Music, Art and Culture at Sakurazaka Asylum in Okinawa

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Sakurazaka Asylum is an annual festival showcasing music, art and culture in Okinawa, Naha. This year, it will be held on 13-14 February. It is not like the usual music festivals organized throughout Japan. The music performances are not held in a big venue. Instead, music-lovers participate in a unique music nomadic experience where they roam around the Sakurazaka area to attend diverse performances in more than 10 venues.

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Other than local Okinawan musicians, many musicians from mainland Japan will perform too. Last year, I had the privilege to watch an amazing show by Takeshi Hosomi (the lead singer of The Hiatus, Monoeyes, now defunct Ellegarden) who did a special performance with Kiyosaku Uezu, a member of the popular Okinawan rock band Mongol800.

According to Sakurazaka Asylum website, the festival’s history started in 2007 as the small scale Asylum “Wilderness”. The event was such a success that it was held on a larger scale in 2008 and 2009. From 2012-2014, it was extended to Fukushima where many people suffered immensely from the tragedy of the Great East Japan earthquake. The Asylum Festival in Fukushima aims to provide a “shelter” where people could take refuge in music. The concept of “Asylum” is based the Greek etymology of the word which refers to an inviolable place of refuge and protection. Sakurazaka Asylum seeks to provide a place for retreat for artistic creations to express their messages and inspire new possibilities. The confluence of music, art and culture connects the heart of individuals to the society.

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The popular artistes usually perform in the venues in the Sakurazaka theatre (桜坂劇場). The theatre screens a wide range of independent Japanese and international films throughout the year. Next to the ticket counter, there is “Cha-gwa” (チャーグァー) café that serves as an introspective space for movie-goers to discuss films while indulging in delicious food and drinks. There is also the “Fukurasha” (ふくら舎 ) shop that sells an impressive collection of film merchandise like books, music albums and Okinawa crafts designed by talented local artists.

In the past, the Sakurazaka area was the main nightlife district in Okinawa. After World War II, it grew into a vibrant entertainment spot with hundreds of bars, snacks, cabarets and theaters. In the seventies, the entertainment district was relocated and Sakurazaka soon faded into obscurity. Thankfully, in the last decade, the Sakurazaka area was revitalized with a creative resurgence as many young entrepreneurs filled the atmospheric district with the café, bars and quaint shops.

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The popular Sakurazaka Marche (サクラザカ マルシェ) is held during the two-day festival. Admission is free. From 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., people can visit the food flea market in Kibogaoka Park (希望ヶ丘公園); a stone’s throw from Sakurazaka.

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Many well-known cafés and craft stores sell their famous products in the somewhat bohemian setting. Some popular items are sold out quickly. So do come early and enjoy a leisurely time getting lost in the fascinating maze of smells and sounds!

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There are many new events organized in conjunction with Sakurazaka Asylum this year. There will be an analog projection mapping show in Sakurazaka main street on 13 February 2016. Different artists collaborate by integrating the use of video projector and music recording with the wall graffiti to create a multi-sensory experience. The inaugural Asylum Museum show will be exhibited in the old Wakamatsu Chemical Building, which is located near the Sakurazaka theatre. There will also be an intriguing Sakurazaka Underground Film Festival screening 4 independent films over 2 days.

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Tickets for Sakurazaka Asylum 2016 are sold in advance in convenience stalls and online websites. The one-day ticket costs 4000 yen while the two-day ticket costs 7000 yen. On the actual day of the festival, the one-day ticket costs 4500 yen. The organisers are so kind to offer 50 special priced ticket at 2000 yen on each day for high and junior high school students.

So if you are lucky to be in Okinawa this February, do not miss the opportunity to attend the Sakurazaka Asylum and discover your inner artistic sanctuary!

Sakurazaka Asylum Official Website

Sakurazaka Theatre Website

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