Calligraphy, wearing kimono, flower arranging, lantern painting, dancing – just some of the many activities which spring to mind when thinking about traditional Japanese culture. When I moved to Japan eight months ago, I had a long list of experiences I wanted to have during my two years in this amazing country. Unfortunately, despite a lot of travelling, seven months after arriving here I still wasn’t quite sure how to go about taking part in activities like Japanese art classes without struggling against a language barrier or facing a considerable expense. Luckily, I was very recently introduced to Arts Council Tokyo, and in particular their ‘Traditional Culture and Performing Arts Experience Program for Foreigners’.
After hearing about the great experience my introducer had at a free calligraphy workshop organised by Arts Council Tokyo, I decided to look at their website. I was amazed by the variety of activities on offer, especially as they were all without charge. The particular opportunities available change regularly, so you will have to see the website for current events, but at the moment options include yuzen (silk handkerchief) painting, lantern painting, traditional dance, paper cutting and shamisen lessons. All of the activities are led by Japanese experts assisted by highly skilled and friendly translators, so there is no need to worry about not understanding the instructions. They are held in a range of locations across Tokyo, including the Moshi Moshi Box in Harajuku, the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku and the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center in Asakusa.
My first experience of the ‘Traditional Culture and Performing Arts Experience Program for Foreigners’ was in the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. I attended a class focused on Nihon Buyo, a traditional Japanese dance. Before the class began we were given the option of being dressed in kimono. Not all of the classes offer this opportunity, but the ones which do are a great way to experience wearing kimono with the assistance of professionals when dressing. After we were all dressed, the translator provided us with an introduction to Nihon Buyo, which was very interesting. We were then taught how to use fans to perform the different steps included in the dance, before being taught a complete routine. The class then ended with a performance by the professionals and the opportunity to take a lot of photos. We were even allowed to take the socks from the outfit home with us as a souvenir! I would definitely recommend this class as an opportunity to have a fun afternoon, but more importantly as an easy and inexpensive way to experience some Japanese culture.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the classes available change regularly, so the Nihon Buyo workshop may not be an option. However, whatever the available options are it is very likely that they will be interesting and rewarding. You can try something new, even if it is something you have never considered before. For instance, I attended a class in which we learned how to paint lanterns and yuzen (silk handkerchiefs), at the Moshi Moshi Box. Normally I avoid anything related to painting or drawing, but as the class was free and would be a new experience I decided to give it a try and am very glad I did. The instructors and translators patiently helped us to decorate our lanterns and yuzen, which we were even allowed to take home with us!
Ultimately, the ‘Traditional Culture and Performing Arts Experience Program for Foreigners’ is a great chance to try different aspects of Japanese culture in a friendly environment, at little or no cost. I hope you can give it a try in Tokyo!