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Big in Japan and in many Cape Town hearts

A few weeks ago I emceed Japan Day. This is an annual celebration of a cross cultural exchange that has characterized Japanese – South Africa relations since the presence of the first Japanese consulate a hundred years ago.

Quite incredible that this small office in Cape Town has already been in existence for 100 years. it is the oldest Japanese mission in Africa.

The acknowledgement and celebration of that fact dominated this year’s Japan Day. In so doing the consulate initiated more displays and cultural groups to further highlight Japanese Culture and the healthy relationship between South Africa and Japan.

The day was held in Stellenbosch at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre. The venue enjoys a traditional Saturday market which Japan day became a feature of on what turned out to be summer’s last hurrah.

The beautiful day ushered in many delighted guests who not only enjoyed the market wares and offerings but were pleasantly surprised at what Japan Day offered.

The response from patrons, which the consulate shared with me on the Monday after, illustrated the growing popularity of the initiative and how people enjoyed the variety of displays and opportunities that were on offer.

To give you some idea: there were Bonsai displays; Japanese toys, arts and of course food demonstrations. There was also an opportunity for people to teach English in Japan as part of the Japanese English training (JET) programme.

This year they also included the screening of popular anime’s and also gave people the opportunity to meet and chat to a Manga artist.

The variety of martial arts displays is always a highlight. Thus year they also sported a Japanese group displaying karate! The group was lead by one of Japan’s most respected martial arts Sensei’s. You may think that this is odd, “are not all the groups Japanese?”.

In fact, no, they are not!

This is where the magic of the cross-nationality pollination lies, as the groups and displays presented on that Saturday were all from Cape Town based organisations or groups.

Stellenbosch University for example has a few Japanese martial arts clubs and they were on hand to display their Kendo skills. The Bonsai display and head of the Cape Town Club is lead by a gentlemen called Herman who lives in Hermanus. The Akido club is locally well supported and ably lead by Sensei Fu’aad.

Then of course, there was also the very popular Cosplay showcase. Cosplay is an art form where individuals dress up in costumes that reflect or represent an anime or Manga character. It is a bit more than dress up as the idea behind Cosplay started when people who struggled to express themselves found a new form of confidence and assertion when dressing up…or when representing a character. Moreover the costumes are also not bought. Cosplayers make their own costumes from a range of second materials. There has to be a ‘labour of love’ element in what you create, else it is not a true cosplay.

I enjoyed hosting the day alongside my co-host Yas Naito, who is part of the Japanese club in Cape town. Personally, this was a very touching moment too. My late wife, Charlene was an integral part of the Japan Day. She initiated it 6 years ago, so I felt it was appropriate that I end my association with Japan Day by emceeing the centenary edition.

I must confess that I initially balked at the idea of being the emcee, but when I witnessed how Charlene’s former associate’s, friends and colleagues all told me how they enjoyed working with her, and how these nameless folk shared their anecdotes with my daughters’, I knew I did the right thing by attending.

It reminded me yet again that what we do in this life lives on long after we are no longer around.


Benito Vergotine – Anchor of The Honest Truth, Monday – Thursday 20:00 – 22:00 on Smile90.4FM