MUSASHI: Music From The East – A One Night Only Performance In Kuala Lumpur

Curious about the sounds of traditional Japanese music? Four master musicians will be in town on February 11 for MUSASHI: Music From The East – a one-night only performance at Rex KL.

MUSASHI_ Music From The East Poster

Here exclusively on invitation by The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, the four are Nobuto Yamanaka on the tsugaru-shamisen (a three-stringed instrument with a distinctive lilt, inspired by the Chinese sanxian), Satoshi Katano on the shinobue (bamboo flute), and Taka and Junya Tsukamoto on the Wadaiko (Japanese drums). The show will feature a wide range of Japanese songs, from traditional to the contemporary.

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Nobuto Yamanaka (tsugaru-shamisen)

After graduating from intermediate school at the age of 15, Yamanaka became a live-in apprentice to the late Tsugaru-shamisen master Yamada Chisato for four years, before becoming a master of the tsugaru-shamisen.

In 2018, he was inducted into the hall of fame after becoming a three-time winner in the A-class division of the Tsugaru Shamisen World Tournament, as well as three time champion of the Tsugaru Shamisen’s National Competition. His powerful style of playing and well emoted sounds has earned him a reputation that transcends the shamisen, and he is frequently involved in performances of different genres. To date he has performed in over 38 countries.

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Satoshi Katano (Shinobue – Bamboo Flute)

Born in Chiba, Katano began playing music when he was just nine, influenced by his father. He started a solo career as a shinobue player in 2008 and won the National Yokobue (Cross Flute) contest in 2013, and the All-Japan Yokobue Contest in 2017 and 2019, among other accolades. Currently based in Fukuoka, he continues playing the Shinobue while working as a boatman.

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TAKA (Wadaiko – Japanese drum)

TAKA is an award-winning Wadaiko player and Japanese calligrapher. He started playing Wadaiko since he was seven years old. After graduation, he started to work as a solo Wadaiko player in earnest, and opened a Wadaiko class “DAGAKU” in 2009. In 2013, he formed a performance group “Wadaiko Akatsuki”.TAKA won the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Award as the best Otaiko (large drum) player at the “World Wadaiko Uchikurabe Contest” in Okaya Taiko Festa in 2015. In 2017, he won the same prize in the ensemble taiko drumming section. In 2019, TAKA was awarded the Prefectural Governor Award as the best drummer in a single drumming contest in “OTAIKO HIBIKI Festival”. He is currently studying tsugaru-shamisen under master Yamanaka Nobuto.

Junya TSUKAMOTO_b

Junya Tsukamoto (Wadaiko – Japanese Drum)

Tsukamoto started playing the Wadaiko when he was just five.  In 2012, he performed with Kanjani Eight (a famous Japanese boy band group) on Kohaku Uta Gassen, a famous Japanese TV show. He then joined
“Wadaiko Akatsuki” in 2013 and won an Excellence Prize in the soloist division of “Fujisan Otaiko Uchikurabe Contest” the following year. In 2018, he toured three countries in Central and South America and has performed in over nine countries to date. Not one to rest on his laurels, Tsukamoto is studying both the tsugaru-shamisen and shinobue instruments.

MUSASHI: MUSIC FROM THE EAST 

Date/Time: 11 February (Tuesday), *8:30 PM
*Time subject to change

Venue: REXKL, 80, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur

Admission: RM45 (General), RM25 (Students, Senior, Disabled, JFKL members) via peatix.com

For more information, visit jfkl.org.my/events/musashi-music-from-the-east/ or fb.com/theJapanFoundationKL/

 

Visiting: The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) Library @ Northpoint, Mid Valley

KL has its fair share of libraries, but did you know that there’s one dedicated exclusively to promoting Japanese language, arts and culture? And it’s been around since the 1990s!

The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur Library is located on the 18th floor of Northpoint in Kuala Lumpur, and was established by the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) – a semi-government entity under the Foreign Ministry of Japan, which seeks to promote mutual understanding of Japan in other countries, mainly through the areas of arts and culture. Back in the day, the Internet was not as readily accessible as it is today, and the library was setup to provide students of the Japanese language in Malaysia with learning resources. Today, it boasts an impressive collection of over 14,000 books, CDs, DVDs and other materials. 

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The library’s Japanese decorations are immediately apparent, from the traditional wall hangings that feature subjects such as dragons and tigers, to the dolls dressed in elaborate kimonos that greet visitors at the counter. There’s even a tatami room, complete with sliding doors and papier mache lanterns to give it that Zen vibe.

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As for reading material, they come in various genres, in both English and Japanese: from novels and literature from bestselling authors such as Haruki Murakami and Keigo Higashino, to Japanese language books, exercise books for learners, the latest magazines in fashion, entertainment and travel, manga, as well as cookbooks.

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Children’s books section.

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A quiet corner with a view of the city. Members (you can sign up by providing two passport sized photos and pay a RM10 annual fee) can utilise the audio /visual equipment to listen to recordings, or watch films and documentaries.

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My favourite section was definitely the manga corner, which had tatami mats where you can lounge with a book in hand. They’ve got popular titles such as Slamdunk, Bleach and One Piece, to name a few.

