Exploring Japanese cultural expression via Japan Club’s annual Fall Festival

An evening celebration filled with traditional and modern art, performance, food

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Students painted fox-shaped masks at one of the booths, an animal that holds traditional value in Japanese culture. Jason Ono | Cavalier Daily

More than 50 students made their way to the Newcomb Ballroom Sunday evening to enjoy the annual Fall Festival hosted by the Japan Club. Japan Club is a student organization committed to promoting Japanese culture by holding many culture-based events throughout the year, such as Spring Matsuri and Ramen Night. Third-year Engineering student and Japan Club secretary Victor Yang gave an overview of Fall Festival.

“It’s an event for people to enjoy themselves,” Yang said. “We have food, it’s also pretty casual. One of the goals of JC is to promote Japanese culture, and one of the ways we do that is through holding events like dance and educational events. But the Fall Fest and Spring Fest we have in each semester are the largest.”

The Fall Festival was an event that was open to both members and non-members of the Japan Club. 

There were booths that presented pieces of Japanese traditions such as the origami booth, as well as the calligraphy booth, where students could try writing Japanese characters. There was also a table where visitors could make their own Teru-Teru Bozu — hand-made dolls that children in Japan make to wish for good weather.

There were also other tables that gave visitors the feel of traditional festivals in Japan. Jimmy Chiou, a second-year Engineering student and Japan Club vice president, shared one of the themes of the Fall Festival. 

“If you are familiar with the night market event by TSA, we do a similar thing in the sense that we are trying to replicate the general atmosphere and activities of traditional Japanese festivals,” Chiou said.

At the mask painting booth, people painted their own fox-shaped masks — an important element used in traditional Shintoism ceremonies and a fixture of Japanese summer festivals. Students also enjoyed various traditional Japanese toys like “Tap Sumo” and Kendama at the “Omocha” booth — which means “toy” in Japanese.

Japan Club made sure that all attendees were treated with delicious food. In addition to complementary Japanese fried noodles called “yakisoba,” visitors could win Japanese snacks and candies through raffles and a trivia game.

Besides the interactive and culturally immersive booths, there were also two dance performances presented by JC Dance — a subgroup of Japan Club — in the latter half of the Festival. One performance was inspired by the traditional Japanese performing art, and another gave a dance performance with a modern Japanese pop song.  

Second-year Engineering student Xin Chen spoke about her experience at her first Japan Club event, encouraged by her past interactions with Japanese culture.

“I grew up watching anime,” Chen said. “And I had the chance to learn Japanese, and I’ve self-learned it for like a few years. When I went to other organizations’ events, it was … too crowded. But I think here is small and there’s enough space. I feel comfortable here.”

From a perspective as an active club member, first-year College student Matthew Shafer shared his experience in the club so far this semester.

“I’m taking first-year Japanese, and my professor kept on promoting Japan Club,” Shafer said. “Originally I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s really cool because they tackle a whole bunch of parts of Japanese culture that I never knew about, especially at the first JAPACONA I went to.”

JAPACONA is a Japan Club-sponsored biweekly event with an educational focus that introduces different aspects of Japanese culture. Through such efforts, the Japan Club strives to promote not only the most noticeable aspect of Japanese culture — such as Japanese subculture — but also the history and cultural tradition of the country.

“They have so many events, like an event here and event there,” Shafer said. “I'm just really excited to learn about the things that [these] people are passionate about.” 

Fall Festival also welcomed guest performers from Virginia Wushu Club, a CIO that performs traditional Chinese martial arts. Chiou mentioned his appreciation for the performance.

“They’ve been a close friend of Japan Club for a while,” Chiou said. “They performed for us last year, too. Their usual performance is more traditional, but they made it more Japanese for the Japan Club events.”

In their performance using skillful “shaolin” and “long fist forms,” they incorporated the elements of Japanese culture through costumes and music, such as the popular animated series “Attack on Titan” and “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.” 

It is the capacity for cross-cultural interactions like this that helps make events like Fall Festival truly a worthwhile experience for all to enjoy on Grounds.

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