Kayarath’s Adventures in Street Festivals

Posted on Nov 10 2016


Every April the sakuras fall and the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia hosts the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival. I’ve been covering that for years but this year I’m gonna to do something different! There’s more then one sakura celebration in the Mid Atlantic region. The Japan-America Society of Washington D.C. hosts the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival; and this year I’m covering that.

Due to the short-lived nature of the sakura season, these two events find themselves crammed into the same weekend. The Matsuri is held on Saturday while the Blossom Festival hosts Sakura Sunday. While both share the goal of celebrating Japanese culture, each have their own take on it that varies them enough to render then nonidentical. It’s basically like how Sword Art Online and Log Horizon relate to each other.

The most obvious difference is that Sakura Sunday is in Philadelphia while the Matsuri is in Washington D.C. I’m a Septa ride away from Philadelphia but D.C. is a bit of a trip for me. I would have to drive there, which wouldn’t be too bad until I had to enter D.C. proper. Luckily, you can park in the Greenbelt stop and take the Metro the rest of the way.

I emerged from the subway station and made my way to the Matsuri. I tried to explore it but quickly became worn down. The journey to get there no doubtingly has taken its toll on me. It was quite difficult to get a second wind due to how oppressively hot it was. The weather itself wasn’t that bad but the location made it unbearable.

On less street corners then taco trucks...

On less street corners then taco trucks…

The Matsuri was being held in a giant parking lot under construction! That’s not exactly a sakura festival friendly environment if you ask me. I heard that the area was supposed to be transformed into a nice park by the date of the festival but construction delays prevented that. The concrete attracted heat like Hetalia attacted yaoi fangirls. Attempting to hydrate proved futile as both the price and the temperature of purchasable beverages proved too high for me. It was expected but still unpleasant.

I was a second away from writing off this whole trip when I heard a familiar sound; I heard J-Rock. Pulse pounding, stylized, kinetic J-Rock. The Matsuri had at least five different bands spread across over three different stages. If you wanted, you could have spend the whole day just enjoying live Japanese pop music. It was like being given a large assortment of random sushi. It’s hard to describe the individual pieces but it was all good.

One group I can remember is the Poku Poku Boys. What made them standout is the addition of jazz to their sound. I like them so much I brought one of their CDs. It was okay but the sound engineering was weak and some instruments were missing. Did they record it the night before just to have something to sell during the festival? After inspecting the CD; it turns out that’s exactly what it was. I should have gotten an actual CD that had actual art on it. Buyer beware I guess.

Another band I noticed is c. Their a local band whom I never paid mind to. However, they were killing it that day. Like, really killing it. I was shocked by how much I was enjoying their show. The fact that it still sticks in my memory four moths afterwords (curse you backlog!) is certainly proof of that. I really should make more of an effort to go see them at cons.

Don't forget cosplay.  Can't ever forget that!

Don’t forget cosplay. Can’t ever forget that!

Thanks to the bardic boost (and plenty of cheap drinks at a nearby CVS) I was able to actually explore the Matsuri festival. My guts tells me the whole festival is about the same size as Otakon’s dealers hall. While there were stalls there selling plushies and merchandise, there was also many other things the average Otaku won’t find at a con.

One things I was lucky enough to bump into was JUMP; as in Japan U.S. Military Program and not Shonen Jump. I can only imagine the confusion that can create. It’s basically an alumni association for military/government people who were/are stationed in Japan. Further poking reveals that JUMP is apart of the Sasakwasa Peace Foundation USA. Sasakwasa is a non-profit dedicated to strengthening US-Japanese ties. Further research is required to fully understand this.

UNIQLO was easy to understand. Not easy to pronounce but easy to understand. It’s a Japanese clothing brand. I think they’re one of those high tier type things but I’m not sure. Good thing they got stores in the U.S. I do have to check them out one of these days. As well as NHK. I knew that there’s a NHK channel on Japanese T.V. What I didn’t know is that there’s an NHK smartphone app as well an online stream. NHK had a big booth as the event which even included a giant Domo statue! I couldn’t really look at it since it attracted quite the crowd.

What I described is really just scratching the surface though. The Central Japan Railway Company, the governor of Tokyo, and Chef Rika from NHK’s “Dining with the Chef” were also in attendance. There was a lot of stuff to check out that I didn’t get the chance to. I saw a sake pavilion too but I didn’t partake because I had to drive that day.

Hey look, it's Justin Bieber!

Hey look, it’s Justin Bieber!

There were a few food that I just had to try though. Most of us don’t get to try Taijaki everyday. To save you the google search, Taijaki is a fish shaped pastry (usually) filled with a sweet red bean paste. It’s easy to hold, nice to look at, and tasty to eat. I also got a bag of Himemaru, or Japanese Rice Crackers. They’re basically rice cakes, but with flavor added to them.

Soon enough, it was time to wrap things out. Kaori Comedy came on to finish the day. She kept to the low hanging fruits of making fun of Justin Bieber and Dragon Ball Z and drew some chuckles from the crowd. Though I imagined she had to keep things simple because comedy doesn’t always translate well from one language to another. I bet she’ll be funnier on her Youtube channel.

I also bet that I won’t be returning to the Sakura Matsuri. Not because it’s bad; it’s just too far away for me to day trip. Seriously, I was out for two days afterwords. If going to Washington D.C. isn’t a huge hassle for you, I strongly recommend going. Anime con regulars will be able to plunge deeper into Japanese culture. J-music fans can rock out all day and discover some new bands. And people looking for something new can definitely find it here; and that’s a big plus in my book.

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