UI Japanese program hosts first cultural festival

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The first Japanese ‘bunkasai’ was held on Thursday night.

By Isabella Senno

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The room was filled with smiling people as dozens of students crammed into the International Commons room to enjoy the very first Japanese “bunkasai,” or culture festival.

The event was held Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the University Capitol Center and all were welcome to enjoy a showcase of some of the lesser-known aspects of Japanese culture at four different interactive exhibits, including a food stand, origami and calligraphy tables, and a cosplay photo area.

Above the crowd rose the rich smells and sizzles from the “okonomiyaki” station. “Okonomiyaki” are savory cabbage pancakes that are originally from Osaka, Japan.

“In the past, we’ve done the okonomiyaki as a separate food event, and we’ve done that twice now, and we saw that it was so popular that students just ended up waiting,” said Hiroko Czuprynski, a UI lecturer of Japanese language. “What we wanted to do this time was have other activities to do so people just didn’t stand around. Because we had more activities, we decided to call it a cultural event.”

The event was hosted by the UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies Program and the Japanese program, and was meant to promote a more well-rounded sense of Japanese culture as a whole, especially for students studying Japanese.

“Because we have so many Japanese courses and so many people are taking Japanese, but sometimes we don’t have much time to talk about culture,” said Hiromi Takayama, a visiting assistant professor in the Japanese program. “This is a good opportunity for them to experience something different from the classroom.”

In the past few years, the UI Japanese program has experienced surges of growth, with enrollment numbers steadily on the rise, and some would attribute this to interest about Japanese subcultures in the United States.

“We are getting more students who are big fans of anime and other subcultures like cosplay, compared to before,” said Kiyomi Kawakami, a UI Japanese language lecturer. “It motivates students to learn Japanese because it’s so different from American culture.”

This event was meant to approach the culture from a lesser-known side, teaching people to see it in a new light.

“Our program is growing every year with the number of first-year Japanese courses, and because it’s gaining more popularity, I wanted to expose people to different aspects of Japanese culture and not just focus on sushi and anime,” Czuprynski said.

Good spirits circulated around the room as the night progressed.

“I’m half Japanese, and I’ve taken Japanese here up to third year,” said UI junior Naomi Cochran. “Events like these help make a sense of community for the people who are here, and it’s a really good opportunity for people who don’t know much about the culture to come and explore it a little bit.”

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