Creating a mascot

Dakharai –

One of the first contests we had in Japanese Plus was the mascot competition. The class was divided into groups and we had to come up with a mascot design to represent the program. However, it had to display different virtues of a Japanese Plus student via a list we had made previously in class. Every group had their own contender in the battle for the best mascot. After a long debate to decide the winning mascot, which we accomplished by taking a vote, we all finally came to a consensus. Despite all the AMAZING creations that we formed from the creative juices of our minds, the winner was a totally KAWAII (very, very kawaii-desu), pink jelly holding two flags, made by Ana Nguyen.

CONGRATULATIONS!!

Ana –

puni-puni-smallerInspired by the cute mascots from Japan, jello and the Pokémon ditto, punipuni was born. I wanted to make our mascot have a “kawaii” look, similar to the mascots of Japan but also simple so that it’s easy to remember and recognizable. While doodling on homework, I sketched several nameless forms along with a few cats and punipuni was born. Punipuni is holding the DC and the Japan flag in its hand representing Japanese Plus. It’s the only program in DC that offers Japanese to students and the mascot represents how we’re integrating more Japanese culture into DC students. The pink, formless blob represents how this program can take any shape because of the students in it.

Bingata Reflection

By Raven Bluford

bingata1After meeting the Kakehashi exchange visitors, a few of us went to go to this event where we were able to make Bingata.

Bingata is an old Japanese tradition, where you dye cloth and make different patterns nature-related, using various bright vibrant colors. We were given cloth that had a template to dye the cloth. When we dyed the bingata we were given palettes that had very light colors, which kind of served as the base before we added the darker colors. After adding the light colors to the cloth, we were given the darker colors, which would be added or even covered some parts of the light colors. It was quite different from painting, because instead of actually making long strokes, you just use one brush for dotting and the other brush for rubbing in that dot. This was quite fun because it didn’t matter if it was inside the lines or not, because once the bingata dried, the paint outside the lines would be gone.

Kimono and Yukata

By Jenny Jimenez

On January 28, our Japanese Plus class was honored to meet the students in the Kakehashi program! This program allows Japanese students to come to the United States in order to learn about American culture as well as practicing their English skills. Kakehashi means bridge in Japanese and the students from this program and the students from the Kakehashi program connected by sharing aspects of each others’ cultures.

The Japanese students presented many stations in which they shared important cultural traditions; my personal favorite was the kimono and yukata station! Each student was paired with a Japanese student that would put on a kimono or yukata and while we were getting dressed, an explanation would be presented by the Japanese students.

My Japanese student was Yayoi and we had a conversation about yukata! She happily explained to me that yukata are worn in the summer whereas kimonos are worn in the winter because they are made of thicker fabrics. My yukata took the longest to put on in our group, but it was so beautiful! It had purple flowers on a red background and Yayoi put a large bow on the back of my yukata and let me hold a fan! Although putting on the yukata took a while to put on, I loved learning about this traditional dress because of its importance in Japanese culture. I especially loved talking to Yayoi because she clearly explained what the yukata’s importance was in Japan, as well as asking me questions about why I am learning Japanese and why I like Japan’s culture. I am so glad to have learned about the traditional dress but furthermore I enjoyed interacting with Japanese students who were extremely nice to us!

In this photo, you can see the American students wearing kimonos and yukata beside the Japanese students who helped dress us up!

jenny-yukata-and-kimono-full

Why a mascot?

By Jeff Jenkins

We were motivated to make a mascot because of Japan’s profound love of mascots, having them for just about any and everything. They’re kind of like state flags in the United States, although these mascots have a ton of personality to them and influence quite a bit of the community. Mascots are so popular in Japan’s communities that there’s an overpopulation of them, which the Government has even stepped in to regulate! A perfect example of this epidemic would be Osaka with over 40 mascots to represent the Prefecture alone.

Not all mascots are meant to represent towns and prefectures. There are a lot of mascots that represent things such as fighting for solar power and tax reduction. Japanese mascots are meant to represent some form of uniqueness and cuteness that’s able to win the hearts of a crowd, which also determines the popularity and livelihood of these adorable creations. Domo-kun is a great example of this long-lasting popularity that keeps mascots relevant. Created in the late 90’s, he still manages to hold a spot in people’s hearts.

