June 21, 2024

Attendees enjoyed martial arts demonstrations alongside booths of kakigori shaved ice and grilled takoyaki balls on Sunday as the Japanese American Student Association and Japan Club hosted their first joint Bunkasai at Seabury Hall. 

Bunkasai are traditional Japanese cultural festivals often hosted by local students to show off school pride. Students, like McCormick sophomore and Japan Club member Tomás Serna, performed and played games and activities to showcase their talents. 

“I think it’s just a great opportunity to learn different things and have some good food too … to get everyone more interested in Japan and Japanese culture,” Serna said. 

Communication senior and Japan Club Secretary Victor Chen said Bunkasai are traditionally held at the end of the school year for Japanese students to share their culture. 

Prior to its hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan Club enjoyed hosting Bunkasai at Northwestern, but the club has been unable to host the festival in recent years due to management, membership and funding barriers, Chen added. 

“At NU, (Bunkasai) has been important because there’s a smaller Japanese community, but we also want people to come and enjoy what Japanese society is all about,” McCormick junior and JASA co-President Oscar Depp said. “We’ve always wanted to do it … because there’s more people involved (this year), it was finally feasible.”

Hosts wore traditional happi coats borrowed from the Japanese consulate in Chicago, which Depp said further fostered a sense of community. 

Students participated in calligraphy practice, origami-making and a yukata dress-up photo booth. JASA and Japan Club hosted separate events for these activities in the past, but they wanted to create an immersive space this year for people to learn about Japanese culture, Depp said. 

“This Bunkasai event is the culmination of all our separate events and all our efforts,” Depp said. “This is the most interactive it could be.”

The NU Aikido Club, the oldest martial arts group on campus, performed traditional Japanese martial arts at the event. 

Demonstrations included safe falling, belt test techniques and advanced techniques with a wood sword and short staff. 

“The word Aikido means ‘the way of harmony,’ so Aikido is not really about being super aggressive and destroy your opponent,” said McCormick senior Tomomi Kawaguchi, NU Aikido’s treasurer. “Instead, it’s all about rendering the opposition attack useless by using various techniques.” 

McCormick junior Alicia Hartono and Bienen and Weinberg junior Jasmine Meyer performed a singalong to a medley of Japanese songs. Members of the Itsumo band sang popular tunes, including Miki Matsubara’s “Mayonaka no Door” and Yuuri’s “Dry Flower.”

The event was open to the NU community with about 70 attendees expected, Medill junior and Japan Club treasurer Jonathan Zhao said. 

The event “passed that mark by a lot,” Zhao said. He added that the club succeeded in spreading Japanese culture to a broader audience.

“I feel like a lot of people really like Japanese culture in this school, but for the last couple years, there hasn’t been a chance for them to see that,” Chen said. “I hope that Bunkasai is a tradition that gets passed along.”

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