A Caribbean and 日本-flavoured weekend

What brought me to Manchester

What brought me to Manchester

It’s a holiday weekend in this country. Well, a bank holiday weekend to be exact (I have no idea what a “bank holiday” is – nor do I feel like looking up the meaning of the phrase on Wikipedia). In any case, this weekend presented no shortage of fun activities in Leeds – such as Leeds Festival (which a couple of my current flatmates attended) and Leeds Carnival, the subject of a recent article on the BBC website.

Corine, Daisy and Daniel in the Sela Bar

Corine, Daisy and Daniel in the Sela Bar

However, my weekend started with the customary: I finished third in the ParkRun – which hasn’t been abnormal for me. But the abnormal was running sub-17 minutes for the second time: 16:58, to be exact. I just wish I had been closer to the top two.

But the running club fun wasn’t solely limited to the ParkRun. Saturday evening, several of us met up at the Sela Bar in town to celebrate Daniel’s birthday. The setting was great – the bar doesn’t serve the usual pub food, but pizza! Pizza in fact was the main attraction of the evening – well, other than celebrating Daniel’s birthday.

As much fun as the chatter was – and the ensuing dancing at Sandinista (a nearby bar/club) until one a.m. (in my case), the next afternoon provided another chance to feel irie

The second performer I saw....

The second performer I saw….

Provided I knew where the hell I was going. The Caribbean-themed fun in Leeds this weekend isn’t limited to Carnival – the city hosted a free reggae concert the day prior to the parade. All I had to do to find the fun was cycle up to Potternewton Park. Pretty simple – except that I made a right turn when I should have made a left. So I got an unexpected tour of some of city centre’s outlying areas.

It dawned on me while I was cycling on Roundhay Road without any sense of direction that… a bicycle can take you to a totally new world. I’m currently living in a flat surrounded by a maze of major roads. But a left turn here and a right turn there took me to neighborhoods seemingly quite different from my current one. On the way to Potternewton Park, I cycled through working class, ethnically-diverse (with large Black populations) sections of town without the chain restaurants seen in the city centre but with houses and flats similar to those I’ve seen in Headingley. A seemingly very different city is really only a few minutes away on bicycle.

Of course, the green, black and gold flag would be in the house...

Of course, the green, black and gold flag would be in the house…

The first performance at the Reggae Concert...

The first performance at the Reggae Concert…

As for the music, well… the best thing I can say about the concert was that it was free. Unfortunately, I don’t the know who the hell performed. Of course, all the performers certainly tried to convince the audience that they were big names in the reggae world. Whether anyone came to the Reggae Concert to see any of those performers, who knows…

A crowd shot

A crowd shot

Anyway, the second best thing about the concert was the atmosphere. Being in Chapeltown (a section of Leeds with a large West Indian population), the concert attracted a big crowd but the best parties seemingly didn’t take place within the confines of Potternewton Park. After the final performance of the concert, numerous small American-style block parties broke out near the park and they were full of speakers blasting music, people dancing and stalls selling Jamaican food. The area surrounding Potternewton Park is rather residential so it was really awesome to see folks dancing in front of houses.

Awa Odori

Awa Odori

I gave some thought to attending Carnival but the Land of the Rising Sun was calling me. The Japan Society North West organises an annual Japan Day celebration and it was held in Manchester this year (The festival alternates between Manchester and Liverpool) at a luxurious hotel in the city centre. In a locale with nice weather, a Japan Day festival would be held outdoors – the other Japan-related festivals I’ve attended have been held outdoors. But you probably know that the UK and “nice weather” often don’t appear in the same sentence and sure enough, it was very grey outside.

A koto player

A koto player

Anyway, I somewhat unexpectedly met up with Genba and his cousin Davina – I didn’t know Genba would be coming until the day prior. Then again, considering he took a train from Birmingham to Manchester to attend a screening of Hafu, it’s no surprise he came.

DSCN0226 DSCN0225

While the festival welcomed taiko, koto and shamisen performers, it had the feel of an event being geared towards people like Davina who are interested in Japanese culture but haven’t able to travel to Japan. It seemed like there was something authentically Japanese missing about the event. Maybe it was because all of the shamisen and koto performers were all Westerners – in addition to all of those who were demonstrating kendo. Maybe because the food was mediocre – at least, the vegetarian curry I ate was mediocre.

Me trying on a yukata

Me trying on a yukata

But the day was still a lot of fun. There was an enormous buzz for the cosplay competition and the outfits looked quite creative. As evidenced by the photo above, I wore a yukata for the first time in… I don’t know how long – in addition to meeting a very friendly 道産子 (dosanko – Hokkaido native) who put the yukata on me. The festival was educational of sorts as I met members of the Japanese Railway Society, a group that has organized railway-related tours and helped bring a model of the Shinkansen to the National Railway Museum in York.

A little dark but Katsura Sunshine was the star of the event...

A little dark but Katsura Sunshine was the star of the event…

And the best was saved for last. Genba mentioned he was really looking forward to the rakugo performance toward the end of the festival. I can’t say I was – probably because I’m rather unfamiliar with that Japanese form of comedy. But anyway, a rakugo performer named Katsura Sunshine took the stage (or more appropriately, or a small space of the floor) and well… he didn’t disappoint. He spoke mostly in English (he did pepper his set with 日本語 words though) due to the venue and makeup of the audience but often spoke about the experiences of being a foreigner in Japan. Unfortunately, because I was tired, I didn’t concentrate as much as I should have during his stories. But his observations about formal Japanese were hilarious – he mentioned that there are 47 different ways of saying “Thank you” in 日本語. Some of the translations of the Japanese thank yous are laugh out loud funny – but the funniest thing he said during that segment was that the least respectful manner of saying thank you in Japanese was … well, the 外来語 (gairaigo Japanese word borrowed from a foreign language) term サンキュー, which is pronounced just like the English word.

Laughter just might be the best way to end a festival 🙂

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2 Comments

  1. I love how ethnically diverse it is there! That’s crazy you were able to experience two totally different cultures in one weekend. Not to mention that you can bike around the city and feel like you’re in a totally different place than where your flat is located. Leeds sounds like a cool city. Oh, and congrats on coming in under 17 minutes 🙂

    • Thanks for the response. Although Leeds is not as big as cities such as Manchester and London, there are definitely enough free/inexpensive activities to keep me satisfied 🙂

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