Monday, April 14, 2008

Sakura Festival Brings Japan to Athens

Micah Brown

Japanese students and Athens residents packed Ping Center to bring Japan here at the Sixth Annual Sakura Festival.

Sakura is Japanese for "cherry blossoms." The Japanese Student Union planned the event as a way to showcase its music, dance, arts, clothes and food. The hosts wore decorative Japanese kimonos and traditional garb as they introduced the acts and presentations.

Before the event, the attendants enjoyed authentic Japanese cuisine in a box lunch.

The festival opened with booms and bangs, as drummers Ryo and Takumi gave a traditional performance. Ryo and Takumi traveled from Bethany College, West Virginia.

When the drums stopped, local Athens group "The Leftovers" performed as the audience actively sang along.

Dressed in full regalia, Keno performers showcased their swordfighting skills using seven traditional techniques.

The popular songs "Yume no sekai wo" and "Cherry" were sung by thirty-three performers. "Yume no sekai wo" means "Dreaming World," and focuses on the beauty of nature. Love was the theme of the song "Cherry," written ten years ago to describe a boy's feelings about his girlfriend.

Almost every guest in the audience, old and young, participated in the "Radio Exercise." It trains the muscles, while warming them up as well. People in parks and plazas can be seen doing this, mostly during the summer vacation.

In an upbeat mixture of traditional African and Japanese art forms, two performers danced the "Raijun" dance.

"Raijun" is a traditional African and Japanese dance, which is performed and choreographed by Aki Tanaka and Kalie Metzger.

The popular dance "The Haruhi" was performed to mimic the characteristics of the Japanese cartoon character Haruhi. The audience joined in as they took on the persona of the popular Japanese character from the animation called "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya."

Haruhi dancers performed the ending theme song of the program. It was perfomed by Akina Fujii, Dan Leach, Jason Akbar, Satoko Tsunoda, and Yuko Nagata.

More than thirty people acted out the story of a fisherman out at sea during a storm, playing the sea currents and a fisherman pulling his sails in and catching fish.

The Sakura festival is relatively new to Ohio University, but the exchange of American and Japanese culture dates back 35 years. It all began when a Japanese visiting professor returned home and was promoted to the Director of International Relations at Chubu University.

The connection between the two universities began as a way to bring the two worlds together. The Japanese students and American students travel to each others institutions in very large numbers.

As a gift from the former visiting professor, 175 cherry blossom trees were donated to commemorate Ohio University's 175th Anniversary; 25 more followed for OU's Bicentennial celebration in 2004.

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