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Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009
WHERE IT'S AT
African and Mideast culture in spotlight at biannual Tokyo bazaar
Thousands of people sampled the tastes of Africa and the Middle East during the 15th charity bazaar held in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district on Oct. 27 by Nihon Chukinto Africa Fujinkai.
With the participation of people from 28 African and Middle East embassies and a number of nonprofit organizations, the venue attracted many Japanese and also a large number of foreign visitors.
The bazaar offered them a multicultural experience: national flags of participating nations decorated the walls and some of the shoppers wore African and Middle Eastern national dress.
It also offered visitors a chance to taste a wide range of cuisines — hummus, chicken shawarma (an Arabian sandwich), and Egyptian koshari (rice and vegetables) — prepared by chefs from the different embassies.
Items sold at the booths were also things that people probably do not commonly see in Japan, including Algerian hand-made pottery, baskets plaited by women in Rwanda, and African and Middle Eastern clothes.
Accessories made from African beads and fabrics made by association members are also sold.
The bazaar is hosted every two years by Nihon Chukinto Africa Fujinkai (Japanese Ladies' Friendship Association for Africa and Middle East), whose members are women who have lived in or who are interested in countries in those regions.
Proceeds from the event are evenly distributed among the ambassadresses of the participating countries and then sent to their homelands to support welfare for children and women there.
Toshiko Sawai, president of the association, said the bazaar started almost at the same time as the launch of the association in 1981 by her predecessor, Ayako Shigemitsu, whose husband was a Japanese ambassador to Nigeria.
Sawai, who was not a member when the association was founded, said Japan's interest in Africa at that time was not as high as it is now. The number of embassies that African countries have in Tokyo was also not as large as it is today, she added.
The association was created for African diplomats coming to Japan to be able to have a more profitable time in Japan and to promote exchanges.
The first bazaar was held in 1981, and profits from that event were used to support Palestinian refugees as well as people across Africa who were suffering hunger and malnutrition.
"The event has gotten bigger and bigger, and it now attracts about 2,000 people," said Sawai. It is also attended by VIPs, including lawmakers and sometimes even members of the Imperial family.
Since its founding, the association has donated more than ¥100 million to the countries in the region.
While the bazaar has now become a big event, it retains its original intimate and homey atmosphere.
Sawai said it is a good opportunity for visitors to taste African cultures.
Visitors at last week's bazaar seemed to agree, saying the event is a chance to interact with other cultures for a good cause.
"It is nice because it brings everybody from different cultures together, and makes people aware that there are other cultures out there besides their own," said Ifeoluwa Bamgbose, 22, of Nigeria.
Bamgbose, who lives in the United States and was visiting her mother in Tokyo, came to the event with her mother and helped run a booth selling Nigerian food. She said it was fascinating to introduce her country's culture and see how people react to it.
Eriko Hidaka Gbevegnon, whose husband is from Benin and who used to live there and in neighboring Niger, said it was good to see the familiar food and products from the region.
"I am impressed and glad that this kind of event for a good cause is held in Japan and the fact that there are so many people coming to it," she said.