Wowed by Mochi

By Jonah Nguyen-Conyers

During the Opening Ceremony of the Cherry Blossom Festival, I was able to see this new kind of performer, who went by the name Mochi. Mochi is a performer who uses a Chinese Yo-Yo but is also known as a Diabolo, but often has a digital display behind him to enhance his performance. When going into it I was not expecting much, as this was a toy I played with as a kid, but this performer made magic with this “toy” and I was very thrilled through his entire performance. There are many things he did with the Chinese Yo-Yo to wow many people like myself, but that would be hard to put into words. His performance definitely pulled the highest level of excitement and thrill through all the people in the audience with all the tosses and flings. Mochi’s expertise was quite evident with how he handled the Chinese Yo-Yo. We can tell his dedication to this field of entertainment.

Mochi was an amazing performer and deserved all the applause he got that night and more. He was phenomenal.

New Faces New Friends

By Carlos Daniel Ramirez

Recently on the Japanese Plus program, we got the glad visit of the KAKEHASHI trip. A few of us were exhilarated, anxious and fearless, but also with concerns since our confidence with our Japanese is not the greatest. Mostly, people were nervous because a few of us never went to Japan before, or have not met anyone Japanese around the same age as us, but because some of us had already experience with them, we were absolutely excited for meeting new people.

Since their stay with us was nothing but a quick break from their busy itinerary, we tried to make their experience the most authentic possible – teaching them the Cha-Cha Slide dance. Something that will keep their memories vivid any time they hear “left” or “right,” or even when they hear the word “Cha-Cha-Cha.”

For instance, that was only on our side. The kids from Okinawa did clever presentations to express and share their culture with us. Although some of us were interested in what the food may look like in Okinawa (not me), most of us were interested in the art, traditions, and everything that involved that part of Japan. It’s interesting to perceive that every part of Japan is unique, as every prefecture appears more different than the others. We did not only learn that there were 160 islands in Okinawa, but also that they were the main founders of Karate, and also that they have a ton of rare species of fish.

We had a little conversation with them to seek any new long-lasting friendship, talking to them and seeing their kindness, and friendship that they are characterized by and that they are well being known for. We figured out that we had nothing to fear. Perhaps, our confidence in asking questions in Japanese and watching them be impressed by our great pronunciation (and because they were able to understand everything) the time passed as a gazelle in Africa running away from his predator.

Sadly, even when we wanted to know them better, we had to say bye-bye to our new friends. The emotions were mixed in that small time when we saw them running towards the bus to the last goodbye. “It felt like 10 minutes,” someone said. To which I added: “It was 3 hours. Boy, I am hungry, let me go home,”- me. Well, that was both me, but the importance is that it felt like time just flew away, and I am looking forward to visiting Okinawa, maybe soon. Who knows?

Taiko Drumming

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

On March 23, the Smithsonian American Art Museum held a small festival in correlation with the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival. In all my time in DC, I have never participated in the Cherry Blossom Festival and this was the first time that I was able to enjoy such a wonderful event. Now, in the American Art Museum, the attractions were mainly geared towards kids, like face painting and making cherry blossom trees from tissue paper and rolls of toilet paper.

However, they also had performances that had already drawn a large adult crowd when I arrived at the event. On the schedule, it showed that the taiko drummers were going to be on at about 2:30 so I roamed the halls of the art museum, waiting for the sound of the drum.

After my roaming, I came back to the mini-festival much earlier than expected and I was able to catch another equally intriguing performance. With an accompaniment of the bamboo flute, I was able to watch three women play the koto, a Japanese string instrument. The tranquility of the koto mixed with melodic movements of the arms of the women playing just kept me invested in the instrument.

However, the beautiful koto did not last as long as the taiko players had just come back. Before the performance, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t even know how the drum sounded. As the group got ready, I tried to find a good seat up in the front. Then, the performance started. The drums had a low deep vibrating sound but the high paced movements within the performance is what really drew me in. People swung around one drum, flowing in and out of the beat being played by the ensemble behind them. There was shouting and people jumping off the stage. All of these interactive pieces kept me drawn until the last second of the show. The use of both dance and music in such a way was astounding for me.

I suggest everyone go to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see the taiko drummers whenever the cherry blossoms are in season. The family fun of how child-oriented the festival is gives a bonus to the already magnifique performances enlisted to capture the crowd. If you missed this gathering, please consider other Cherry Blossom Festival activities being done all around DC. The taiko drumming made my first Cherry Blossom season the best one yet and I can’t wait to participate next year.

Cherry Blossom Opening Festival – Mochi

By Asa Marshall

On the 23rd of March, some of my classmates and I attended the National Cherry Blossom Festival Opening Ceremony. It was held at the Warner Theater at 513 13th St NW, Washington DC. My favorite part was Yusaku Mochizuki or “Mochi.” He is a professional Japanese diabolo juggler and he previously competed on “America’s Got Talent.” His act was very exciting as he told the story, history and transition of the jugglers and the acts with Japanese roots. He utilized fantastic visual arts and graphics which made the performance almost hypnotic. I remember watching his act on TV and I loved and applauded his skill. Seeing his performance in person was an exciting experience and it was beautiful. Before the show I was very excited when I heard he would be performing live. The intricate designs and the music were thrilling. I was breathtaken as he threw the diabolo in the air and caught it with the ease of breathing. He also incorporated tap dance and he had multiple outfit changes as he showed the progression of his skill through the years.

I had so much fun at the event and I could hardly sleep afterwards. The entire program was beautiful and I was grateful for the opportunity to attend for free and I appreciated the sponsorship from the Japanese Embassy to allow us to attend because it was a very exciting cultural experience that I would have even paid to attend.