Also, government organizations and the military use mascots to represent current affairs, both local and national. That’s right! The Japanese Army uses these adorable creations to represent themselves, so don’t let their cute looks fool you! Furthermore, mascots are used to generate money for companies and organizations, the most iconic one being Kumamon whose economic effect raised 124.4 billion yen in the past 2 years. Kumamon was originally meant for the promotion of Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train) in 2010 and since then, he’s grown to promote things such tissues, children’s toy’s and even clothing.

kumamon

So, although it seems like most mascots are meant for just looking kawaii on display, they are very versatile and can be used for more than just one thing. In fact, they can be used to relate an important message to people that other forms of art or social media can’t, and who knows, that may be the reason why some mascots manage to win the hearts of their supporters.

Okayama University

By Jeff Jenkins

Okayama University was introduced to me by Takayuki Yoshioka, Associate Professor of Philanthropy, Social Innovation and the DISCOVERY Program for Global Learners. He explained to us the origins of the University and the kind of environment that the college is in, which is in Tsushima-Naka in the Okayama prefecture, located in the center of West Japan. Okayama is an agriculture rich area specializing in fruit products, like Muscat grapes and white peaches. Additionally, Okayama is known for its educational history, cultural achievements and marine life.

During the presentation, Yoshioka-san told us about a program called DISCOVERY that’ll be starting very soon at the University. The DISCOVERY program is meant to bring international students to Japan in hopes of turning them into global leaders for society, through the various classes available, such as Environment and Health, Migration and Communities, Environmental Chemical Engineering and Social Innovation. Also, the classes can be taken in full English if you wish. However, it is encouraged to take Japanese as well, because it will allow you to communicate with the locals and develop a better understanding for the culture.

The University is open to accepting international students even if their GPA’s aren’t a 4.0 or their SAT scores aren’t the best. Just being able to give people the chance to chase after their dreams, even if they aren’t the best academically, is an extremely good trait for any university. It has been proven that not all successful people are geniuses! The DISCOVERY program also gives full scholarships to international students looking to study abroad in Japan, so you don’t have to worry about any big financial barriers hindering you.

My final thoughts on Okayama University is that the college is very welcoming and surrounded by a vast wealth of history and culture. I do hope to apply for the college ASAP so that I can personally experience the life of college in Japan! Well then, I hope this blog sparked your interest in Japanese universities!

Jya ne!

The Bingata Festival

By Chidera Onyeka

As students in the Japanese Plus program, we get a lot of opportunities to experience Japanese culture through festivals. One I attended was the Bingata festival. Bingata is the traditional art of dyeing cloth. It’s a time consuming process in which a special paint is brushed onto a special cloth with a specific motion in a certain order. Once the design is finished, it must sit for 3 days to let the color sink in and then ironed, soaked, and then air-dried.

Before we made our own Bingata, we took a tour around two floors where there were myriad kimonos. I saw a group of people wearing beeaauutiful kimonos and I had to ask them where they got them from. They told me that there are communities online that guide you to making the whole outfit (because they also wore a lot of other accessories including a fan). They pointed out that the kimono required a lot of patience and skill. After a talk about how I could make them myself, they told me I could just take the easy way out and buy it online for up to $20. So after taking pictures of different cloth designs, just wandering around with Daniel Ruiz, we made our way down to the Bingata workshop, where we had a sensei who gave us instructions in Japanese.

For my own interpretation, I was able to pick out a word here and there but still had no idea what we had to do. Luckily, we had a translator explain to us what to do in English. During the process, I managed to mess up once and be told that I couldn’t fix my mistake and then mess up the exact same way again. Then once we were finished, the leader of the workshop announced that they would pick out the best paintings from each group and make them sumo wrestle for a prize… and I was skeptical about it because half of the room was full of kids no older that 10 and the other half were adults along with 10th graders and 11th graders. Good thing they didn’t follow through with the idea because I don’t know how I would have reacted to a 17 year old and a 9 year old in a mawashi (what sumo wrestlers wear) fighting to the death. Well maybe not to the death but until time is called or someone wins. It was after everyone was done with their designs that we were told about how to soak it to “erase” the paint outside. Ironically, we were told to paint outside the lines and just glop the paint on there and shove it around.

At the end of the day, I was really excited to soak my cloth and I couldn’t wait 3 days but being a perfectionist and someone who’s a magnet to instructions, I forced myself to. In the end, I learned about a method of traditional Japanese art. It taught me to be patient and worry-free with my art because art isn’t just something I can always conjure up in an hour. It taught me that to achieve true beauty, it takes time, and relaxation. The event was very helpful to me because I tend to do those exact things, rushing and worrying too much about it looking good, when I draw. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested not only in art, but in Japanese culture.

