The fifth annual Japan Week recently concluded after taking place from Oct. 4 to Oct. 9. Japan Week is an annual event hosted by Bellevue College’s Japanese Culture Exchange Club and is supported by the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle. It is a week packed full of events and opportunities to learn more about Japan’s rich culture. From contemporary and pop culture to traditional and historical art forms, Japan Week offers a wide breadth of exploration.
Their logo is a daruma, a hollow round doll that is often considered a talisman of luck and perseverance. The doll has blank eyes and the owner fills in the left eye for a wish or goal. When that goal is achieved, the other eye is filled in. Every year they also select a kanji. Kanji is a system of writing in Japanese that is based on traditional Chinese characters. For this year they have chosen Shinjiru 信 — for belief and trust.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend a few of the events. This year involved demonstrations, speeches and historical lessons all entirely virtual. Here’s a quick recap of the week for those who missed it!
Chibi Drawing Workshop by Ro Higashi
Higashi is the creator of the Webtoon comic “Half of the Crown”, which boasts over 15,000 subscribers. Higashi also is known for the current Sakura-con mascot design.
Traditional Japanese Candy Art by Candy 5
Also known as Amezaiku, the art form has a long history in Japan. Amezaiku is usually made with a taffy-like candy called mizuame sculpted and painted into elegant designs and shapes. Participants of this workshop were able to follow along with provided hi-chew candy. Candy 5 studied Amezaiku under Master Kimura Takeo, becoming the first female candy artist in 300 years. She has performed for 17 years at Walt Disney World and is now a freelance artist sharing her art with the world.
Taiko Drumming Workshop by Rintaro Tateishi
Tateishi is a professional Japanese Taiko drummer and has performed around the world and is a former member of ONDEKOZA. He is the co-founder of The School of TAIKO in Seattle. Participants followed along with a basic drumming lesson with makeshift drums. Early sign-ups were given mini Taiko drums. There will be more opportunities to join in on real Taiko lessons at other events once in-person classes at Bellevue College resumes.
“You are the Pilot in Command of Your Life” by Shinji Maeda
In this speech, BC alumni Shinji Maeda, tells the story of his flight around the world. Maeda has dreamed of being a pilot his entire life. Maeda suffered a car accident where he was clinically dead and became blind in one eye at 18. Now considered ‘handicapped’, Maeda could not continue his aviation studies in Japan. To pursue his dreams, he moved to the United States to continue his education and was able to obtain a private pilot license. Maeda is now a flight instructor and motivational speaker. In June, he completed a 42-day flight around the world in his 1963 airplane named ‘Lucy’. In his speech, he talks about perseverance and overcoming challenges.
The Japanese-American Experience During and After WW2 by Delores “Dee” Goto and Joe Abo with Misa Murohashi
Dee Goto is a founding member of the Omoide Project which encourages dialogue and discussion of topics like constitutional rights, personal history, immigrant experiences and other issues. Goto also started a collection of documentation at the UW Library Archives of the Pacific Northwest Japanese Experience. Goto’s grandfather faced discrimination as a Japanese immigrant dairy farmer during the war. She recounts stories of being called slurs and being considered an alien or science specimen. Joe Abo then shared his family’s experiences growing up in Olympia during the war and being displaced to the Tule Lake internment camp. They were joined by Misa Murohashi, the general manager of North American Post Publishing. They hope their presentation will open up dialogue to prevent these experiences from repeating themselves and to encourage others to heal generational trauma.
Buddhist Vegetarian Cooking Demonstration by Rev. Taijo Imanaka
Rev. Taijo Imanaka was ordained at Rengejoin, a Koyasan Shingon monastery, and is the head priest of the Seattle Koyasan Buddhist Temple. Shingon is one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan. Koyasan is a specific sect of Shingon Buddhism and refers to Mt. Kōya. One of the Staples of Japanese cuisine – especially for vegetarians, is soy. Rev. Imanaka emphasized the importance of protein in a healthy diet.
Rakugo, A Traditional Comedy Storytelling by Tozaburo Yanagiya
Tozaburo Yanagiya performed and discussed Rakugo, a traditional form of Japanese comic monologue. Performances feature the Rakugoka or storyteller in kimono and using only a fan and hand towel as props. Tozaburo Yanagiya is dedicated to introducing Rakugo to a wider audience. So he decided to move from Japan to New York in 2018 and has since toured around the country. He apprenticed under Rakugo Master Gontaro Yanagiya III and became a master in 2014.
The week ended with a Kahoot trivia quiz with prizes. This year also featured multiple contests such as cosplay, Kendama, origami and character bento.
Japan Week is such an important event for the community and for cross-cultural exchange, so support this fully volunteer-run event. Thank you to all the presenters and the Japanese Culture Exchange Club for organizing Japan Week. Hope to see you next year!