Japan Club encourages immersion with Japanese culture

Japan Club members Pedro Correa, Alyssa Sirleaf, Antonio Vazquez, and Elizabeth Lopez wear the hachimaki, or headbands they designed | Jasmine Ayanna Garcia, PantherNOW

Jasmine Ayanna Garcia | Contributing Writer

FIU’s Japan Club invites students to reach beyond pop culture and take a deeper look at the country’s rich history and traditions.

On Feb. 14, the club hosted their Arts & Crafts Workshop just ahead of the highly anticipated summer 2024 study abroad semester in Kyoto, Japan. 

The crafts made during this workshop were hachimaki, Japanese military-inspired headbands; sumi-e, calligraphy art; and yokai masks in the kitsune, or fox style. 

Japan Club provided all of the demonstrations and creative encouragement necessary for the workshop. 

The culturally authentic and artistic approach to sharing Japanese culture proved to be a smart choice for Japan Club—the Arts & Crafts Workshop filled every seat of Graham Center 305. 

Japan Club members and first-time visitors sat or went around the room to talk and share their crafts from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Senior Gabriela Lagos and Junior Japan Club members Jonathan Balila and David Balzora show off their kitsune yokai masks and sumi-e paintings | Jasmine Ayanna Garcia, PantherNOW

Freshman Megan Thomason mentioned that the artistic nature of the event encouraged them to attend Japan Club for the first time. 

“I like doing art, I just don’t take the time to sit down and do it,” Thomason said. 

“I’ve been wanting to come to an event for a while. I just felt like this would be a good one where I didn’t feel pressured to talk to new people but had the ability to if I wanted to.” 

Thomason did end up mingling with Japan Club members who, like herself, came to Japan Club as a cultural supplement to introductory Japanese language classes. 

Freshman Megan Thomason (right) paints her hachimaki | Jasmine Ayanna Garcia, PantherNOW

Thomason and Nathan Lane are both taking Japanese I this spring semester. 

Freshman Lane shared his insight as a new member of Japan Club. 

“I think you learn more about the culture — a lot more,” Lane said. 

“Because it’s not just learning the language, it’s also knowing where most of the ideas come from and how they influence the Japanese people as well.” 

Lane goes out of his way to engage with the authentic cultural approaches of Japan Club as a commuting student. 

“I would like to start meeting more people, especially inside clubs. ‘Cause I live all the way downtown, so I have to spend more time on campus,” Lane said.

Freshman Japan Club member Nathan Lane wears his hachimaki | Jasmine Ayanna Garcia, PantherNOW

Japan Club’s Executive Board members know the importance of creating a space where FIU students can meet and explore their “shared interest for the [Japanese] culture”, as Japan Club President Cristian Rodriguez said. 

“When I came [to FIU] I didn’t really know anybody,” said Rodriguez. “When I came [to Japan Club] people were very welcoming.”

Senior and Japan Club Social Media Director Melanie Carrillo describes the E-Board’s efforts to maintain the welcoming atmosphere. 

“We usually do a lot of events that have people communicating with each other and working together,”said Carrillo. 

Japan Club poses for a group photo | Jasmine Ayanna Garcia, PantherNOW

“Everyone here is so nice. It feels like such a community, so I felt like I finally found a club that I wanted to participate in. I didn’t really find that from my entire school life,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo was introduced to Japan Club as a sophomore and has become the club’s social media director in her last semester.

Carrillo said it was her “personal interest in Japan” that got her to visit Japan Club. 

The club’s social media director says, similar to the statements of freshman club members, that “learning the [Japanese] language” made her want to “get to know other people not only in my class, but also in the club, who are interested in the culture.”

Carrillo started studying Japanese in middle school. She is now in the fourth level of Japanese language classes taught at FIU.

Japan Club member Jihye Lee and Junior Daniel Singh wear the kitsune yokai masks | Jasmine Ayanna Garcia, PantherNOW

E-Board members Rodriguez and Carrillo will both be attending the study abroad trip to Japan in the upcoming summer semester. 

“It’s going to be a rigorous language and culture program,” Rodriguez said.

“So we are expected to be in class. We’re expected to keep up our grades, and study, and all that. But, we also are having field excursions to explore the culture firsthand.”

Carrillo adds: “We’re going to be in Kyoto. But, if you want personally to go to Osaka, Nara, [or] Tokyo, you can go wherever you want to. I’m so excited; I can’t wait.”

Rodriguez tells PantherNOW that the Japan Club’s goal “is to spread culture.”

This effort to spread Japanese culture is apparent in the many events the club organizes. 

Rodriguez explains that Japan Club hosts Japanese tutoring sessions for people of “all proficiency levels” once a month and a Cherry Blossom Festival once a semester. 

Japan Club’s Cherry Blossom Festival will occur on April 10, 2024.

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