On 6 March through to 8 March the annual Japan Cultural Expo took place at Brooklyn Mall. This expo has run for two years now and, according to the Second Secretary of Culture and Information of the Japanese embassy, Akari Watanabe, the Japanese government hope to continue on with this yearly event in conjunction with Brooklyn Mall. The expo itself consisted of many events and showcases which senior organiser of the event and head of the JET programme, Ryan Keet, described as a way to promote the Japanese culture and to aid in cross-cultural understanding. The primary aim of the event was to promote the 2020 Olympic games which were scheduled to occur in Japan this year. While this event has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the importance of an event like this which aims to promote global solidarity remains.
The events that took place at the expo were a wide range of cultural displays each showing off a different aspect of Japanese culture. The first day began with an explanation of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. This programme aims to “[promote] understanding between the people of Japan and those of other nations” according to the official information issued by the Japanese embassy and has been running in South Africa since 1997. The day rounded itself off with a reading of traditional Japanese haiku, a form of poetry that spans as far back as the 16th century.
Day two and three were substantially more packed with things to do and see. Throughout the days martial arts exhibitions were put on ranging from Kyudo (the art of the bow) – where audience members were treated to a live demonstration of both dojo etiquette and how to fire the massive longbows safely – to Karate, and even Kendo (the art of the sword). In a special display of the Judo talents of various nationally and internationally acclaimed teams TUKSJudo was present and made an impressive showing.
“a way to promote the Japanese culture and to aid in cross-cultural understanding”
Present as well were many dressed in costumes from popular Japanese anime and manga. These cosplayers were moving around the expo on all three days aiding in organisation. There were also showcases where these cosplayers presented what they were dressed as and how long they had been taking part in cosplay. When asked by PDBY one of the most experienced cosplayers @bluepixiekimiko stated that the importance of cosplay to the Japanese culture was huge and that its popularity in South Africa could be attributed to a want to respect and honour the culture as well as the media. Other notable cosplayers present included Maoukami Cosplay who recently attended an international cosplay competition and Enya Kemp a member of the TUKS Anime Society.
On the topic of anime, a new movie by acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa Ride Your Wave was screened at no cost. Yuasa has been responsible for series like DEVILMAN Crybaby on Netflix and has even storyboarded an episode of the popular cartoon Adventure Time. The movie followed the story of Hinako Mukaimizu and has been described as heartfelt and impactful. This screening drove home not only how ubiquitous anime is in the Japanese culture but also how important the medium is.
“South Africa could be attributed to a want to respect and honour the culture”
On each of the days scattered throughout the mall were displays of Japanese cultural importance such as bonsai trees, Samurai armour, traditional wedding gowns and traditional Japanese art. On the Saturday there was also a live food demonstration in which a master Japanese chef showed of how to make traditional Japanese cuisine. Also present were representatives of ICON, one of South Africa’s largest gaming expos, who were there to display memorabilia of popular Japanese magazines, action figures and games such as Yu-Gi-Oh.
Despite the problems going on in the world today, the Japanese cultural expo was a heartening experience of cross-cultural outreach and solidarity. The expo will no doubt continue on in the future and presents a unique opportunity for anybody interested in Japanese culture to see authentic displays and to get involved.
visual: Jonathan Oladeji