s contemporary art scene. His work is based on basic human activities such as cooking, writing and sewing. In 2002, he shocked the art world by becoming the first pregnant man in history. The Lee Mingwei and His Relations exhibition at the Mori Art Museum will focus primarily on the artist’s interaction with his audience though various installations. The fist section of the exhibition will be dedicated to the concepts of ‘connection’ and ‘relationship’; the second will focus on a Buddhist interpretation of everyday activities such as sleeping, eating and walking; the third and last section will examine the artist himself as a person who was able to cross the gap between Eastern and Western cultures.
In addition to being one of the most common symbols of Japan, the kimono is also the country’s national costume, worn by both men and women on special occasions. The name of Shichi-go-san, which translates to ‘seven-five-three’, derives from its tradition, where boys and girls aged three, boys aged five, and girls aged seven visit Shintoist shrines with their parents and, as a rite of passage, wear kimonos for the very first time. It is a day to pray for the health and happiness of all Japanese children and a festivity dedicated mostly to them. During this day, children receive chitosa ame, a traditional sweet. This red-and-white treat comes wrapped in bag with the drawing of a crane or a tortoise, both of which represent longevity.
By Oreste Giorgio Spinelli