Back in Australia, and I must catch up with writing about the interesting outings we do.
There are many opportunities in Melbourne to experience events staged by different nationalities. Today I attended the annual Japanese-Australian Cultural Afternoon. Amazingly, the ABC set the scene for me (but only slightly, compared to the reality) by playing The Mikado on the radio as I drove there.
The event was hosted by the Rotary Club in the Glen Eira Town Hall – an accessible site with a small Japanese garden in the front (and apparently a permanent display of Japanese artwork in a gallery upstairs. I forgot to have a look). Funds raised are going to the children of Fukushima, the tsunami being still very raw in Japan’s recent history.
Around the hall were tables show-casing Japanese art, or flower arranging (with the artist carefully trimming chrysanthemum petals too), bonsai and food.
People could practise ink-and-brush painting, calligraphy or origami, and at one lovely stall, we sat and enjoyed the peaceful and gracious tea ceremony.
We were served matcha, which I see is uniquely Japanese, used especially for the Japanese Way of the Tea, and is the best tea available. Having now read up about matcha, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t appreciate it more. It’s made from the finest tea leaves, steamed to keep them green, then dried and finely ground with even the leaf vein removed. It takes over an hour to grind up 40g of powder, and perhaps there was some wincing going on as we all gulped it down without thought. I was given a napkin with two beautifully coloured Japanese sweets to enjoy with the tea. Since I did not realise that it was part of the ceremony, I slipped them into my handbag because I thought they were plain boiled sweets that I would dispose of elsewhere, but, um, they were made of soft jelly and made an interesting amalgam with the other contents of my bag.
I’m not too sure that I will acquire the taste for a green powdered tea product whipped into a froth with a gorgeous bamboo whisk (see here: http://www.teavana.com/tea-products/tea-accessories/tea-tools/p/perfectea-bamboo-matcha-whisk). Ok, the drink tasted like tea which is a minus for me anyway, but had the texture and appearance of green cappuccino, which is hard to wrap the brain around.
However the ceremonial production and serving was so restful that I could almost agree to attend another ceremony, and next time I would Do It Better. The woman who served my tea was kind enough to answer some questions about why the person who poured the tea turned the cup 90 degrees twice and why she did that too as she gave me the cup, and she explained that it was to ensure that I saw the beautiful side of the cup but did not drink from that side – the pattern is always to be seen from the other side.
At the fundraising stall for the “Japanese Eldery” [can’t you just hear it being said! Perfect!] I was pressed to buy one of the wooden reindeer heads – red nose, tinsel and all. I said to the stallholder that I did not expect Christmas to be big in Japan, and she smiled and said, “Not big for Japanese but big for business!”
From 2 pm, we enjoyed staged entertainment, after a few short speeches by the MC (a Japanese Australian TV personality), the Mayor of Glen Eira and a representative of the Japanese government. I mean three different people, not one multi-talented individual. Even the local member of parliament arrived later, so it was hugely important cultural event in the community.
The Yuakari Echo Choir began the entertainment – the only Japanese choir in Melbourne (perhaps in Australia). Lovely – and yet like western music done in Japanese.
Next came the Murasaki No Kai folk dancers – women in kimonos with scarves, cherry blossoms and fans. The music here was oriental (but taped).
Then the masculine side – a Kendo martial arts demonstration. Kendo is very disciplined, exercising the mind as well as the body. Firstly, two youngsters showed us ritualised movements with wooden sticks, then the real thing – two well padded warriors duelled with bamboo swords. One of them won after a bit of polite thwacking and roaring, but I couldn’t tell how. Maybe he hit The Spot, wherever that is.
Two women with the same surname (sisters? mother-daughter?) who had come out from Japan just for this day then entertained us. Saori played the koto, an instrument with 13 strings (strung over 13 moveable bridges, just to add complexity one imagines), using plectra on several fingers:
While she played, her relative Seifu painted a big canvas on the ground in elegant swirls. The canvas was later hoisted into the air so that we could see it at last, and was to be sold for further funds for the Fukushima children.
The highlight of the day for me was the Taiko Drums from Huntingdale Primary School. The children introduced themselves in Japanese and English – and as you can see from the photo, not all of them are Japanese.
They told us they had been practising their piece for 3 months – and their movements and sounds seemed perfect. Their item was a rousingly vigorous conclusion to the afternoon.