Friday, June 21, 2013

Estudiantina Komaba

University of Tokyo, Japan (May 20, 2012)

With my meeting starting on Monday morning, I had to kill the whole day of Sunday. The idea was to figure out where the University of Tokyo Hongo campus was located, so hat I could make it in time the next day for the meeting (for reasons that will be clear in the next post, I was actually planning to be there the next day well in advance of the meeting scheduled time). According to Google map and the instructions I received before leaving, it was quite straightforward: walk along the Ueno Park pond for a couple of blocks, then turn left and there you go.

Well, it is never so easy. The University campus is in fact on a hill, level with the streets on the East side but way uphill on the side facing the park. To further complicate the access, the campus is surrounded by high walls, with only a few gates allowing entrance to the steep roads leading to the University buildings. Of course this was not mentioned in the instructions, given that most of the meeting participants were staying in the recommended hotels on the West side (facility of access was clearly the reason for such recommendations). So I found myself going round and round around the walls, looking for a way in.

Ueno Park, Tokyo (May 20, 2012)
Mayli complains that my sense of orientation is a little challenged, and that may have played some part in me getting partially lost. To get myself out of trouble, I decided to follow the wisdom of the crowd: I noticed that a lot of people (really a lot) were walking in the same direction, apparently with a sense of purpose much more secure than my random wondering. That was a little surprising (why all that people would want to go to the University campus on a Sunday) but how could they all be wrong? I decided to follow. The solution to the mystery came in the form of the annual May Fair, the University of Tokyo equivalent of Iowa State Veishea. Every year in Spring the University campus opens its door and invites the public in. There is food from all over the world, magicians, students dressed like in Anime and of course music. Japanese pop music, you would think? Yes, but not only. In fact I have been lying all the time, with the story of getting lost and not knowing about the May Fair. Mayli had read about it in her favorite blog Caracas Chronicles

Why a venezuelan blog was writing about a student festival in Japan? Because among the music groups playing at the fair there was the Estudiantina Komaba, an all-japanese ensemble playing exclusively Venezuelan music. They are portrayed in the large photo on top, but you can find their music all over the internet, including YouTube. The group was created in 2009 by Prof. Jun Ishibashi, that in the '80s was a visiting scholar at the Central University in Caracas. Every year new students join the group, that has grown to have a sizable repertoire of Venezuelan music, from the Andes to the Caribbean coast. They are quite good, and in fact they have a lot of fans even in Venezuela. After spending an hour or so at their concert in the Engineering building I headed back to the hotel. That was not the last concert of the day, however. As the small photo on the left show, I happened to find more music on a stage in Ueno Park. I am not sure what kind of event it was, but it looks like many serious "amateur" groups were playing traditional music (japanese traditional, this time) to a very enthusiastic audience. At least this is what the meaning of the word written on the banner on stage (ikouze = "let's do it") suggests it was. Anybody knows for sure?

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