Tea Ceremony

By Laura Lainez

In Japan they serve tea differently than we do in America. The host serving the tea is very diligent with how he/she makes it. They scoop the matcha (green tea) into the tea bowl with the Chashaku (a bamboo scoop) and whisk the tea powder very well with the Chasen (bamboo whisk) making sure to mix well the matcha powder. After serving the tea the recipient picks up the bowl with their right hand and puts it on their left palm, rotating the bowl two times admiring the bowl’s design. You have to bow your head in a show of thanks towards the host who served the tea. Since the matcha is bitter, you eat sweet snacks while drinking it. The university students had different snacks to try before we drank the tea.

It was a new experience because we have green tea in my house and I drink it often, but the tea they gave us was in powder form. We don’t serve it like they do in Japan where someone makes it and the other drinks. They also give thanks to the host, where here we don’t really do that, because we make the tea ourselves. I knew that green tea is bitter so I expected it to be and the sweet snacks balanced out the taste.

The Shikoku Kakehashi visit

By Dakharai Murray

Origami

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding and requires precision and patience to accurately create each paper craft to produce the desired result. Certain origami, such as the origami crane, have a symbolic relationship within Japanese culture and represent something positive, such as good luck and peace. A yakko-san is a samurai’s manservant who performed different tasks for their samurai master. At the origami station, we were taught how to make origami cranes & yakko-sans. I found that both crafts had many steps and would be hard to memorize and complete without instructions, especially the crane. Overall, origami is a very unique art style that is interesting and entertaining for its participants, and the many different crafts can keep you occupied for a long time.

Karate

Karate is a system of unarmed combat, using the hands and feet to deliver and block attacks, but it’s widely practiced as a sport, worldwide. Karate students are ranked by belt colors, with white being the beginner level and black being the master level. During the Kakehashi visit one of the students hosted the station and she taught us a basic pattern of moves from one of the beginner belts. She also demonstrated how to properly deliver a front kick. I found the demonstration to be informative and interesting because it requires more speed, agility, flexibility, and quick reflexes to become a successful karate student.

Z-Burger

By Tara Martin

Recently we’ve been visited by students from Shikoku University. Their presentations were great. After class, the students and I went to Z Burger for lunch. They were extremely kind and generous. Since I was there before the rest of the class, I got to know the students more. It was a great opportunity to practice my Japanese, especially because we learned how to introduce ourselves. Before I left, I was able to exchange business cards (very informally, but still). It was great to get this opportunity to be with the Japanese students, since I wasn’t able to go with them to the afternoon festival. Overall, they were very friendly, kind, and interesting. This was definitely a great experience. 🙂

z-burger-tara

tara-shikoku

Kakehashi Calligraphy

By Charity Chukwu and NUU Hightower

Charity: As part of the Kakehashi Exchange program, a group of college students from Japan came to meet the Japanese Plus program as a way for them to advocate for Japan. They made a beautiful powerpoint about the prefecture where they go to school, and then presented with six different stations, each with a different aspect of Japanese culture. One of the stations was about Japanese calligraphy—stylized. First, you would choose to have your name written in either katakana or kanji. One of the students would write it first, then you would write it.

NUU: The paper itself was really thin and the ink could easily seep through it. However, the technique they did was put one blank sheet first, then the paper you write on above it. Once you’re done writing, they’d put another sheet on top of the written paper and apply pressure on the ink to dry it off. I was able to take the written papers home without having it look so messy with ink. It almost looked like it was printed in fact, it was that neat..!

Charity: It was one of my favorite stations. Even WRITING can look like art! I chose katakana, and my name looked amazing! I tried to do it the exact same way as the demonstration, but I put too many strokes with my brush, so it made a small tear in the paper… Whoops! I still love it though, and definitely plan on eventually framing it.

NUU: My thoughts on the presentation were similar; really fun..! I remember learning calligraphy in Chinese classes, so I thought to maybe try it out again here since I liked it so much. I wrote my name three times, although the third time was unintentional. It was because one of the Japanese students was telling me something but I couldn’t hear it that well so I asked “Moo, ichido?” to repeat herself. She kind of mistook it as wanting to write again and handed me another sheet, but I didn’t try to protest since I wouldn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Other than that small awkward moment on my end, it was nice meeting the students and learning of their station!

Charity: Afterward, I had a thought-provoking conversation with the student who did the calligraphy with me. She was telling me about how schools in Japan still teach calligraphy as a class. It reminded me of when my elementary school teachers would teach cursive writing. I told her that, nowadays, it’s rarely expected for a child to know how to do it, but I wonder if it would hold any benefits if it were still a general class in present-day schools.

Imagine learning how to write like in cool calligraphy art!

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