In association with Tokyo International Forum
The undisputed champion among Japan’s holidays, New Year’s is perfect for getting a taste of the country’s traditional culture. In addition to visiting temples and shrines for hatsumode, the first prayer of the year, you can get into the spirit of the season by pounding some mochi rice, sipping otoso (medicinal sake) or catching a rakugo (comedic storytelling) performance. But as these traditions vary significantly by region, it’s impossible to experience them all during a single trip – even if you were to stay in Japan for an entire month.
That’s where J-Culture Fest comes in. First held in 2017, it returns to Tokyo International Forum in Marunouchi from January 2 to 3 and packs a wonderful variety of New Year’s traditions into those two days. You can look forward to various interactive events, shows and workshops, among them the ‘New Year’s Theme Park’ bash at Hall E. This is where to try your hand at the aforementioned mochi-pounding or some calligraphy, admire displays of traditional crafts and much more – and best of all, entry is free. For those looking to celebrate the new year like a local, here’s why you should head to J-Culture Fest once 2018 rolls around.
1. You can get into a festival mood
As any resident of Japan will tell you, the best thing about all the traditional festivals held across the country is the eclectic selection of stalls set up in front of whatever shrine or temple is hosting the celebration. Besides street snacks and drinks, these offer children’s games like cork-gun shooting and goldfish scooping. Known as ennichi, such a stall village will be recreated at J-Culture Fest – stop by for some light grub and the chance to show off your superball-scooping or quoits skills.
2. You can journey into traditional culture
While sightseeing can be fun on its own, Japan’s traditional culture is best experienced by taking part. Get active at J-Culture Fest and participate in one of the many workshops, which range from bonsai basics and shamisen-playing to noh theatre and kimono-wearing. Might want to bring your local friends along too, as most of these activities are hardly part of the average Japanese person’s daily life either.
3. Real artisans will be on hand to show off their skills
Getting your hands on a unique piece of Japanese pottery, lacquerware or other form of traditional handicraft can be harder than you’d imagine, as such items are often sold only in their respective production regions. Saving you a trip out into the boonies, J-Culture Fest will see stalls dealing in rarities including shibukusayaki pottery from Hida-Takayama, yosegi marquetry from Hakone and Edo-style woodblock prints, while craftspeople from across the country will also be showcasing their crafts at the event. Just make sure to bring cash, as credit cards are not taken.
4. You can look forward to truly Japanese entertainment
It’s rare to see noh theatre and shishimai lion dancing performed in the same quarters, but J-Culture Fest comfortably hops over genre borders to bring you an eclectic lineup of entertainment. Look out for highlights such as flower arrangement demonstrations, mochi-pounding by sumo wrestlers and, perhaps most notably, a calligraphy performance by Shoko Kanazawa, whose works decorate the famed temples of Kenchoji (in Kamakura) and Kenninji (Kyoto).
5. You’ll get to sip superb sake
The Japanese tradition of otoso, or drinking medicinal sake for New Year’s, is said to drive away evil spirits and ensure long life. At J-Culture Fest, you’ll find an area dedicated entirely to kaku-uchi, or the act of sipping booze in the corner of a liquor store. Here you can taste nihonshu and craft beer from all over Japan, so you’re sure to find a something you like.
Another sake-focused area will be selling the good stuff by the bottle, but tasting – complete with a quiz – is set to be available too. It’s the perfect way to end a busy day of traipsing through stalls and watching stage performances. And when hunger strikes, try the zoni soup offered by the chefs at the Imperial Hotel’s venerable Kyoto cuisine restaurant, Isecho.
6. You don’t need to speak the lingo
No Japanese? No problem. English interpretation is available at J-Culture Fest, and all booths have written instructions in both English and Japanese.