Don't be surprised if you see more people dressed as comic book figures than in kimonos at this year's Japan Day in Düsseldorf. Organisers of the annual gathering celebrating Japanese culture expect up to 10,000 costumed anime figures to pop right out of their mangas and walk the streets of the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia on Saturday.
The anime fans have taken to replaying the stories of their comic books in so-called Cosplays, or Costume Plays. For the second year, they will perform in an area of the festival space on the banks of the Rhine River that will be dedicated to the thriving Japanese pop culture that blends both cuteness and violence.
Düsseldorf's Japan Day certainly isn't some stuffy recognition of Japanese life in Germany. It's a gigantic event likely to draw some 800,000 enthusiasts from around country. Bringing tens of millions of euros to Düsseldorf businesses, the festival allows visitors can see, hear, feel and taste Japan all in one day. Highlights includes typical Japanese cultural specialties such as Taiko drumming, origami paper folding, tea ceremony demonstrations and, of course, plenty of sushi.
What makes the festival unique is that it draws on greater Düsseldorf's roughly 7,000 Japanese residents and its numerous cultural institutions. These include Japanese schools and kindergartens, a large Japanese club with thousands of members, a cultural center with a Japanese garden and a public library as well as a wide variety of Japanese owned and operated businesses.
Check out the event schedule in advance to plan your visit to the festival that winds up with fireworks over the Rhine. After the lights on the outdoor stage have gone down at 10 pm, the night sky will be filled with colour. Those near the event's main stage will be treated to musical accompaniment for the fireworks, courtesy of the Düsseldorf Symphony.
The heart of Japanese life in Düsseldorf (on days besides the festival) is centred around Immermannstraße, near the Oststraße metro station.
During a stroll in this area, you may come across Japanese bakeries, bookshops that sell the latest Japanese pop-culture items, Japanese supermarkets and a wide choice of restaurants and design shops.
At an establishment called Bakery My Heart at Marienstraße 26, you can curiously eye delicacies such as teriyaki hamburgers on sesame seed buns (€2.70) and fried noodles packed into sandwiches with carrots and parsley (€1.50). Japanese mothers pushing their strollers will buy their bread staples for the day as you contemplate another combination that surely has its roots in Düsseldorf's Japanese-German society: a sandwich of battered and fried shrimp and fish with cabbage and tartar sauce.
Browsing some shops that sell custom-made straw tatami mats and other Japanese home accessories can quickly give you the urge for lunch. Head over to Na Ni Wa, a restaurant at Oststraße 55. People sit on a bench that extends on one side of the restaurant to wait for this place's famous noodles. Once unlocked, the locale fills up quickly with a mixture of Asian and European customers.
An order of Japanese dumplings, a small noodle soup, and a salad with fried fish, shrimp or chicken will run you €13.00 for an excellent meal prepared in front of your own eyes by the chefs working the line behind the bar. No wonder customers are lining up before they even open for lunch. Across the way, the same restaurant operates a sushi bar that's equally successful.
But at the festival on Saturday, visitors will have their choice of scores of stands selling Japanese delicacies, including noodles, pastries and bread.
Düsseldorf likes to bill itself as a Rhineland metropolis, but it's still small enough that things can fill up fast on Japan Day. This makes booking ahead a necessity if you care to watch the fireworks aboard one of the riverboats plying the waters of the Rhine on Saturday night.