The annual Kerala festival in Tokyo

by Jeff Kingston

Special To The Japan Times

This is the traditional season for the Keralan festival called Onam, the one time a year when the mythical King Mahabali leaves the netherworld where he now rules and visits his people to help them celebrate the harvest and their traditions.

It is a time for celebrations strung out over 10 days, featuring performances of Keralan dance, song and other artistic performances fueled by arguably the best cuisine in all of India.

This is the most important festival for Keralans, marking the beginning of Chingam, the first month in the local Malayalam calendar. It is a carnival atmosphere of Snake Boat races, games, elaborate feasts and traditional arts. The accompanying Onasadya feast is typically served on banana leaves and involves nine sumptuous courses.

For the past 15 years, the Keralan community in Tokyo has sponsored an Onam Festival open to the public, and this year it was held on Sept. 10 in Edogawa Ward. This is convenient to where many in the Indian community live in Kasai, and it hosts the two Indian schools operating in Tokyo: the Singapore-based Global Indian International School and the Indian International School in Japan.

The festival is held annually on one day on the weekend as a concession to work schedules — although there is unfortunately no grand procession of bejeweled elephants, as is typical in Kerala.

Nihon Kairali, the Keralan community organization based in Tokyo, organizes the festival and various events throughout the year. It maintains a website (www.nihonkairali.com) with some 600 members, and provides information about upcoming activities, useful links for living in Japan, news about Kerala and much more.

Many of the Keralans in Tokyo work in IT and are part of a large diaspora, concentrated in the Persian Gulf, whose remittances home contribute considerably to the local economy.

Sree Kumar, one of the festival organizers, told The Japan Times that the Onam Festival is a chance to affirm ethnic identity and stay in touch as a community while raising awareness among their children about the vibrant traditions and cultures of home.

For a taste of the wonderful cuisine, cooked by Keralan chefs, check out Nirvanam in Kamiyacho or Kerala Bhavan in Nerima — but better yet, visit Kerala and enjoy one of the more stunningly beautiful places you will ever visit.

For a taste of classical Indian arts on Sept. 11, head to Densho Hall, Shibuya Cultural Center Owada, 23-21 Sakuragaokoa, Shibuya-ku. Tickets ¥4,000; Doors open at 4:30 p.m. For more details, visit indianclassicstokyo.blogspot.com