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Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009
WHERE IT'S AT
Countdown party India style
By MARIKO KATO
Almost a quarter of the Indian community in eastern Tokyo, adults and children alike, shared a lively countdown party with Japanese locals on Dec. 31.
"Chak de India Countdown Party 2009," held at a venue in Nishi Kasai in east Tokyo's Edogawa Ward, was attended by 450 people, who enjoyed traditional food, games and disco dancing.
The festivities were preceded by a somber moment of reflection, as the participants held a minute silence in memory of the victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November. A part of the event's proceeds is being sent to those affected by the tragedy.
The party, an annual event since 2004, then came to life as Indian families and friends chatted with each other, filled up on delectable cuisine from a variety of Indian regions and vied for prizes in a bingo game.
About 2,000 Indians live in Nishi Kasai, where many IT-related firms are located, according to Manoj Dewan, organizer of the event and manager of the local Indian restaurant chain Spice Magic Calcutta.
"Indians who arrive here collect together because they don't know about the area and the language," he said. He explained that people often share information with new residents about cheap local Indian grocery stores, stores that also enjoy the patronage of Japanese shoppers.
"This one is even better than last year's," said a male participant in his 30s of the party. "The food is authentic, and the bingo gets everyone excited," he added.
Some were attending for the first time. "I learned about this party through circular mail that goes around the Indian community," said a female participant, who attended with her 3-year-old daughter. "I'm enjoying it actually, because apart from the Indian festivals, this kind of party is the only big event in the calendar. It's a great opportunity for the kids to enjoy dancing together," she said, adding that although she has lived in Japan for seven years, she does not know much Japanese.
With two hours to go before the New Year countdown, excitement reached a climax as professional dancers in traditional Indian dress took command of the dance floor. Children ran giggling among them, while the crowd cheered.
For Dewan, it was a highlight that the four female performers were Japanese. "I made a special request to have them, because I felt it would be really good for the Indian community to see Japanese people doing the traditional dance," he explained, adding that he found the performers were very professional.
After a few sequences, the performers enticed the audience to join them on the floor, and the music turned to pop disco music as all prepared to boogie the year away.
First-time attendee Setsuko Wakabayashi, a Japanese local aid worker who sends support to south India, watched as she enjoyed the food.
"I've lived in Nishi Kasai for 20 years, but I'd never heard about such events before. I'm glad that they reached out to the Japanese community," she said. "Nishi Kasai is a great place to mix, as there is no sense of awkward unfamiliarity with foreigners here. I'd be interested in attending more events like this in the future," she added.
Many of the Japanese who joined the party had heard about it through hearsay, according to Dewan. "We target about 40 to 50 Japanese people when we advertise the event, but many of those who turned up had contacted me wanting to buy tickets," he said.
Some of the Japanese mixing with the Indians had actually helped to set up the event. "I was asked to move the necessary furniture to the location," said Masaki Kobayashi, director of Asia Moving, who joined in the dancing with his Japanese friend. "I've been to study in India before, so this is great fun," he added.
Dewan hopes to include more interested Japanese residents in future events. "It's great cultural exchange. It's an opportunity to be close to the Japanese people, especially those with whom we live together in Nishi Kasai," he said.
He plans to hold an event to celebrate the Holi festival in March.