Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kotohajime 2014

No New Year’s celebration in Little Tokyo is complete without the JACCC’s annual Kotohajime (First Performance) show at the Aratani Theater.  This being UMA - Year of the Horse has ushered in some notable changes in the both the show and the JACCC. What remains consistent as in years past is the shows strong visual presentation which never disappoints the packed audiences who attend year after year often making it part of their own New Years traditions. This year’s Hatsu-Kagami (First Mirror) was by no means an exception. Directed by Hirokazu Kosaka, this year’s Kotohajime opened with the hues of a subtle blue backdrop amidst the classical ethereal sounds of ancient Japan by the Kinnara Gagaku. Gagku as defined by translation as Elegant Music which dates back to the 7th Century. This was once the sole domain of the Imperial Court. Kinnara is a Sanskrit word which is described in the shows program as being a Buddhist term for Celestial Musician which suits its sense of mystic ambiance that Kinnara Gagaku brings to Southern California. Kinnara Gagaku would perform three musical pieces which in its third piece included the rarely seen Bugaku dance which featured two masked dancers in colorful costumes which moved in slow precise regal movements that once entertained Japanese Nobility.

The second segment featured a crowd favorite of two back to back Natori dances by Wakayagi Hisami: Hana no Kai. The first dance titled Toto-Jishi was performed by Wakayagi Haruka in a beautiful red kimono to a most traditional dance which was later followed by Jyudo performed by Wakayagi Hisami who performed her dance with great refined elegance and grace elevating this high art form to a level deserving of its rich cultural heritage.

The show next picked up the pace with a unique improvisational harmonica solo performance by Mr. Tetsuya Nakamura (a former member of the legendary group WAR) who once played with Los Lobos, Hiroshima, Snoop Dog, and the legendary Carlos Santana. What struck us was his phenomenal sound that when paired with a drum took off into a whole new dimension of musical appreciation. It could be said that his performance once conjoined with the earlier than expected arrival of the LA based Kyudo Group IKKYU made for a strange juxtaposition if not an ingenious pairing with the Zen archery taking place evoking the imagery of Western influenced Samurai films of the 1960s. As with every year, IKKYU’s Ending Rite of Purification fired the traditional first arrow of the year which upon striking its designated target unleashed a flurry of colorful streamers onto the stage signaling the conclusion of this year’s show. 

As with every year, the select group of invited dignitaries take to the stage to deliver their new year’s greetings and participate in Kagamibiraki (breaking the Sake barrel) before the audience participates in the traditional sake toast. Following the Sake toast as per Kotohajime tradition, the assembled dignitaries then tossed out bags of mochi into the audience for good luck which often sends people scurrying to their feet to catch good fortune and delicious mochi treats rolled in one. Given how The Year of the Snake has treated this author, we made it a point not to go home empty handed. This year’s notable attendees in attendance were Japan Consul General Jun Nimi, former LA City Councilwoman Jan Perry, Singer/Songwriter Jackson Browne, and outgoing JACCC Chairwoman Sandy Sakamoto.

This year’s Kotohajime was undoubtedly a Japanese affair noting some absences of some of regular groups we have seen in the last four years reflecting some the changes taking place. While popular, the show itself remains a consistent visual cultural presence not found in other parts of the country making Little Tokyo and by that of the continued efforts of the JACCC to bring to the City of Angels a series of unique and rarely seen traditional Japanese cultural performances not seen anywhere else in the country. We wish JACCC continued success in that endeavor.

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