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Verdict: The library isn’t massive, but I like how fun and educational it is, especially for lovers of Japanese culture. The only downside I can think of is that it’s not very accessible, even though it’s open to the public. Since it’s part of the JFKL, the library is located within an office building, and you’ll need to register at the security office before you can proceed to the 18th floor. Parking is also difficult to get if you’re driving, so I suggest parking at Mid Valley and walking over from the connecting bridge, or just taking a Grab.

JAPAN FOUNDATION KUALA LUMPUR LIBRARY 

18th Floor, Northpoint, Block B, Mid Valley City, No 1, Medan Syed Putra, 59200, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Opening hours: Tuesday–Friday (10.30 a.m.–6.30 p.m), Saturday (10.00 a.m.–6.00 p.m). Closed on Sunday, Monday and Public Holidays.

Contact:  03 2284 6228 (ext. 401/402/403) or email library@jfkl.org.my

Website

Travelogue Japan: Making A Sarubobo Doll – Souvenirs from Takayama

Ask any Japanese person about a souvenir to get from Takayama in Gifu prefectureand top on the list would be sarubobo dolls.

Literally translated to ‘baby monkey’ (saru is Japanese for monkey, while bobo is a local  dialect for baby), these featureless, human-shaped dolls usually come in red, with a tiny black hat and vest. While I couldn’t find any explanation on its origins, the dolls are traditionally made by grandmothers for their grandchildren, or by mothers for their daughters as a good luck charm.

Why Are They Red? 

Baby monkeys have red faces, and since these are supposed to be baby monkey dolls, sarubobo have similar crimson hues. Although in modern times, this has extended to include various other shades, including pink, blue, green, yellow, orange and purple.

Sarubobo As Charms

The sarubobo acts like an amulet that protects the receiver from bad things, encourages a happy home and a good match for the daughters. Since a monkey’s childbirth is easy, the doll also represents the giver’s hope that the receiver will have an easy delivery.

Takayama/Nagoya

We were scheduled for a sarubobo-making class with a local crafts maker. Unfortunately I didn’t note down the name of the place, but it was a souvenir centre where visitors can also buy snacks and gifts.

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Our sensei for the day! Mariko-san translated for us.

To be honest, it wasn’t so much a doll-making class than it was a doll-decorating session, since the dolls were already provided: all we had to do was decorate and help put on the vest!

Takayama/Nagoya

Even so, it was not as easy as it seemed. We were given some colourful pens and a selection of words to pick from, which we had to draw on the fabric. The words were traditional kanji (adopted from Chinese characters) so there were many strokes, and we couldn’t mess up so there were a few practice runs on normal paper. You can also choose to draw on the fabric but since its small, it might be difficult if you don’t have a delicate hand.

Takayama/Nagoya

The session took about 40 minutes, after which we could take the medium-sized dolls home as souvenirs! So if you’re looking for a gift to bring back from Takayama, definitely get a sarubobo doll. 🙂

 

 

 

Travelogue Japan: Takayama Jinya, Last Surviving Government Building From The Edo Era

The Hida region around Takayama was once prized for its valuable timber resources, so it was only natural for the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate to dispatch officials to oversee things at the place. To cater to this, a local government office was built, which is the Takayama Jinya we see today.

As the only building of its kind to be preserved from the Edo era, the Takayama Jinya has been declared a historical asset and national treasure. For over 177 years, Tokugawa samurai have been dispatched from Edo as administrators, tax officers and policemen. During the Meiji Restoration, the building continued to be used by local government officials, right up til 1969. Now home to a museum, visitors can experience life as it was for ruling samurai in the Edo era.

Kanazawa, Japan

The spacious compound is decorated with ripple-like sand patterns, which is an emblem of the Tokugawa family that represents the sea.

Kanazawa, Japan

The main building has numerous tatami-mat rooms and sliding doors, which allowed for plenty of natural light to filter in. ‘Employees’ sat on the floor and worked at low tables. The rooms contrasted starkly to old buildings I have visited in Europe, which were often elaborate and covered in detailing. Here, the aesthetic is simple and Zen-like, the furniture minimal.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

It may not look like it from the outside, but the place was massive! Long corridors and passageways opened up into new buildings, interspersed with beautifully landscaped gardens. The living quarters were a bit more cheerful, with more furniture, as well as decorative scrolls and paintings hung up on the walls.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kitchen area where meals would be prepared by servants. The servants quarters were also located nearby.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

The Takayama Jinya also had an interrogation room where they would keep prisoners (!) accused of various crimes.

Next to the main building is a rice storehouse built in the 1600s, which now houses belongings and documents of past feudal lords, town blueprints as well as old maps of the region.

