We were very happy to be invited to participate in the Japanese Language and Culture Week in Brunei from 17 to 19 February, 2017.
Our last visit to the country was three years ago, albeit in a smaller group then. But this trip saw us arrive with a large delegation and more Japanese cultural activities planned, including origami (paper folding art), kendama (cup-and-ball game), koma (spinning top), fukuwarai (blindfolded face assembly game), fans to be painted on with Japanese names, and exciting taiko (drum) performances.
The venue was Times Square Shopping Centre, which housed a huge stage and many booths, two of which were ours to set up a display of traditional Japanese objects and to serve as our base for engaging visitors to the fair.
Our most well-received booth activity was the kendama. Players must hold a handle with three saucer-like ends and one spike. A ball is attached to the handle with a string. The goal is to toss the ball and land it in one of the saucers, changing techniques each time. The greatest test is to land the ball on the spike (there is a hole on the ball for this purpose). Children and adults alike were fascinated by this tricky skill-based game. Three local kendama enthusiasts were invited to join our finale performance on-stage to show off their mastery of the centuries-old pastime.
The next item that caught the eye of many kids was the koma. I personally am a big fan and own a collection that comprises a variety of origins, sizes, designs, and even ways of playing. I was so happy to see the young ones fully immersed in the entrancing revolving motion of the tops. There was even a little competition among players to have the last koma standing!
As for the fukuwarai, the challenge was to correctly and neatly place the facial features of two of Japan’s most popular folktale characters, Hyottoko and Okame. However, the game comes with the added difficulty of requiring players to be blindfolded. This resulted in some truly comical faces. I saw many otherwise shy children burst into laughter when they viewed the outcome! Parents and friends also enjoyed witnessing this and chuckled along.
When we asked our visitors if they knew origami, most of them replied “yes!” Instead of the usual crane, we decided to make things a bit more interesting by folding paper into a koma and flapping crane. The participants patiently sat and followed our instructions, with satisfaction clearly evident in their smiles upon successful completion. It must feel great to receive that sense of achievement.
We had the honour of presenting taiko performances during the opening ceremony and closing finale of the event. It was our pleasure to find that the audience very much enjoyed our arrangement that embraced hundreds of years of musical history—from traditional and folk songs to contemporary pieces—together with shinobue and shamisen accompaniment.
The audience were in for a treat as well as we conducted short taiko workshops, which had them asking about our classes. We were extremely happy to know that we sparked more interest in Japanese culture among Bruneians. We believe that we should not only perform or introduce, but also get people trying and getting involved!
On behalf of the members of Hibikiya, I would like to extend our thanks to The Japan Foundation and the Japanese Embassy in Brunei for giving us the opportunity to interact with our Bruneian friends.
by Namiko Sakai | 17–19 February, 2017 @ Brunei Times Square