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Manchester Japanese Festival: In conversation with the Festival Organiser

An interview with one of the creators and festival organiser of ‘Doki Doki – The Manchester Japanese Festival’. Andrew Gaskell talks to Phillip Beamon about the origins of the festival, his favourite moments and explains the popularity of Japanese culture.

Manchester and Japanese culture do not immediately spring to mind as a pairing but since 2011 the city has hosted ‘Doki Doki – The Manchester Japanese Festival’, last year attended by 2,800 people. Held at the Sugden Sports Centre, the festival celebrates both traditional and modern Japanese society, boasting all manner of activities and demonstrations including: martial arts displays, live music, fashion shows, film screenings, ‘cosplay’ competitions and even ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ tournaments.

Andrew Gaskell is the festival organiser and can trace his interest in Japanese culture back to two specific moments; “There’s actually two little points that actually got me involved in Japanese culture, the first was actually watching Michael Palin’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’. When he visited Japan it was just something that interested me and caught my eye. Out of all the places that he visited along that journey, I just really liked the Japanese segment. And what really got me interested in Japan was back in the early nineties when I went with Art College to the Victoria and Albert Museum and they had a massive modern Japanese pop cultural exhibition on. It had dioramas and video screens, smells, noises, sounds, everything to do with Tokyo basically. Those two things together got me interested in Japanese culture and Japanese people”.

Eventually Andrew would go on to run a Japanese themed shop in Affleck’s Palace in Manchester city centre and it was his encounters with like-minded people through the business that sowed the seeds of the festival; “There was a couple of people that used to come in who were part of the Japan Society North West and there was a couple of people who used to do film screening nights and it was one of these occasions where there were three of us in the shop, myself, Tim and Geoff. Geoff was talking about running a film screening night, Tim was on about Japan Day - a traditional event that his group runs and that year was in Liverpool, and the three of us just said “wouldn’t it be interesting if we could do something similar in Manchester?”

With additional recruits, pub-located brainstorming sessions followed for what was initially conceived as a far more humble affair; “Six of us literally sat in a pub and discussed doing an event which should only have two...three hundred people attending. We were going to hire The Green Room [now Gorilla] but it bloomed out of control, very fast and very quickly, we realised that there were way too many people interested in something like this. About halfway through the year, when ticket sales started coming in, we had to upscale as we realised [planning for] 300 people wasn’t going to cut it!”

Doki Doki Festival

When pressed for a reason for the success of the festival, Andrew isn’t sure himself; “It’s really hard to say how other people see it. The way I look at it is Japanese culture is very, very different to ours. If a first timer goes over to Japan they always get a culture shock, it maybe only lasts a few days but it is so different and I think it’s that difference that makes people interested in it. They produce a lot of things that appeal to older teenagers and younger twenty-somethings like anime and manga, from the pop culture side of things. Insofar as the traditional side of things, there has always been an interest because Manchester once was home to many Japanese families; there were a lot of big Japanese companies based in the city in the 80s and 90s and they brought their families over with them. And because of those families and businesses, there are a lot of people of my age and older that developed an interest in Japanese culture”.

Come festival day Andrew will be a busy man, the curse of being one of the creators of an event the size of Doki Doki is that he has precious time to enjoy the fruits of his labour. But even so, he still has top picks he tries not to miss; “We’re showing a film this year which is absolutely beautiful called Miss Hokusai, which is based on the true story of a street artist. On top of that I’m really looking forward to a traditional dancer, who’s trained in all forms of Japanese dance styles. She’s an absolutely beautiful dancer and no matter what I’m doing I’ll take the time out to go and see Awa Siren. There is also taiko drumming performances, which you can hear from the other side of the hall and is this immense power which is quite uplifting”.

Andrew is understandably proud of the event that he and the rest of the team have nurtured; “The whole day is jam packed full of different things to find and see. At no point during the day is nothing happening”. Doki Doki always promises to be educational day, but not a dry boring kind of educational - the fascinating and captivating kind; “If you have an interest in Japanese culture both modern and traditional, there is something there for you”.

The Doki Doki Festival is on 12 November 2016 at Sugden Sports Centre, Manchester.
Tickets available on the door or at www.dokidokifestival.com

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