Celebrating Japan Day in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf celebrates its sizeable Japanese community on Saturday. Rhea Wessel explores the Rhineland’s hotbed for manga and miso.

Celebrating Japan Day in Düsseldorf
Photo: DPA

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.

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10 unmissable events in Germany this October

From dazzling light shows to quirky food festivals, October is a jam-packed month in Germany. Here are some of the events you won't want to miss.

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

Oktoberfest, Munich Teresienwiese, September 17th – October 3rd

As possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest needs no introduction – and for those who didn’t make it to Bavaria in September, there are still a few days left to catch it at the start of the month.

If you make it on the last bank holiday Monday, you can catch an especially rowdy party atmosphere as professional rifle shooters mark the end of the fest. But any other day at the Wiesn is an experience to remember, with live music and singing in all the tents, delicious Bavarian beer and a gigantic funfair for the most adventurous visitors.

And for those who can’t make it down to Bavaria at short notice, the Hofbräuhaus beer halls around the country celebrate their own mini-Oktoberfests with dancing, singing, live music and of course a crisp litre or two of Hofbräu. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

German Unity Day Celebrations, Erfurt Old Town, October 1st – 3rd 

Marking the day when West and East Germany were formally reunited back in 1990 – a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Tag der Einheit (Unity Day) is a truly special bank holiday in Germany. 

Each year, a different German city takes it in turn to host the annual Bürgerfest (citizen’s festival) in honour of Germany’s national day. This year, the Thuringian capital of Erfurt will be putting on an action-packed programme of political and cultural events all weekend. To start with, Germany’s five constitutional bodies – the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Federal President, Federal Government and Federal Constitutional Court – will be represented with large information stands on the theme of “Experiencing Politics”. And for those less keen to take a deep dive into the workings of government, each of the 16 states will have the best of their culture and cuisine on display. 

There’ll also be live concerts, performances and a light installation representing German reunification over the weekend, making a visit to scenic Erfurt well worth it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart, September 23rd – October 9th 

If you want to experience big folk festival but want to steer clear of the tourist crowd in Munich, look no further than Oktoberfest’s Swabian sister, the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. 

First launched in 1818, the festival has become a mainstay of the autumn calendar in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s an event that is fiercely proud of its Swabian roots. If you go, you can sample some of the best local beers and wines around, as well as other traditional Swabian delicacies. You can also go on rollercoasters and other fairground rides, hear trumpeting Oompah bands and get dizzy on the world’s largest mobile Ferris wheel. 

Weimar Onion Market, October 7th – 9th

Nobody can say that Germans don’t make the most of their seasonal produce – and Weimar’s historic Zwiebelmarkt (onion market) is no exception.

The Zwiebelmarkt tradition dates back as early as the 15th century, when traders would come to the bustling town of Weimar to sell their wares. Over the years, the onion market days became a major social event where locals would also gather to eat, drink and barter. These days, you’ll still find all things onion-related at the onion market, from arts and crafts to culinary treats. But there’s also a funfair, live music, beer tents and family friendly activities to boot.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, August 26th – December 4th

If you’re a fan of all things autumnal, look no further than Ludwigsburg Palace, which becomes home to the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition each year from late August to early December. 

It may sound novel, but a walk around the grounds of the palace will show you that in Ludwigsburg, the pumpkin artists certainly don’t do things by halves. Not only can you see incredible sculptures made from around 450,000 pumpkins in total, but you’ll also see a jaw-dropping 600 different varieties of pumpkin there as well. And if you work up an appetite while soaking up the exhibition, you can also sample some delicious pumpkin-based dishes, from soup to Maultaschen.

Pumpkin exhibition Ludwigsburg

Balu and Mowgli from the Jungle Book at the Ludwigsburg pumpkin exhibition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Filmfest Hamburg, 29th September – October 8

Though it tends to get overshadowed by the show-stopper Berlinale, film buffs who can’t wait until February will enjoy a trip to its Hanseatic sibling: Filmfest Hamburg.

Running throughout the first week of October, the Filmfest brings together the best of contemporary cinema from around the world at a range of venues around the city. This year, the festival is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, so there’s bound to be a truly special atmosphere at the event. 

You can find the full programme in English here.

Berlin Festival of Lights, October 7th – 16th

Each year in the middle of August, the familiar sights of the German capital are bathed in colourful light and transformed each evening into weird and wonderful artistic creations.

This year, the theme of the world famous light festival is “Visions of the Future” as artists explore the question: What will our future look like?

The fruits of their labours can be seen around the city each evening from 7-11pm, after it gets dark. Organisers says there will be a big focus on sculptures this year – as well as the usual large installations – as they seek to reduce their electricity use by 75 percent. 

Berlin cathedral at Festival of Lights 2018

Berlin cathedral lit up in colourful lights at the 2018 Festival of Lights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 19th – 23rd 

The world’s largest book fair is returning to Frankfurt this October with the theme of “translation”, exploring the idea of translating ideas into new languages, mediums and contexts.

Alongside the sprawling trade fair and conference, there will also be a packed schedule of literary events where people can hear reading and talks by popular authors. You can find out all about the exhibitors at the book fair this year and what’s on at the conference in English on the Frankfurt Book Fair website

Deutsches Weinlesefest, September 23rd – October 10th 

The picturesque wine-growing regions of western Germany hold wine festivals throughout the year, but the Wine Harvest Festival – or Weinlesefest – is by far one of the biggest.

Fittingly enough, the festival is held in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a pretty little town located along the famous Wine Route. For the few weeks of the festival, this sleepy little town hosts an enormous wine parade and around 100,000 wine-loving visitors. Head there on the 7th to see the crowning of this year’s Palatinate Wine Queen and sample some Rhineland wines out of a dubbeglas, a big glass that holds a whopping 50cl of wine. As always, drink responsibly! 

READ ALSO: 10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle, October 21st – November 6th 

If the name of Frankenstein’s Castle sounds familiar to you, it should do: apparently, Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, could well have been inspired by the castle when she visited the nearby town of Gernsheim in 1814. 

These days, however, the castle is known for something slightly different: in 1978, American airmen set up an annual Halloween festival at the castle, and the spooky tradition has continued to this day.

Halloween at Frankenstein Castle

A blood-curdling character at Frankenstein Castle’s Halloween Festival in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to enjoy what’s been described as one of the most spectacular Halloween experiences in the world, it’s well worth booking tickets to go up to the castle in late October. In the weeks around Halloween, the 1000-year-old castle is transformed in a phantasmagoria of monsters and evil beings lurking in the shadows.

Every year, the organisers of the festivals pull yet another technical trick out of their sleeve to ensure that visitors are more spooked than ever. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you think you can handle the adrenaline, it’s bound to be an action-packed night. 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?