Japan Night: bringing together traditional and modern culture

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The PSU Taiko Ensemble performing at Japan night 2016. Jamon Sin/PSU Vanguard

The Japanese Student Society presented the annual Japan Night in the Smith Memorial Student Union at Portland State on May 27. Japan Night celebrated and promoted Japanese traditional and modern culture on the PSU campus.

The event consisted of Japanese foods, music, dance, art, comic acts and booths, as well as a special performance and lecture by a guest artist from Japan.

Nearly 360 tickets were sold for the event, and many people in attendance were students from PSU. Michiko Yoshinaga, a junior studying Japanese linguistics and president of JSS, expressed that the event welcomed both domestic and international students to enjoy Japanese culture. Yoshinaga has served as the president of JSS for the past two years and has utilized her multinational background to contribute to an understanding between Japanese and American communities.

“This is a good chance for both American and Japanese people to make friends,” Yoshinaga said. “Students will enjoy themselves while being able to learn new aspects of the Japanese culture.”

Japan Night not only promotes Japanese culture, but helps to transcend stereotypical views of the culture and its people. Attendees are exposed to multifaceted aspects of the country through various activities at the event.

After enjoying traditional lunch boxes, attendees could explore the culture booths set up at the back of the ballroom before the main performances started.

“I am here to see the show and experience the Japanese culture,” commented Kiley Enger, a junior studying community health, “I’m looking forward to the fashion show.”

“You won’t be able to learn about the culture by being in regular society,” said Dennis Caceres, a senior studying sociology, “This is an opportunity to learn and experience another culture in a setting that is outside of the classrooms.”

“It is important for PSU students to attend events like these because it brings down ignorance by experiencing and understanding other cultures,” said Korinne Giacoman, a sophomore studying Japanese, “If you refuse to come out, you will be stuck in your own little world.”

Giacoman volunteered to run a station for a wish tree at the event. There, attendees could write a wish on a paper charm specific to areas of family, aspirations, relationships, education and prosperity. These charms were then hung on the special tree designed by JSS.

“Even our wishes hung up on the wish tree are written in French, Arabic and other languages,” Giacoman said.

Other booths provided information about international studies, calligraphy and traditional Japanese flower arranging called Ikebana, as well as performers’ merchandise, origami, photos and a shrine.

The main show of the night opened with a taiko (a Japanese traditional drum) performance. The rest of the night included various programs that crossed traditional and modern Japanese culture such as J-pop dance performance and a fashion show for designer Ayaka’s kimono dresses. There were also bands and solo performers to entertain the night.

Furthermore, there was a Japanese calligraphy performance by a special guest from Japan: Nachu. Nachu is an entertainer and a master of Japanese calligraphy, who made her very first visit to the United States for Japan Night. She received the highest title as master instructor, Shihan in Japanese, in 2014 and has been active in performance calligraphy and an experimental genre of body calligraphy.

With a brush half her size, Nachu painted a message on a large paper laid across the stage floor. She dedicated her performance at Japan Night to the victims of the recent earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan. There was also a special calligraphy workshop and a lecture by Nachu before the show started.

Finally, Jaime Bucthei, a sophomore studying Japanese, performed three songs at the closing of the show.

“It can be difficult to jump into a culture that you know nothing about,” said Butcher. “But anyone can listen to a song and want to know more about these people and culture behind it.Arts are a strong gateway into another culture.”

JSS is a 150-member organization with 13 officers. Members of JSS represent not only Japanese students, but also American students and Japanese-American students. All three groups come together to overcome cultural and communication barriers present on the PSU campus. JSS also helps to establish a solid network for international Japanese students through language support and individual consultations.

Through events like Japan Night, JSS works to reduce stereotypes and discrimination against Japanese students. The organization seeks to do so by educating others about the country and helping Japanese students gain confidence by becoming independent members of the PSU community at large.

“Bridging cultures is important to our society,” said Butcher. “Taking in different ideas can help you figure out something about yourself and help you respect other people.”

“Personally, I find that modern Japanese culture is very stereotyped,” said Sonny Tang, a senior studying marketing. “There is a lot of history that most people are not able to see.”

Tang is an active member of JSS and performed a traditional comic act at the event.

“It’s better to ask it than continue to believe something that is wrong,” said Yoshinaga. “It’s very easy to make connections with me and opportunities to become friendly with other cultures…will help open up the Japanese people as well.”

JSS invites anyone to stop by their daily office hours to actively interact with and learn about Japan. Their office is located at room M107G in SMSU.

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