Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Hatsu Kaze Kotohajime in Little Tokyo

No Oshugatsu in Little Tokyo is complete without Kotohajime to ring in the Year of the Dragon. Unlike previous years, this years first performance was held Sunday January 8th outdoors in the JACCC Plaza while the usual venue the Aratani Theater continues to undergo renovation. After a week of unseasonably hot 85*+ weather, the sun came out but the January breeze chilled the air but not the excitement and enthusiasm of both the audience and performers alike to this annual well attended free event. This years' Hatsu Kaze - First Wind performance saw both new and returning groups to perform. As in previous years a Buddhist Priest symbolically opens the event to the sounds of the Imperial Court Music dating back to the Heian Era. Returning this year was the Colburn Dance Institute who danced to the Ryuichi Sakamoto version Chinsagu no Hana. Had they worn kimono this would have taken their performance to the next level but in any case I appreciate the effort to incorporate Japanese elements. It was a nice moving touch.

Now when I think of Little Tokyo I don't think of Koreatown or Korean Arts. Like it or not the Koreans returned for the third year in a row with not one but three acts almost dominating this otherwise Japanese New Years Show. Now don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against Koreans but I did come to see a Japanese event in Little Tokyo. Let's just hope the JACCC never goes so far as to bring in a Mexican Mariachi band for further cultural diversity. Despite this cultural juxtaposition the show continued on to feature the beautiful dancers of the Eung Hwa Kim Korean Dance Academy. These dancers came out in beautiful colorful traditional Korean dress and performed a fan dance with smiles abound and excellent precision.

The fan dancers of the Eung Hwa Kim were next followed by a Korean Children's dance ensemble who were delightful to watch but by then I was getting that highjacked feeling wondering when I was going to hear Nihongo again. The kids were cute to watch and incredibly talented performers. I believe they all have bright futures as dancers before them.

The kids were then followed by the third and final Korean portion of the show and one of which I actually took a liking to sometime back when Gwen Stefani made an appearance on Saturday Night Live with Korean Drummer Girls backing her up. Granted these were not the same Drummer Girls but they still put on quite a show. They made an appearance at Kotohajime in the Aratani Theater two years ago and they were quite good. I have to say as far as Korean Arts go I have to give serious props to their drummer girls. It may not top Japanese Taiko in my book but they are a close second and always entertaining to watch. If you love drumming this is definitely something to keep your eye open for.

Well before you could assume that we were starting to crave kimchi, the show returned to it's original Japanese format with the appearance of Kikusa Katada who is considered a Living National Treasure in Japan.

Playing to traditional Japanese instruments it is easy to be taken to another place and another time. It's what I like to write to combined with the imagery that evoke the Edo Period or make me crave another LA appearance of the Yoshida Brothers. Any true Japanophile will tell you there is never enough Shamisen to go around! 

As in years past the highlight of every Kotohajime is marked by the Ikkyu archers of the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai Archery Group. Kyudo often appears at purification ceremonies at the Imperial Court of Japan and often associated with Zen Buddhism - To me it's very Shinto indeed! With the ritual firing of the first arrow a wall of streamers come down marking the New Year. I always get excited to see Ikkyu every year for with that arrow sends forth dreams, hopes, and aspirations as well as the dispelling of obstacles, and misfortune.

Concluding Kotohajime is the final Community Sake Toast after the breaking of the Sake Keg by the Japanese Consul and other JACCC Members and LA City Officials. All this while free mochi is passed around for good luck.
Though the times may change, Kotohajime remains a Little Tokyo Oshugatsu Tradition that will carry on.
あけまして おめでとう ございます!

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