Friday, August 5, 2011

I went to a sumo match, and a festival broke out...

Well, the headline may be a l-i-t-t-l-e misleading.

True, I did go to see sumo wrestling this past Sunday; and it was part of Vancouver's Powell Street Festival - the 35th annual festival, as it turns out. But it wasn't a sumo match, per se. There was a sumo wrestling tournament as part of the festival; however, that was only a small part of the two-day celebration of Japanese culture, food, song, dance, music and martial arts in Oppenheimer Park.

Truth is, I've always wanted to attend a real sumo match, with all the pomp and tradition and ceremony associated with the sport. If you've ever watched the sumo scene in the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, you'll get an idea of what it is I'm longing to see. It's on my bucket list.
Let's get ready to SU-MO!
 
However, that wasn't about to happen here. It was kind of cool watching them practise, but I didn't get to see the actual tournament (which was open to anyone who wanted to sign up) and sponsored by Vancouver's Sumo Fun Club. It was running a bit late, and I really wanted to go to the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony (more on that later).

I did get to see some good martial arts demos by another group, Shorinji Kempo. Their members ranged in ages from seven to 77, and although this martial art originated in Japan 60 years ago, the martial artists in this group consisted of people from a wide variety of ethnic groups.

Music usually plays a large part of any festival and the Powell Street Festival is no different. Between noon and 4 p.m., I saw three different musical presentations. When I arrived, the Chibi Taiko, a group of youngsters (actually,the first children's taiko ensemble in Canada) were finishing their drum performance on the park's Main Stage. Before going on, I should mention "taiko" refers to "drum" in Japanese, although there is a cultural significance to the term that makes it more than just a word to describe a type of instrument. 

That was followed by traditional Ainu music. The Ainu are the aboriginal people of Japan and northeastern Russia. They told stories and sang while dressed in traditional clothing.


video

Members of the Yuaikai Ryukyu Taiko perform
at the Powell Street Festival.

For me though, the highlight of the day came courtesy of the Okinawan-based group, Yuaikai Ryukyu Taiko. Lots of energy, and you see many of the movements the drummers make while playing come from traditional martial arts forms. Very inspiring!

Of course, no festival would be worth going to without food, and there were plenty of food booths serving traditional Japanese foods. I sampled bits of many different foods, my favorites being the teriyaki chicken skewers and okonomayaki (Japanese pancake made with cabbage and pork stuffed inside). I did draw the line at Spam sushi, however. Not that I have anything against Spam ... but I can't get past the seaweed taste of any sushi. Just after going to the festival, a friend told me I can get sushi made with rice paper wrapping rather than seaweed. I plan to give it a try ...

After eating, came tea, in the traditional Japanese style. I guess I should rephrase that to "tea ceremony." Also known as the "Way of Tea," it involves much more than just sipping some tea and dunking some crumpets (if you like crumpets). There are several traditions and rituals that form a part of the ceremony, including eating sweet sesame wafers before taking tea, having a hostess prepare the tea or "matcha," drinking it, returning the cup and bowing many, many times.


Would you like one wafer or two with
your matcha?
 I should point out, the tea itself is unlike any tea I've ever consumed. I detected a slightly fishy odor to the tea in the cup, although there was no fishy taste. It tasted something like a bitter, slightly thicker green tea. It is full of antioxidants, though, therefore ultra healthy.

Attending the ceremony is really cool; if you ever get a chance to experience it, go for it.

If you're in Vancouver, there are plenty of places to experience it; just spend a bit of time surfing the web to find them. If you already live in Vancouver, it's a great opportunity for you to play tourist in your own town.

That's kind of what the Powell Street Festival allowed me to do: as a hometown tourist, I could get a taste of Japan without having to fly halfway around the world. It did whet my appetite for a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun...because after all, how else will I get to see real, traditional sumo wrestling?

Want to see a photo album of images from this event? Visit
 

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