asakusa

That’s ZENtertainment in Asakusa

If you watched America’s Got Talent in 2015, you’re sure to remember the energy and ingenuity of the Japanese dance group Siro-A.

That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
That Zentertainment – literally!

Their rubber-band-tight choreography fused with a blaze of cutting-edge visuals and an incredibly eclectic soundscape to wow judges and audiences all the way to the semi-finals. Their imagination-powered performances made for an unforgettably psychedelic impact as the troupe twisted, leaped, somersaulted and jived in a dazzling, full-of-surprises interaction with the lights and lasers.

Just four years before Siro-A got an award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, just three years before Siro-A did a  European tour, and a long-running show at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

Siro-A clown welcomes the crowd at That's ZENtertainment. Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
A colorful welcome on the stage of That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Tokyo

Fast-forward to 2017, and the amazingly lithe, imaginative and fun-loving boys from Sendai are now working their on-stage sorcery – with a big dash of comedy, dance, acrobatics and traditional Japaneseness – at the Rox 1 complex in Asakusa, Tokyo.

That’s ZENtertainment is a half-hour show that takes place several times a day just four minutes’ walk from the very famous Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

My partner and I attended the 9pm show on Monday night. The venue is the Yumemachi Restaurant Theater on the 4th floor of the Rox 1 building. It’s a big, high-ceilinged space with tables that you sit around over drinks and snacks.

Scale model of old Asakusa, foyer of That's ZENtertainment, Yumemachi Restaurant Theater, Asakusa.
Model of old Asakusa, Asakusa Rokku Yumemachi Theater foyer.

Antique advertising signs, foyer of Yumemachi Theater, Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo, Japan.
Antique advertisement collection in the foyer of the That’s ZENtertainment venue

The foyer has the added attraction of a huge display of authentic antique commercial signs, and scale models of the Asakusa townscape from before it was destroyed by the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake.

 The That’s ZENtertainment atmosphere is laid back and fun from the word go, with a friendly clown welcoming you in, singing me a snatch of a Maori song when he learned I was from New Zealand(!), taking our photo (cleverly incorporated later into the show) and making us feel very welcome and excited about what was to come.

Siro-A recreate Tokyo 2020 Olympics symbol at That's ZENtertainment. Asakusa, Tokyo.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics skit at That’s ZENtertainment

The show did not let us down. The dancing was dynamic, the visuals were spectacular, and the tricks played using sound and light were often jawdropping. Then the pace – the pace! We were on a rollercoaster being whizzed us through the kaleidoscope of color, dance and sound at gleeful speed, and we didn’t want it to stop.

As much as we (50+-year-old men) enjoyed it, it was a bit of a shame that there were no kids there that evening to appreciate the show, because the performance is a dream come true for under-18s brought up on electronic games and gadgets. Family entertainment extraordinaire!

Fun with traditional-style Japanese paper parasols at That Zentertainment, Yumemachi theater, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Parasol spectacle at That’s ZENtertainment

But the icing on the That’s ZENtertainment cake, or, should I say, the flavor of the cake itself, is deliciously and traditionally Japanese. Much of the show’s appeal is how it blends complete mastery of the latest digital technology with a relaxed and thoroughgoing familiarity with age-old Japanese culture. There’s even a bit of a kanji class woven into the fun – but in a way that’s a million memorable miles from chalk dust and textbooks.

The amount of entertainment value packed into that half-hour is breathtaking. For 1,999 yen, including a drink, it was cheap at half the price.

Siro-A dances with photos of the writer at That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Tokyo.
That’s me! That Zentertainment!


That’s ZENtertainment
is a must-do if you’re in Asakusa (which, if you’re visiting Tokyo, you’re almost sure to be). With up to six shows a day, it’s easy to slot That’s ZENtertainment into any schedule. If the Asakusa of temples, shrines, souvenirs, rickshaws and genteel old restaurants ever needed an extra dash of quintessentially 21st-century fun and color, That’s ZENtertainment is it!

