One of my Italian acquaintances called me from the event. “So, I’m here at the expo and the line for the Japanese booth is really long!” they said. “People are waiting seven hours… is it worth it?” I didn’t know how to answer them. “Well, they’ve done a really good job with it and the pavilion is well-designed and worth seeing,” I told him. “But if you’re on the fence about waiting in line that long, I think it would make more sense to just take a 12-hour direct flight and take in the sights of Japan itself for a few days rather than wait in line for seven hours just to see the pavilion for twenty minutes. You’d have a more memorable experience, and get more value out of your time investment.” Strangely, I think he saw the point, and ended up skipping the Japan pavilion.
I wonder if my advice made sense really….
The remarkable development of countries like China, India, and Russia into economic powerhouses is something that’s obvious to us even in our daily lives these days. But Japan—as evidenced by the situation at the expo—seems to remain a persistent favorite.
Milan also hosts an Oriental Festival each year during early February. Spanning five or six major Italian cities, it gets a lot of attention. I’ve been meaning to go every year for almost ten years now, and this year I finally made it happen.
One of the unique features of this year’s festival was the advance publicity they did to promote a better and newly expanded Japanese area, bringing in more Italian Japanophiles than usual. Everyone was looking forward to it. Stages were set up at three or four venues, with nonstop programs taking the stage from morning until night. It was a hugely satisfying experience even for me.
A Japanese magician gave a fascinatingly rhythmical performance—though the magic itself wasn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary—a pair of Japanese comedians in hilarious costumes had me in stitches, and there was an impressive traditional lion dance with incredibly sophisticated acrobatic elements performed by Italian dancers. Every performance broke through the language barrier to fully showcase the unique and wonderful features of each country’s culture, and as a spectator I felt like I was being carried on a whirlwind tour of the East for hours.
There were also Japan-inspired items all over the place, including rows of booths selling things that were surprising and bewildering to me as a native Japanese—polyester kimonos, katanas for 40 euros, sushi with all kinds of ingredients you’d never find in Japan.
Although there was no room to set up a Japanese garden, they did (to criticize a bit) have a shoddy-looking Japanese house set up that tried to recreate the right feel (some of the lanterns were backwards, but it was still entertaining). I have to give them credit for putting extra effort into the Japanese area, though. There were endless references to historical events like the Forty-seven Ronin, experiences like putting on bridal kimonos, and more—so much that I could see why my acquaintance stayed until they closed at 10:30 PM just seeing and enjoying everything over and over. The festival certainly showcased the best of Japan and the East.