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Japanese culture celebrated at Ohio State festival

OSU students learn how to write Japanese characters at the 9th Annual Japanese Spring FEstival at the Ohio Union April 19.  Credit: Kaydee Laney / Lantern photographer

OSU students learn how to write Japanese characters at the 9th Annual Japanese Spring Festival at the Ohio Union April 19.
Credit: Kaydee Laney / Lantern photographer

People from all different ethnicities joined together Saturday in the Ohio Union to celebrate one thing: Japanese culture.

Saturday was the ninth annual Japanese Spring Festival, an event presented by the Ohio State Japanese Student Organization, with the purpose of showcasing traditional and modern Japanese culture.

More than 250 people arrived at the Ohio Union Performance Hall for the event, which was filled with booths in the form of a U-shape with a cluster of tables in the center where visitors sat using chopsticks and ate Japanese food from the local Tensuke Market. With careful bites, people filled their mouths with pieces of bean bread, cream bread, melon bread and bites from their bento boxes.

While their fingers gripped their chopsticks, their eyes were directed toward the stage.


The Performances

As people ate at tables and gathered around the surrounding booths, the festival featured performances that mixed conventional and contemporary styles.

The first performer stood alone on the stage, dressed in a long emerald green kimono. She performed a traditional kimono fan dance, moving with delicacy and grace to the music, a small yet commanding figure dancing elegantly on the stage.

While the first performance set a tone of tradition, the following performances illustrated the diversity of traditional and modern Japanese culture.

The performances ranged from traditional dances and various martial arts performances to hip-hop dances, an a capella group and a rock ‘n’ roll performance by The Sake Hut Basement Jam, the Japanese Student Organizations’s own rock band.

One performance that captivated the audience was a group of eight small children as they demonstrated a style of martial arts called Kendo.

“It’s kind of a type of Japanese fencing,” explained JSO member Austin Larger, as he turned facing the stage, watching their performance.

The children stood in a line on the stage dressed in bogu, or protective armor, next to their instructors.

First joined by synchronized strokes of their large Shinai, a rod made from bamboo, they then demonstrated their skills by charging at their instructors and using their Shinai to strike the instructors’ protective helmet or “men.”

“The most points are earned if you aim for the head,” explained Larger, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering and Japanese.


The Interactive Activities

In addition to the traditional food and variety of performances, the free event offered more than 12 different stations for visitors to make origami, play traditional Japanese games, purchase gifts, artwork and jewelry, write in Shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and try on a variety of luxuriant silk kimonos.

Columbus Kimono representatives displayed their collection and demonstrated how to dress in a kimono. Attendees then had the opportunity to wear a kimono and pose for a photograph.

“It’s awesome they have people here to help you wear them. It’s a pretty challenging process to try to do by yourself,” said Jordin Scheen, a fourth-year in Japanese and construction systems management.

At the northwest corner of the room, women dressed in embroidered silk kimonos served green tea, or matcha. Guests were taught how to correctly receive the opaque matcha following the basics of the Japanese tea ceremony. The process involves taking the cup, or chawan, in the right hand while resting it upon the palm of the left hand, leaning one’s head to bow once, turning the chawan clockwise two times with the right hand, sippig, wiping the part of the chawan where one’s lips touched with the right hand then turning it counterclockwise and returning it to the host.

In addition to these many booths set up in the hall, JSO’s poster greeted those who entered and embodied the spirit of the Spring Festival through its words: “Our events are made not only to facilitate diversity but also friendship between all members through active participation.”


The People

JSO is not exclusive to Japanese students — it is comprised of students from various ethnicities including Indian, European and Hispanic decent, said Kavya Gopalakrishnan, a JSO member and a first-year in animal sciences.

“I’m actually part-Hawaiian,” said Camille Dubois, one of the co-presidents.

Dubois, a third-year in Japanese and world economy and business, said she came to OSU because of its incredible Japanese and East Asian programs after traveling to Japan in high school.

“JSO has provided a really great environment for people like me to explore Japanese culture and be connected to opportunities to share that passion with others on campus,” Dubois said in an email.

Gopalakrishnan commented on her connection to JSO as she stood wearing a bright blue “happi” for her later performance in a Japanese traditional fisherman’s dance titled JSO-Ran Bushi, which she learned at a JSO workshop earlier in the year.

Gopalakrishnan, originally from India, said JSO is “like a family.”

For Scheen, his decision to join JSO marked a leap from the anti-Japanese sentiment of his grandmother’s time to the more accepting world today.

Scheen, wearing a summer kimono called a jinbei, explained that he is one-fourth Japanese and said he was the one who really brought Japanese culture to his family.

“My grandmother came to the U.S. after World War II,” he said. Scheen added that his grandmother changed her name and broke off connections to her traditional culture.

“She was embarrassed about speaking the language and considered herself 100 percent American.”

Nika Zhang, co-president of JSO and a fourth-year in human resources, said the event was a good experience for people who are interested in Japanese to learn more about the culture and for exchange students to talk to more local students and make friends.

The performances, food, conversations and activities of the festival brought a diverse array of people together to learn from each other and do one thing, Zhang said: “to learn the importance of preserving the traditions.”

“I think it’s our responsibility to help preserve the culture,” she said. “Culture is not a physical object. If people choose to neglect it, it is impossible to pass down to the next generations.”

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