TAKAYAMA JINYA 

Opening hours: 845AM – 5PM (430PM from November to February, until 6PM in August)

Admission: 430yen

Getting There 

The Jinya is a 10-minute walk from Takayama Station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelogue Japan: Of High-Tech Toilets, Yukatas and Meeting A Real-Life Ninja

When I was in grade school, I remember seeing a beautiful picture of a perfect cone-shaped mountain, capped with snow and surrounded by pink cherry blossoms, in a book. It was the opening page for a chapter on Japan, and I was fascinated by how beautiful the photos looked. There were pictures of pale-faced women in elaborate kimonos, men with samurai swords at their waist, ancient temples and Zen gardens in stark contrast to towering buildings, assembly lines and robotic inventions. Growing up, I experienced another Japanese cultural import (albeit, a modern one) – anime and manga. Doraemon, Slamdunk, GS Mikami, Ranma 1/2 and Nintama Rantarou were just some of the cartoons I watched religiously on Saturday mornings or after school.

As such, I’ve always wanted to visit Japan at least once – and lo and behold, the universe provided in the form of a media trip I got to attend last summer. But it wasn’t to the usual touristy confines of Tokyo, Osaka or Hokkaido that we were headed to: it was a place I had never heard of – Chubu. 

Quick Facts – CHUBU, JAPAN 

  • Literally means ‘central region’, and comprises nine prefectures on the Honshu mainland.
  • Made up mostly of mountainous landscapes, the centre of Chubu is divided by the Japanese Alps
  • Here is where you’ll find Mount Fuji,  Japan’s most famous symbol and a national icon.

Arriving at Tokyo Airport after an eight hour flight, I got my first taste of Japan via their public toilets. Aside from being squeaky clean, the toilets here are so high-tech they have operating manuals in each booth to tell you how to use them wtf. There are buttons to warm the seat, front and back sprays (power adjustable), and the toilet even plays sounds like running water/nature in order to drown out any unceremonious plonks.

Let me tell you this: once you’ve tried a self-warming toilet seat, you’ll never feel comfortable on a normal one, ever again. lol

We met up with our guide, Mariko-San, who took us to Tokyo Central Station – the central hub of Honshu’s railway lines. Travelling by rail to most cities is very convenient : just hop onto a Shinkansen, or bullet train. A marvel of engineering and technological prowess, these streamlined trains are capable of travelling up to a whopping 200miles/hour. You’d think a country like Japan, which suffers constantly from earthquakes and typhoons, would be the last place to employ a train system, but they have an extremely efficient warning/stop system – so much so that in its 50 years of operations, there has not been a single accident caused by derailment.

The trains all sport poetic names like Hikari (Light), Tsubasa (Wings) and Hayate (strong wind). Our Shinkansen, headed to the city of Nagano, was dubbed Asama, after the sacred Mt Asama. Since there are many different lines running through Tokyo, be sure to check the correct one you should be taking from their website, where you can also purchase passes. Note: Seats on the Shinkansen are numbered so locate the proper platform/coach before boarding.

Our ride to Nagano took approximately 80 minutes.

Nagano is an ancient castle town and the birthplace of soba. Soba doesn’t get enough publicity outside of Japan: it always seems to me that ramen and udon get better reps – but the Japanese themselves consider it a staple and it is often eaten in many households, especially over the festive season. It’s also widely considered to be healthy, and our guide Mariko-san tells us that they believe it is the reason why people living in certain regions where soba is eaten live longer lives.

We stopped by a restaurant at Nagano Station for a soba lunch, which came with a side of expertly fried and lightly battered tempura. Soba can be served hot or cold; in summer they are usually served cold and vice versa in winter. You lift a few strands of the noodles, place it into the accompanying shoyu broth and slurp it up noisily (this is polite. If possible, try to slurp up the entire strand instead of biting it)

Exploring the city.

We went to a shop to rent yukatas.

We have an annual Bon Odori festival in Malaysia where people dress up in  yukatas, but I’ve never actually worn one. It was a lot more tedious than I expected. You have to have at least one person to help you put it on (I heard with kimonos, you need two). First, I wore a white robe which served as an undergarment, before slipping the outer layer on. The staff then wound a purple sash around me so tightly I felt the air being pushed out of my lungs. This must be the Asian version of the corset! The sash severely limited my movements: I couldn’t take big steps, it forced my back to remain straight, and when paired with the elevated wooden clogs, all I could manage were small teetering steps forward (which somehow looked demure rather than clumsy).

We visited the ancient Buddhist temple of Zenkoji, considered one of Japan’s three most sacred sites, in this get up. Nevermind that there weren’t other people dressed up like this – it was fun! (More on Zenkoji in a separate post).

Quick ice cream break.

Dinner that night was within walking distance of our hotel at an underground establishment called Gotoku Tei. The owner (his name slipped my memory but I have his namecard somewhere) is an actual ninja. He mentioned that he has been in training for over 30 years, and showed us an authentic blade.

Mariko-san did the ordering. Appetisers consisted of tofu, pickled radishes and a savoury broth with a good chunk of fish in it.

Since I was travelling with two Muslim colleagues, we couldn’t order any meat (coz it’s not halal).Had a plate of fresh raw salmon sashimi instead. Wonderful cut and texture, meat was fatty but in a good way.

The butter-stir fried mushrooms were juicy and fragrant, with a texture similar to meat. Also enjoyed the rice balls topped with miso.

My first day in Japan was well spent and offered me fascinating insights and experiences into a rich and colourful culture. I was already looking forward to more as I tucked in for the night.

Stay tuned for more of Japan!