Opening Ceremony

By Katie Nguyen

The National Cherry Blossom Festival opening ceremony at the Warner Theater on March 23 was amazing. My favorite part was the Sailor Moon Live show. Me loving musicals made it even better, even though I have never watched Sailor Moon before. Their costumes were spot on and were able to choreograph perfectly too. I loved the details on every character, even the background dancers as well. I was surprised at how they can dance with heavy clothing and still put on an awesome performance.

My second favorite part was when Ikuko Kawai ensemble played Tale of Genji. Ikuko Kawai played so powerfully and with deep emotions that she had me speechless and entranced into her music. Her dress and her makeup were also beautiful and the way she played was also captivating.

My third favorite part was Yusaku Mochizuki, or Mochi; he was spectacular with the way he presented his juggling and the background image/video as well. He timed his juggling perfectly and made it seem like the diabolos were actually moving the background, if that makes sense. I also like how he created a story just by juggling his diabolos and how he had music to go along with it.

Overall, the opening ceremony was phenomenal, even after we had left and I had gone back home, I was still super excited about it.

Interns in DC from Japan with Maki Sofia Tello and Yodai Tanaka

By Angel Njoku

Today, we had two Japanese guests in our very small class for the day. Our guests were Maki Sofia Tello and Yodai Tanaka, who are currently participating in an exchange program called Japan Internship for the Development of Young Leaders. They are both undergraduate seniors at their universities in Japan. Maki goes to a private university and she is from Kamakura, Yodai goes to a public university – Hokkaido University. Maki’s major in university is mass communications and Yodai’s major is law. Maki is a public relations student intern at the US Department of Agriculture. Yodai is an intern at Sojitz Corporation of America. After getting to know a little bit about them, we were able to ask them questions.

Their opinions about the difference between US universities and Japanese universities were very fascinating to me. Between my classmates and I, we already know that the tuition in Japan isn’t as high as it is here in the US. They told us that in Japan, the hardest part is taking the entrance exam, because students study for a year or more just because of the test. Yodai told us that he spent his summer studying for his entrance exam from 5am-8pm every day and he started studying in his junior/senior year of high school. We even learned from them that after students get into college, some of them just go to a lot of parties. Something surprising to me was when they said that in Japanese colleges, they don’t take attendance and students only need to pass the final exam to graduate. They know that tuition for American schools is already very high, but they told us some big differences, like how teachers try to interact with their students here while in Japan most teachers won’t do that. They also said that from what they know, US colleges take attendance and students have work that they turn in when given deadlines like reports and essays. With all of the work that US students do, it’s harder for them to graduate, because there is so much more than just a final exam that says if you pass or fail.

Maki also told us that she was half Japanese and half Peruvian and we were able to know how it is different, especially since Japan is a homogenous society. She told us that now it is more accepted, but it wasn’t like that when she was younger. The good thing is that she was never bullied because of it, but since her full name is Maki Sofia Tello, when she was younger her teachers didn’t really say it properly, so you can see the cultural difference there. But she took being half Japanese as an advantage. Something that surprised us all was when she said that her dad never taught her Spanish, because he wanted her to be Japanese. Just knowing this it shows that Japan is slowly changing and accepting more things.

Overall, we had a lot of fun with Yodai and Maki, and it would be great to have them come visit us again. They even participated in our walk and talk speaking exercise, since today was the introduction into our new lesson on lifestyle. So we asked around saying “what do you usually do on the weekend” in Japanese. Some of us were able to talk to them during the activity. I wasn’t one of them but it was really fun having them join us.

Why you should consider ICU

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

Today, a Japanese university visited us. Now, this didn’t really pique my interest as I had already shot down the idea of going to a college in any other country besides the United States. However, the International Christian University (ICU) made a really powerful presentation to me that sparked my interest in what is outside colleges in the US.

First, the tuition! America’s tuition rates are enough to make anyone cry, but ICU blew me away. When they announced that they were a private university, I expected ~$40,000. I first saw the value in yen and shook with horror until they converted it to US dollars. Tuition is about 12,900! That’s less than half the tuition of most of the colleges that I want to go to. There obviously are other fees like living costs and a matriculation fee, but financial aid is offered to curb tuition fees so that you can pay these other fees.

Then came the student activities. One thing I am very passionate about is being your own advocate. I love when students are given the opportunity to show their responsibility and that is exactly when ICU does. All of their clubs were completely established by students and they offer a wide range of clubs from athletics to things like Large Jazz Ensemble. I saw that they didn’t have a volleyball club and I do hope that someone in the future starts one. But the idea of having student led clubs allows for people to interact more as you don’t have to be good to get in, you only have to be interested.

Finally, when they talked about what happens after students graduate, I was in awe. Employment in Japan is pretty much guaranteed as the government has established a well organized system that works with companies to help students find jobs after college. In America, many people don’t know what to do after college and are left to fend for themselves. This system of aid ensured that about 75% of the graduating class in 2017 were already employed as they left college. This system makes you very hopeful as you have to worry less about if you will have any future successes in finding a job as they allow you to find something that correlates with your degree.

These three things stood out to me very much, but there were also small things like universal healthcare that is offered to international students and the diverse religious denominations that ensure that the ‘Christian’ in ICU does not dictate the school’s stance on what your practicing religion should be. It showed me that there are better options outside American schooling that should be looked into.

For the organization that spoke to us, the Japan ICU Foundation, they can be found at www.jicuf.org. They offer a scholarship that offers full tuition to ICU and I hope that more people are inclined to sign up. As for me, it is not an option for personal reasons, but I still would love to know that other people will be educated about this opportunity after reading this blog.