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The chindonya performance features four roving musicians in the Esplanade grounds playing their instruments on their way to the Outdoor Theatre where they will perform on May 20 and 21.
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Traditional octopus balls (above) and tea ceremony.
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Traditional octopus balls and tea ceremony (above).

Japan fare's street cred

Soak in the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional outdoor Japanese street food celebration at the inaugural Super Japan Festival.

NO, the Super Japan Matsuri isn't a new breed of Pokemon. But it may well start a craze in Singapore anyway, albeit an edible kind.

As part of the Esplanade's Super Japan Festival which started last week, the Super Japan Matsuri (which also means 'festival' in Japanese) will closely replicate the popular summer event in Japan where people dress up in yukatas (a light kimono) and scarf down treats such as takoyaki (grilled octopus balls).

Sara Fang, producer at the Esplanade, says: "We've developed four very successful cultural festivals for the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities and wanted to expand into cultures that aren't directly our own. With 2016 being the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Singapore and our relationships with Japanese arts groups and artists, it seemed like the perfect one to start with."

As a performing arts centre, the Esplanade is primarily focused on all things artistic, but wanted to introduce a new element to this outdoor festival, and that's where the Matsuri, held this weekend on the Esplanade Lawn, comes in.

Ms Fang, 39, says: "The Matsuri embodies the spirit of a fair or carnival where things aren't so posh or highly constructed but they're nonetheless fun."

The Super Japan Matsuri by WAttention, a company that specialises in bringing the Japanese culture to the rest of the world, will comprise nine stalls selling everything from takoyaki to okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) and soft-serve ice cream, and three games stalls featuring senbonbiki (lucky string game) and yo-yo tsuri (yo-yo balloon fishing).

She says: "If you walk into any shopping mall here, you're going to find at least one Japanese eatery within its walls. We wanted to give our visitors a close to authentic experience of a street food fair, and the best way to introduce people to food, is to let them eat it!"

While the Matsuri is the first such "fringe" activity organised by the Esplanade, it isn't the only thing on offer this weekend. In fact, another thing the team of eight programmers considered when curating the stalls was the "portability" factor of the snacks. "What we want is for you to walk around and take in all the programmes happening around the area, so you get the best of both worlds," she adds.

And if you're happy to just hang out by the stalls, that's okay too, because there are some programmes that will even come to you. The Adachi Company will be performing a chindonya show, both at the Outdoor Theatre on May 20 and 21 and around the Esplanade Lawn.

Ms Fang says: "This traditional Japanese street performance originated as a form of street advertising in the Edo period, and there'll be four musicians who start their segment with a roving performance. The best part is, they carry their instruments which include a clarinet, a saxophone, and a chindon - which the performance is named after - made up of two drums and a gong." The musicians will make their way to the Outdoor Theatre and finish their show there.

In addition to the free concert, there are also a few craft workshops taking place this weekend including a Cloth Koinobori (carp streamers) workshop, The Art of the Tea Ceremony and Kumihimo (thread-gathering) Bracelet Braiding.

"It was quite surprising how popular our craft workshops were last weekend," she laughs. "I didn't realise how many people were interested in making things like origami until now."

The Super Japan festival is the first of such cultural festivals organised by the Esplanade. This new programme will be held once every three years, and will focus on a different region and culture each time.

She says: "We'll choose which culture to explore based on the relationships we have with the artists from that culture and on the relationships we have with the community we want to serve. Like with the Japanese festival, we want to include the Japanese community, and for them to celebrate their rich heritage with us."

Super Japan Matsuri by WAttention is on May 20 to 22 at the Esplanade Lawn. For more information on this and other programmes in Super Japan - Japanese Festival of Arts, go to www.esplanade.com