Three-day festival celebrates 65 years of Japanese-Cambodian friendship

Say Tola / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Six JSR Gagaku monks perform during the Kizuna Festival. KT/ Say Tola

The Japanese Embassy in collaboration with the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Centre and Japan Foundation Asia held the 7th Japan-Cambodia Kizuna Festival at the CJCC from February 22-25. The event, which marked the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Cambodia, featured many vendors and a gallery, and drew large crowds, particularly university students from Phnom Penh.

Among the popular activities featured at the three-day, four-night festival were a concert by BATI-HOLIC; a JSR Gagaku workshop; demonstrations of origami paper-folding and ikebana flower arrangement; syo-do, or calligraphy; instruction in making Japanese rice balls, or onigiri; tea ceremony demonstrations; yokata-wearing sessions; experiences using eraser seals; and various lectures and exhibitions.

The festival’s “Beat of Japan” theme was aimed at demonstrating the strong musical ties that exist between Japan and Cambodia. It was hoped that under this theme, participants could feel closer to Japan and develop a deeper interest in Japanese culture.

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JSR (Jodo Shinshu Rensyo-kai) is the name used by Japanese Buddhist monks belonging to the Jodo Shinshu Honganjiha sect. They played a major role in the festival as well. Yet these Buddhist monks might surprise some Cambodians, as they just need to obtain a certificate after studying for four years at a Buddhist university. Besides respecting the rule of law in the country, this group doesn’t require monks to follow any specific disciplines.

There are many Buddhist sects in Japan, both classical and contemporary. Each group has to follow its own discipline and spiritual guidance. In the Jodo Shinsu Honganjiha group, monks have a lot of freedom, meaning they can marry and do other things as normal people do, which is quite different from monks in Cambodia, according to Yoshinobu Yasutake, one of the seven JRS Gagaku monks who participate in the festival.

The monks learned shomyo (Buddhist chanting) and gagaku (Japanese traditional music) at Honganji temples and now use them as tools to facilitate international exchange.

“Using musical instruments helps us to understand and memorise the dharma. This practice was initiated a long time ago,” added Mr Yasutake.

He added that the majority of sect members have ancestors who were monks. They want to be monks because they’ve seen the good things that monks do and respect their role as people who teach others to do good. The group has been involved in exchanges with Cambodian monks for 13 years. He said they particularly appreciate the way Cambodian monks maintain the original Buddhist teachings.

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Shugo Kurosaka, a member of the BATI-HOLIC group, said the ensemble had never done a drumming workshop before, though they have performed in many countries. However, the workshop this time aimed to engage Cambodians to build deeper ties.

“The performance we have put on today mixed the rhythms of traditional and contemporary music. We believe that it is unique and this is way it attracts lots of attention from people, especially youth,” Mr Kurosaka said.

He said the group had received lots of support from audiences, including Cambodian youths. More than that, however, he was really impressed by the friendliness of Cambodians. Therefore, he said, his band hopes to perform in the country again.

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