Beauty in the Strings

By Daniel Ruiz

Now that I have returned once again to the Japanese language and culture studies for a second year, I was excited as to what sort of thing we would be doing next. This presented itself as a visit to the Kennedy Center, who would be hosting some Japanese people in the musical arts. I took interest in a lady, Yumi Kurosawa, who played an instrument called “koto.” I was a little curious at first due to the odd looking instrument which gave me the impression of some kind of piano/harp hybrid. This was something to look forward to. As Ms. Kurosawa proceeded to play the first of her notes, I was very surprised. The way that she moved reminded me of a river. She seemed to flow with the sound of her own string. I looked it up on google which said that a koto will have 13 strings, but sometimes also 17 string variants can be used. While the koto did not have as many strings as a harp or piano, I swear it could keep up with one, if it had a skilled player like the one I was watching from a seat far behind from most of the audience.

There was some kind of tab or something that I think changed the tension on the strings so that different sounds could be played. It was something I noticed, when after every song or even in the middle of one, Ms. Kurosawa would move the knobs, after which a different pitched sound would resonate, and that really intrigued me. I had no idea that such an instrument had existed. Never did I think that it could also be played along with hip-hop dancing. Another performer, Virgil Gadson, had danced hip-hop while the koto player had remained with her strings. An unlikely combo that had me skeptical at first. It was good to be able to witness the integration of cultures which would have in my head been very distant from one another.

I was so moved by this music that I went home, booted up YouTube and searched up “koto music.” I even had my mom listen to it and we killed a good hour or so listening to the beauty of the string.

Karuta is Intense

By Daniel Ruiz

A small group of my classmates and I traveled to Bethesda, Maryland to attend and observe a karuta competition. I was with Bryson and Priest. Priest’s actual name is Dakharai. If you are curious about why he is called that, take a look at Bryson’s blog post on the karuta event.

The actual game had a very interesting function. The basic explanation is that there is someone who reads a poem and the players must find which card has the poem. Each player has a certain amount of cards in front to them and you can remove the card from either your side, or the opponent’s. However, there is a twist! The poem is not simply read as it’s supposed to. The poem is split in two parts. The second half is read twice, then the first part will follow. The point is to remove all cards from your side, so finding the poem at your area is a good thing. In the case that you remove one from your opponent’s side, you can place a poem from your side to the other.

It looked relaxed at first, but then the pros came by and had quite the duel! You could feel the intensity of their focus, and when a card was chosen, it was not picked up gently. No one simply removes the card – you have to toss them to the side! The cards slid across the floor with such velocity and force! I was told by one of the people hosting that they do this to be as quick as possible. I am also unsure if what I’m about to say is worth any significance, but most of the hosts were female. I remember seeing one guy. Maybe it is more popular with women? I won’t complain, the competition was still interesting and fierce! Maybe one day I’ll get to participate, when I master hiragana that is. One day . . .


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.