TORONTO — The Japanese and Canadian communities here in Ontario recently kicked off a six-week celebration showcasing Japanese culture and lifestyle.

Access Japan 2000, a festival of 33 mostly free events, will highlight traditional and contemporary Japanese culture with a taste of business insight.

The festival, which runs until Nov. 5, will entertain the public through demonstrations, concerts, exhibits, film screenings and seminars. World-renowned saxophonist Sadao Watanabe is headlined as one of the top draws.

Access Japan 2000 joins a roster of international festivals that pepper this multicultural city, from the recent Toronto International Film Festival to the colorful Caribana Caribbean street competition. It features North America’s biggest parade, which brings more than a million visitors to town each summer.

Japan-related business and cultural activities are constantly held in Ontario. However, because of their independent nature they don’t always receive attention from the wider Canadian community. Many of the programs in Access Japan 2000 are annual community events that have been incorporated into the festival.

In this city of 4.6 million and 100 ethnic groups — the most multicultural in Canada — permanent-resident Japanese Canadians total 20,000. Their presence is not as formidable as the Chinese, who total 400,000, according to the latest census report. Despite the modest Japanese presence, however, Access Japan 2000 set out to introduce a broad spectrum of Japan to Toronto and the southwestern Ontario region through a broad array of high-quality Japan-related events.

Firms such as Toyota, Honda, Sony, Panasonic and Nissan command instant association with Japan. However, the likes of Tsugaru shamisen folk music, Aki Matsuri (autumn festival) and Shu Shi Fu calligraphy are less recognizable. These and other facets of Japan will be showcased during Access Japan 2000.

By promoting it all under one umbrella, and with publicity agreements and coverage through the local print and electronic media, the organizers hope that the event will give Ontario a more well-rounded look at Japan.

“Somehow I hope by using the banner of Access Japan 2000 that the eyes of Ontarians will be attracted and that they will peruse and find something interesting” about Japanese culture, says Satoshi Hara, consul general of Japan in Toronto and the event’s chairman.

The festival was spearheaded by the consulate and other organizations, including the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre, the New Japanese Canadian Association, and the Canada-Japan Society of Toronto.

Support also came from Canadian and Japanese-related businesses. Tokyo backing is represented through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation.

A gala evening featuring the Joshu Yagibushi folk dance troupe from Isezaki, Gunma Prefecture marked the official opening. Festival drums and shinobue flute music filled the night while stalls entertained the crowd with everything from origami and goldfish-catching to kimono-dressing.

Other public events included an ikebana flower arrangement show and an anime cartoon film festival; a prototype Japanese children’s museum was inaugurated and an annual Nikkei Heritage day was proclaimed to get the festival rolling.

If the response to Ikebana 2000 Ontario, held Sept. 23-26 at the Japan Foundation Toronto, is any indication of the success of Access Japan 2000, the organizers have hatched a golden egg.

“Many people who know nothing about ikebana are coming out to the show. Some are even interested in taking up the pastime,” says curator Gregory Williams.

No doubt the insertion of 400,000 glossy Access Japan 2000 brochures in a Toronto-based daily newspaper, and regular ads on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio station will also help to pique the interest of more people unfamiliar with Japan and bring them inside festival doors.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.