Curtain at That Zentertainment, Yumemachi Gekijo Theater, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
The curtain fall on a fabulous show – That Zentertainment

That’s ZENtertainment
Yumemachi Gekijo Restaurant Theater
Rox 1 Building, 4th floor,
1-25-15 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
That’s ZENtertainment website

© JapanVisitor.com

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浅草サンバカーニバル

Decorated float the the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Partytime! A float at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016

Easygoing, fun-loving, downtown Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s most colorful areas even on an ordinary day – but positively dazzles at the end of August each year with the huge, Brazilian-inspired Asakusa Samba Carnival. This event recreating Rio in Tokyo is a celebration of dance, performance and music that has become part of Asakusa’s heart and soul over the past three decades, and draws crowds of up to half a million – rivaling that other huge annual Asakusa event, the Sanja Matsuri.

Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, 2016

The 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival happened again today at 1pm – the contest beginning at 1.30pm – and ended five spectacular, unbridled, kaleidoscopic hours later at 6pm. The approaching typhoon meant gray skies and scattered rain, but that didn’t deter anyone. The streets were a blaze of color and dancing, and were packed with exuberant spectators who, although on the sidelines, radiated just as much excitement as the participants.

35th Asakusa Samba Carnival in Asakusa, Tokyo with Skytree behind.
Tokyo Skytree forms backdrop to 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival

17 samba teams from around Japan took part today: veterans such as G.R.E.S. Uniao dos Amadores and G.R.E.S. Barbaros – both associated with the Carnival since its very beginning in 1981 – to relative newcomers like G.R.E.S. Sol Nascente, for whom this was their sixth carnival.

Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate, Tokyo, 2016.
Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple’s Kaminarimon Gate

The Carnival being a contest ensures that the teams are giving it their all, and the bad weather didn’t stand a chance against the mass enthusiasm. Each team whirled, gyrated, twisted and leaped to the samba sounds pumped out from each float. The costumes, floats, dancing and performing skills had to be seen to be believed: imaginative, intricate, inimitable.

A train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo

Japan has a large Brazilian population, and the participating teams include numerous Brazilian members; however, the vast majority of participants are Japanese, many of whom have spent time in Brazil absorbing and perfecting their carnival skills.

Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.

The contest was divided into two leagues. The S1 League is of teams of between 150 and 300 people and including the four essential elements of a carnival team: the comissao de frente (the lead group) the porta bandeira (flag bearer), the mestre sala (man dancing with the porta bandeira at the head of the group), and baianas (the women dancing in big hooped dresses). The S1 League winners this year were the formidable G.R.E.S. Barbaros (i.e. “Barbarians” – not named so for nothing!)

Jugglers and baianas at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Baiana dancers and jugglers, 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.

The S2 League is of teams of 30 to 150 members and doesn’t require the full complement of the above four carnival elements. The ICU Lambs were the S2 League winners this year.

Barbaros team's bandeiras at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Banners of the winning S1 League Barbaros team, 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016

The carnival climaxes during the last hour, 5 to 6pm, when the competition is at its hottest and the dancers and performers are at one with each other, the atmosphere, and the crowds – giving it everything they’ve got, absorbing and exuding carnival energy.

Starting just outside the Ekimise shopping building housing the Tobu Skytree Line’s Asakusa Station, the parade goes down to and right into Kaminarimon Avenue, past the huge red Kaminarimon Gate of Sensoji Temple, and finishes a few hundred meters further on at Sushiya-dori.

People from all over the world converge on the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Competition, 2016.
The whole world enjoys the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest 2016 in Tokyo

Enjoy these pictures of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival held on August 27, 2016, in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Jugglers juggle at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Jugglers at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Parade, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm tree costumes at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm trees at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo.
Drummers in parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Drumming parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016
Boat themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan 2016.
Boat-themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo.

Want the CD of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival songs? Inquire with GoodsFromJapan.

Read about the 2016 Brazil Festival in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

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