Sunday, 20 July 2008

Japan Day in Liverpool

I have just about recovered from yesterday - I was much too tired to blog when I got home!

Japan Day was held at the Guild of Students, Liverpool University. The building looked like it was new in the Beatles' day. Very early sixties and showed it. The get in got off to a bad start. The organisers (Japan Society North West) had sent some maps but nothing that showed which unloading door actually was "door C". Also nothing to indicate that there were about 12 steps up to the door. There was a hydraulic lift, which was kept firmly padlocked during the whole of the get in and get out - surely that would have helped the people selling Japanese furniture (Tansu).

We are just too used to doing shows with professional events organisers like Grosvenor Exhibitions and Creative Exhibitions (Twisted Thread) who have it all organised!

Arriving in the hall, I was surprised that my area wasn't labelled or marked out on the floor in any way. Originally, I was supposed to be stand 19, then it got changed to 17 - not a problem, but nothing where either space should have been. I hunted down one of the organisers and he told me we would need to set up behind the steel shutter that linked the hall to the bar area. The shutter would be raised so the Ambassador could make a grand entrance to the stage. So we had to cart everything through two sets of fire doors and attempt to set up the table working only from the back - if they had just raised the shutter for half an hour, we could have got everything in so much quicker. It was so dark in the bar, I put my apron on inside out and I couldn't see to prep or mark out anything. When the shutter was raised, it wasn't much better. I had to get a cloth from the bar to try to clean the beer off the shelf next to us - the floor tiles were sticky with beer all over. JAL, the sponsors, had a display board partly blocking access to our space. Once a member of the public had managed to fall over it, we moved it to one side... You can see how gloomy it is by the shadow on the side wall!

The organisers didn't seem to understand my concerns re Health and Safety of trying to have three demo stands set up with four 6ft tables in an open quad formation, with all the demonstrators inside the square. They already knew I had a quilt display frame to fit in there. We had to move the tables, or we would have been falling over each other. My neighbours had asked for electricity to run their laptop slideshow, but we realised after a few hours (presumably when the battery started to run low) that the socket wasn't working at all.

The poor lighting meant visitors couldn't really see what I was doing and my display was in semi darkness. People couldn't see the colour of the fabric I was working on, it was that bad! The flahs photos make it look better than it was. Really, it was not necessary for the three demo spaces to be pushed back into the bar, as the space in front only gave visitors an overspill and access to the side of the stage, which would have been blocked off by our stands if we had been in the hall, stopping members of the public strolling through the area where aikido and other martial arts demonstrators were trying to group before their stage spots. The anime (Japanese cartoon) artist was also in semi darkness and we had to loan her a table cover to hide the scrappy table top.

I can't tell you who all the demonstrators and traders were, as the organisers didn't give each stand a show guide (normal practice at most events like this). There was some stunning Japanese embroidery and the bonsai display was beautiful. Your could try out things like origami. An interesting display of Japanese model railways -

The best part of the day was meeting up with some other members from the Immortal Geisha forums - Shigatsuhana and Umeboshi san. I'll post photos later. There are more pictures there too (scroll down the page).

I had a good viewpoint for all the stage events, so that was interesting, but there wasn't much time to see the rest. The taiko drumming was great. The group explained their style was from Western Japan, and it certainly had a different sound from Yuza Taiko - including a large gong in the ensemble. They had a very young dancer who was really energetic. I was interested to know more about the dancing, because it was quite unusual, but didn't get a chance to chat. Once everything was over, the hall staff wanted us out asap, and were hassling us to get our stuff out of the bar so they could close the shutter again! The taiko group had to carry their drums (big stuff) down the flight of steps.

Eventually, I piled the rest of my stuff on one of the trestle tables and dragged it over the shutter cill. My last glimpse of the hall was of the manager hassling the staff from Tansu about when they would finish getting their furniture out! They had put out a very impressive display.

In evaluation, I wouldn't pay to demo sashiko at another event like this. I would rather attend as a visitor or go as an all out trader with my kimono and Japanese fabrics. People really want to see a version of Japan that fits their preconceptions - plenty of martial arts, maybe some people in kimono, drumming, bonsai etc. The Japan of travel brochures. It would have been just as productive and more fun to go as a visitor. Here is a composite "Japanese" picture for you - koi from Teien garden with the bridge from Mt Haguro - in almost tourist brochure style!

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