I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with summer in Japan. Some of the best events, both traditional Natsumaturi and modern music festivals (like Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic), take place, but it is hellishly hot and humid.  Good festivals are tempting but not worth the suffering, I concluded a long time ago. But I started to hear about Good Neighbors Jamboree a while back, and when I realized some of the biggest creative talents in Tokyo in music, fashion, food and craft brave the heat to go to even hotter Kagoshima in the hottest month of the year just for this event, I decided to give it a shot last year (which led them to invite me back this year to do a lecture). 

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The Jamboree is put together by Shinichiro Nakahara of Landscape Products, known for Play Mountain furniture store in Tokyo, among other things. Shin is originally from Kagoshima and found an old vacant schoolhouse in the woods of Kawanabe, a perfect spot for a summer festival.  The festival is in two parts; there is Zenyasai, a smaller night gathering on the eve, and the all-day main festival. 

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Food is a major component here. Some of the best food and alcohol providers, both from the region and Tokyo, (Ahiru Store, Open Book, Todoroki Saketen just to name a few), go down there with their best supplies.  Dinner on the eve was prepared by Shin Harakawa of Beard and Jerome Waag, a former chef of Chez Panisse who moved to Tokyo to open a restaurant.  They dug a hole in the ground and slow cooked a huge slab of pork wrapped in banana leaves next to heated stones for 20 hours. 

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During the main festival there are all kinds of workshops, from chair making to pottery making, where kids and grownups can walk away with their own pieces.  Every music act engaged the audience to participate.  My favorite by far was Otto Orabu, a far out progressive jazz orchestra (that is how it sounds to me, at least), made up of residents and stuff from Shobu Gakuen, a craft oriented facility for people with developmental challenges (craft pieces that come out of there are on another level, but that is a story for another day).  Orabu means to “shout” in the Kagoshima dialect and we all got to shout with them.  Everybody around me participated in this liberating “workshop.” In the end, Good Neighbors Jamboree was truly for everybody.

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/ Words and Photographs by Yumiko Sakuma /