Cherry Blossom Festival held as fundraiser

Published by Hope Hoehler, Author: Brendan Howe - Senior Rocket Contributor, Date: April 18, 2019
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Students practice their calligraphy skills at the Cherry Blossom Festival Tuesday evening in the Smith Student Center ballroom. The event was co-hosted by the Japanese Club and the Esports Club from 6-8 p.m. and featured activities like karaoke and mask painting.

The Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of spring and experience of Japanese culture, was held in the Smith Student Center Ballroom on Tuesday, April 16, hosted by students to raise money to pay for a trip to Saga, Japan, located on the island of Kyushu, in mid-May. 

With anime such as Naruto projecting on a movie screen and upbeat Japanese pop music playing in the background, attendees were encouraged to participate in multiple activities. Cultural pastimes included: constructing origami figures, having Tarot cards read, putting colorful brushstrokes of paint on shitadashioto masks, and writing the attendees names in calligraphy.

People were also allowed to dress up in a kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, and have their pictures taken at a photo set. They were also invited to decorate and snack on Cherry Blossom cupcakes with pastel green or pink frosting.

The Esports Club assisted by organizing a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament. The 14-person bracket was single-elimination and the first- and second-place winners earned a baseball cap themed after the video game that are being shipped from Japan. 

The volunteer help from the group also helped Esports get their name out there, according to Khalil Harper, the club’s president.

“Esports sounds like you have to be a seasoned gamer or someone who’s used to playing games in a competitive atmosphere, but it’s really not,” he said. “It’s something where people can come to learn, have fun, and make new friends. People can find people who have the same interests as them or just learn something new about themselves.”

The students are part of a liberal studies course on Japanese culture taught by Dr. Yukako Ishimaru, a native of Saga and a member of SRU’s Modern Languages and Cultures department since 2006. Some of the money will also help purchase English books and children’s games for elementary pupils in Japan.

A partnership between SRU and Saga University has helped plan the volunteer work that students from both schools will carry out, said Alice Del Vecchio, program director for the philanthropy and non-profit management program. The students will interact with children and senior citizens, and participate in service projects that the foreign school is arranging.

“I always tell students that when you go on a trip with me, I’m going to expect that you serve, because I think it’s important for us to leave something behind other than our money,” Del Vecchio said. “And so we leave a part of our heart and people get to see us from the inside.”

In her 31 years at Slippery Rock, Del Vecchio has taken students to Croatia, Costa Rica, Ireland, Poland and St. Lucia. She is currently working with the Spanish department, looking to take a group of students to Columbia over winter break next year.

The students on the Japan trip will partake in cultural activities such as a tea ceremony and a weekend home-stay with a host family.

“They will have to use their language skill they learned in class and learn the Japanese lifestyle firsthand,” Ishimaru said.

To help pay for the trip, which will cost each student nearly $2,250 Del Vecchio said that she helped raise nearly $340 on Giving Day, an annual crowdfunding campaign held on March 26.

Ishimaru said that students in her class would have to combine to make at least 500 paper cranes Wednesday, which will be half of the amount submitted at an altar for a peace ceremony in Nagasaki. The other half will be folded by students from Saga.

The trip, Del Vecchio said, is pre-session, meaning students receive an incomplete grade until returning from Japan and writing a reflection.

“We start to connect the world when we do service toegther,” Delvecchio said.

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