Yesterday I travelled up to London for the first ever Festival Asia. Billed as ‘London’s largest indoor festival on all things Asia’, it sounded like it would be right up my street. The 3-day festival was held in London’s Tobacco Dock, which is not a venue I had ever been to before. It’s a little out of the way, in east London, and it really is quite an interesting space. The building is a Grade I listed warehouse, constructed some time around 1811 primarily as a store for imported tobacco. The venue has character, but it was quite an ambitiously large space to use for a new event.
I arrived just in time to see Taiko West perform. Taiko West were one of the few Japanese acts to be on the main stage, so I wanted to make sure I caught them in action. A lot of the performances throughout the three days were repeated, but unfortunately the other Japanese act I had been hoping to see, Hibiki Ichikawa and Akari Mochizuki, did not play on the Saturday. Still, Taiko West did not disappoint, and the taiko drums really sounded great in that space.
Although I attended the festival to enjoy every aspect of Asian culture presented to me, I naturally went on the hunt for Japanese things. The food was a little disappointing – I had seen photos of sushi on the event website, but the only Japanese food that seemed to be on offer for lunch was all chicken based (I don’t eat chicken).
Luckily Wagashi were there to save the day with dorayaki and matcha drinks!
I had an interesting chat with a chap from the British Go Association, who explained the basics of the game to me and told me that the game was popular in Japan, China and Korea. Go (囲碁 / igo), literally meaning ‘encircling game’ is a Chinese strategy game in which two players place their black and white stones on the vacant intersections of a board, attempting to surround a larger area of the board than their opponent.
Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day, which certainly helped to ignite the festival atmosphere. I didn’t quite feel like I was at an Asian festival, but I did spot some beautiful kimonos and other traditional Asian costumes as I sat people watching.
There were stalls selling Asia goods of all descriptions, including anime character goods. I managed to resist buying something new and fluffy.
As well as the Japanese entertainment, there were of course acts from lots of other parts of Asia. In particular, I enjoyed the Indonesian dancing, Korean music, Chinese lion dance and the belly dancing (which was mesmerizing!).
At £12.50 for an advance adult ticket, or £15 on the door, I think I would have felt a little disappointed if I had paid to get in. The website for the event promised great things, but I felt the Festival Asia still had a little growing to do. In a couple of years this could be a really great festival, but right now it is still very much in its infancy. I did really enjoy what I saw, but after a couple of hours I felt I had seen everything and to be honest I was a little bored. There wasn’t even that much I wanted to spend my money on! Still, I think this is a great idea for a festival in London, and with just a little bit more work and more support from acts in and around the city, next year’s event (if it returns) could be really good.