Saturday afternoon and evening was the Canberra Nara Candle Festival and I was pretty excited to see if it was going to be super pretty.
Unfortunately I work hard for the money and couldn’t get there before 5, so I missed a lot of the exciting stuff like mochi pounding and some of the performances.
I wanted to just explore and see what I expected to be a very beautiful festival, much like Floriade is a beautiful festival but actually I was a bit disappointed.
Arriving on my bike I started by following the sound of drums and finding the drumming workshop – two adults leading a big circle of children. I watched for a while and enjoyed the energy. I took a photo but almost felt bad since it’s full of children.
I moved on to the kite area. The sky was so full of kites that I’m surprised I managed to walk through the area without getting tangled. There was one kite abandoned in a tree but everyone else was doing a great job of avoiding each other. I was quite happy to see so many adults enjoying the kites and would have bought or borrowed one if the line wasn’t so tragically long!
Next was the wishing tree. Anyone could make a wish. I have something particular I would have liked to wish for but seeing the group of children writing on the coloured paper and pinning them to the branches I thought maybe it was best to leave them to their fun.
Continuing on my circuit I then passed a line of tents selling “Japanese inspired fashion.” There was one tent selling kimonos and other Japanese style ladies’ fashions but even then, I was left asking myself “Who goes to a cultural festival to buy clothes and accessories?” If all Nara means to you is a pretty new handbag then you, madam, are a bogan and I don’t want to know you!
Similarly, I was truly astonished at the long lines for the many food stands. One boasted “Japanese Sushi” and I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s any better than the stuff I eat every day at home (or occasionally at Mee’s or one of the malls) and others simply offered soft drinks, alcohol or poffertjes. Somebody even sold Japanese pancakes. Again, Ms. Bogan may think that culture and cuisine are the same thing but I was particularly unimpressed with the preoccupation with food considering that it was much too early for dinner.
Finally I found the other little pocket of culture. There was a stage set up and there was actually some good performance happening on the stage. I only saw the granddad j-pop group from Sydney and the teens following but I was pretty impressed with both. There were lots of parents encouraging their kids to enjoy the j-pop group. Unfortunately M-Flo weren’t available but these guys had a groove. The teenagers speaking/singing and the adults accompanying/dancing afterwards put on a very interesting performance of a Japanese creation myth. It was extraordinarily long so I didn’t catch all of it but it sounded great and I rather want a shakuhachi now.
The candles were eventually lit while all this was going on and I’ve sent some pictures of them during the lighting. They also lit up the trees red using some tacky LED lighting strips that are immediately obvious if you’re right next to them looking at the candles (and extremely unnecessary). There was some story about candle cups being sent from Nara or something but I’m not entirely sure what it was.
I didn’t have a problem with the festival exactly, but a lot of community events are genuinely suited to all ages (except the really rebellious teenagers who are determined not to have fun) that I as surprised to feel like I had crashed a five year old’s birthday party.
My final question is “why doesn’t Nara Park have cherry trees?” Honestly, it’s the Canberra spring festival and the Nara Park doesn’t have any sakura. Even ume blossoms would have been lovely! Apparently it’s Japanese because there’s a pagoda.
I’m glad I went because I’ve never been before and I don’t think I’ll have a chance to go again, but I can’t say it satisfied anything other than my curiosity.