I had planned to catch up on my Japanese revision this weekend and dedicate the entire Saturday to doing this. But on Friday I received a text message from a friend who informed about the Japanese Summer Festival the next day, and ask if I was keen.
Usually I’m highly selfish and would rather be by myself for long periods of time in a coffee shop. But this was not the case for me on Saturday. I had to go.
The Summer Festival is organized by the Japanese Association of Singapore, and as far as I remembered, it was a closed-door, invitation-only event where you can attend only if you had a coupon given out by the JAS. Understandably they didn’t want to overcrowd the venue (the Japanese Secondary School in Changi), and food supplies must have been quite limited. By some miracle they realized there were more supporters an enthusiasts in Japanese culture than they imagined, and apparently they have made it open to all (with an admission fee of $2) a few years ago.
I was horrified when not only did I not bring my camera, but I didn’t bring the charger for my phone. So for the whole day I had to not only go without data roaming, but also think about how many pictures I could take with 1/3 of my battery power left.
The Festival started at 5pm, but people started lining up at the shuttle bus corner at Tanah Merah MRT an hour before when I arrived. The train station is usually empty and quiet at any given time of the year, so it was quite a shock to see so many people. Thankfully queue did not last long, and quickly cleared within 5-10 minutes – a strong trait that is only uniquely Japanese.
As I waited for my company, I took a good look at the crowd, which was a balanced mix of Japanese expats and their families, students, local students, and Yukata-wearing enthusiasts (right down to the geta). My friend offered to bring a yukata as well but I was carrying a lot of things and declined, although I did wear an outfit that reflected the modern Tokyo city girl. And I was so thankful for wearing a hat – the weather was bright, hot and humid, typical for Singapore at this time of the year.
Vendors were spread across four blocks of the school building, with the more popular food stalls located closer to the entrance. And what a spread it was: curry, okonomiyaki, bentos, tori karaage, senbei, sausages, corn on a cob, ramen (from Keisuke Tonkotsu King!), ice-cream, and beer from Suntory, Asahi and Kirin (pains me til now that Sapporo was not there).
In a nutshell, there is no lack of food if one is not picky about where it comes from, and if one is willing to wait 20-30 minutes in line for the good stuff. Caramel apples are apparently a must-have every year, so much so that people started making and bringing it themselves.
There were also stalls selling merchandise (toys, collectables, souvenirs, the cutesy stuff) and even clothes. Didn’t spot any game stalls though. There was one block where half of it was dedicated to loaning yukatas, which were all out by 6pm.
Everything is paid for in cash, so it would be wise to bring about $80. Or if one preferred to enjoy the ambience, bring your own mats and picnic baskets at the open field surrounding the stage. There were afternoon performances by the Japanese students which were primarily cheerleading, dance numbers, and taiko drum shows.
The event supposedly ended at 9pm, but the crowds persisted and got large enough for a bon-odori dance around the stage at from 7.30pm onwards (using music from Ponyo and other traditional songs with a similar rhythm and groove). Despite its religious background, bon-odori dances have become more of entertainment that openly invites participation from the public, and is more associated with summer. It was great to see hundreds of people encircling the stage to dance the same sequence in union. And everyone qualifies for the dance, even for someone with two left feet.
I got home late and was thoroughly exhausted, partly from standing in the heat and walking around all day. But I still had the caramel almond apple that I was given earlier by my friend’s friend who bakes at Sun Moulin @ Isetan, so in a way I had brought home a piece of the Festival home with me. I’ll be certain to be more prepared next year to enjoy the atmosphere a bit more!