By Chi Onyeka

Iki is the concept of doing well, but not in an effort to stand out. For instance, comparing two rich men, the one who wears expensive clothing with the biggest house, the most security guards, and the shiniest shoes, would be less iki than a rich man who doesn’t show off his money, but is still doing well…maybe even more than the aforementioned rich man.

This is completely different from the American perspective, because here we strive to stand out and are admired when we do. For example, take the rich man scenario. The man with most expensive items (bling if you will) would be admired more than the one who’s modest. Iki is a concept I admire because it demotes conceitedness. Braggarts are more common in American society because they seek admiration without thinking of how cocky they might sound. Iki would be a good thing to introduce into American culture just so that no one feels less important than another.

How we developed our puni-puni values

By Chi Onyeka

One faithful Saturday, Sally-sensei gave us the task of finding characteristics that we should utilize in order to make this program successful. First what we had to do was in our table groups determine our character values. Then as a whole group, we said the words that were discussed in our table groups, and we had MUCH more words than the 12 that are displayed on the website. We decided that there were too any words, so we decided to choose the strongest synonyms of each. It was a two-class process, but in the end, we came up with and try our best to follow these twelve words:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Respect
  • Patience
  • Dedication
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Curiosity
  • Equity
  • Communication
  • Application

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.

My experience with the students from Shikoku University

By Chi Onyeka

On Saturday January 28th, 23 students and two leaders from Shikoku University paid the Japanese Plus group a visit on behalf of the Kakehashi Exchange program, organized by the youth exchange organization, Youth For Understanding. Shikoku University is a private university located in the Tokushima prefecture in Japan. The students spent a little bit less than a week in DC while visiting various places, such as historical sites, museums, and schools.

In Class Experience

When the Shikoku students arrived, we had to introduce ourselves and after introductions, they presented powerpoints about the Tokushima Prefecture in which Shikoku University is located. Then they set up various stations including Yukata (a style of traditional dressing), Japanese tea or Ocha, calligraphy where our names were written in Kanji, Karate, the traditional Awa dance and my personal favorite, the Origami station. After we completed the stations, they gave us many gifts and with hopes to be able to contact the, I and some other students gave them our business cards.


Outside Experience

After class, we went to Z-burger and questions were exchanged such as why we decided to start learning Japanese. When we departed, the other Japanese Plus students and I went to a Bingata Festival. As a side note, we all left with at least two bags of fries because after they finished their burgers, they were full so they gave us their fries because they wouldn’t be able to take them along and we were just overwhelmed with the amount of fries we had to eat!

The next day, Sunday, I and four other students met up with the students at Arlington National Cemetery. Funny story, Bryson Torgovitsky and I got lost trying to find them and we went all the way up the hill not knowing that we passed them and we met them around the middle of the hill. Once we found them we looked at a bunch of war artifacts and visited various important tombs, like the burial site of President Kennedy.


Afterwards, we went to Pentagon Mall for lunch and it was there that I heard the best question of the weekend that completely baffled me, was: How do I feel with Trump as our President? I didn’t know how to answer the question because I didn’t want to glorify America, nor did I want to demoralize it because I didn’t want to sound conceited, but it was their first time visiting and I didn’t want to just rant about it so I just said “It is what it is, and four years to come, there’ll be another election”.

It was at our next stop that the kindest thing was done. First things first, we went to a Japanese New Year’s festival and they had a lot of performances, food (it’s also where I had my first ramune, yummy!) and games. So I wanted to play a game that required a ticket so I whipped out $5 to pay for three tickets to find that one of the students paid for Bryson and I to play the game! I was so grateful and afterwards I just felt in so much debt from all the gifts, food, and experiences I had gotten from them in the past weekend. At the time I really didn’t know how to thank them.

Gift Exchange

As said before, I really didn’t know how to thank the students for their kindness. I wasn’t the only one. After the New Year’s festival, I went to Ana Nguyen’s house to make gifts for them including candies and little notes expressing our gratefulness. They had previously complained about how long it took them to make the boxes and I was reluctant to believe them because I thought “How hard could it be to make and fill up 27 boxes?”

Once I got permission from my mom, I bought my sweet contribution and headed on over to her house. Daniel Ruiz and another friend of theirs had been working since morning and just finished making the boxes and lids when I arrived. I got there around 5 in the afternoon and didn’t leave until 10 at night. Apparently it was that hard to make and fill 27 boxes. In total, 14 hours were spent making the presents for the students. We didn’t want to just buy them something to take home because they would already have that initiative since this was their first time visiting the US. We also decided to make them at home because we learned in class one day about how much the Japanese valued homemade gifts.

To be honest, the next day, the 14 hours we slaved making the boxes was totally worth every second. The looks on their faces couldn’t have been made just buying them something and putting it in a gift bag. We took a lot of selfies together and one final picture before our last departure. The only thing that made me feel bad was that they gave me even more things before we left! I still feel in debt to them but I can do nothing but hope they had an amazing time in the United States.

Shikoku with gifts.JPG

Gift Exchange

Ana –

Everyone from the Shikoku University Kakehashi group was very nice and welcoming. As a person who has social anxiety, I was enjoying interacting with them and their presentations. It left a huge impact on me so I wanted to say/show how grateful I was. So we made these thank you note boxes with candy inside.

Daniel –

It was a bit tiring on my bones, but I did not regret it. I wanted to help make the gifts because I felt a need to show my gratefulness and give them the same happiness that was given to me. Both receiving and giving gifts left a huge smile on my face, and engraved good memories in my mind.