Cherry blossoms a gateway to Japanese culture

Members of the Japanese Folk Dance Institute perform during a preview of the Sakura Matsuri festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York, Tuesday April 22, 2014. The festival runs April 26 and April 27 performances, demonstrations and exhibitions from Japanese culture. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Members of the Japanese Folk Dance Institute perform during a preview of the Sakura Matsuri festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York, Tuesday April 22, 2014. The festival runs April 26 and April 27 performances, demonstrations and exhibitions from Japanese culture. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

HOST INTRO: Sakura Matsuri is the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s celebrated in many cities in the United States, and in New York the weekend festival begins on Saturday. It’s more than just traditional culture, like the culture of Japan itself. Felice León reports.

 

This is the Sakura Matsuri’s 33rd the Director of Programs there, says that there is a mix of contemporary and traditional in the line-up.

JACOBS: Taiko drumming and Samurai sword fighting, to tea ceremonies and a cosplay fashion show. It’s really all across the board.

Cosplay refers to people who dress-up as characters from Japanese comic books. There’s also anime, a popular Japanese style of animation. The whole point of the festival is to expose people to aspects of Japanese culture that may not be familiar.

JACOBS: Maybe they are an expert in Ikebana flower arranging. And as they’re leaving the class on Ikebana flower arranging, they stumble into a group of cosplayers and they ask them, what’s the blue hair about? What are you doing?

The contemporary aspects of Japanese culture have gone global. Thomas Looser is an associate Professor of East Asian studies at New York University. Anime has crossed borders.

LOOSER: I t’s actually produced as much in America, and Europe, and even places like Brazil, in some ways as it is in Japan.

Japan also absorbs cultures from around the world.

LOOSER: People now in Japan are very savvy and wanting to participate in what you find here.

Here, as in the United States – you can see that in the Japanese people who live in New York.

OSADO: My name is Kotone Osada. I’m from Japan and Tokyo.year at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Anita Jacobs, Everything about her name revolves around music. Her father is a rock guitarist, but he named her after a traditional Japanese instrument, the Koto. She grew-up listening to bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But, her choice in music…

OSADO: Motown

AMBI: Aretha Franklin’s Rock Steady

Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin top her personal chart.

FADE AMBI: Aretha Franklin’s Rock Steady

American music resonates with Osado, but she says that Japanese culture is…

OSADO: Really weird.

On one hand…

OSADO: Everyone’s Japanese. Everyone has the black hair, short. That’s crazy.

On the other hand, it’s not a shocker to see a guy with a Mohawk or dreadlocks

walking down the streets of Tokyo.

Osado has absorbed global cultures, too. After our interview, she went to take classes in hip-hop and contemporary dance.

AMBI: Walking with Kotone in NYC

While, Osado left Japan in order to follow her own cultural interests. Kenichi Kasamatsu is still trying to understand the Japanese culture.

AMBI: Birds chirping / dog barking in Queens

His father is Japanese, but Kasamatsu grew-up in Thailand, and has lived in Astoria,

Queens for about a year. The family also took annual trips to Japan, and his father taught the language at home.

FADE AMBI: Birds chirping / dog barking in Queens

KASAMATSU: I still have the Japanese aspects as a person, because my dad always tried to keep me … Japanese.

He would like to learn more about traditional Japanese culture.

KASAMATSU: It’s up to us if we want to search into it and see where the tradition came from. Which is what the minority of us do.

BUT Japanese culture is hard to wrap his head around AND he’s not the only one who thinks so.

CONDRY: You tell me what defines American culture today, and I can tell you what defines Japanese culture.

Ian Condry is a professor at MIT who studies Japanese anime and hip-hop. He says the music offers a good example of how the Japanese approach culture – they make it their own.

CONDRY: Even though they are listening to it as American music, they’re going to incorporate it into their own Japanese lives, and it becomes a part of them.

If Condry were running the Sakura Matsuri festival, he’d make one change.

CONDRY: I’d love to see a little bit more of the deep underground club music from Tokyo being a part of the cherry blossom festival.

AMBI: Japanese underground club music

The Sakura Matsuri Festival runs this weekend at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but there won’t be any underground club music. Felice León, Columbia Radio News.

FADE AMBI: Japanese underground club music

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