On Saturday, April 6, the second floor of the Putnam University Center was filled with Japanese food, items, games and performances for the 11th annual Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival). Organized by the Japan Studies Student Leaders (JSSL), Sakura Matsuri is an annual event celebrating Japanese culture.
The event was lively and well-attended for its full duration, with students and community members alike enjoying the festivities.
“[Our event] was extremely successful! We had a very good turnout and everyone really seemed to enjoy our food, activity booths and performances,” JSSL President Cassidy Andrews (’19) said.
Current American Studies Program (ASP) student Yoshikazu Kakinuma agreed, saying that he enjoyed the event — and especially the food. “I liked the food. There was some Japanese food that reminded me of my hometown. I don’t get to eat that food usually, so it was kind of fun.”
In addition to the authentic Japanese food, Sakura Matsuri featured a variety of student-run games and activities such as origami and shodō (Japanese calligraphy). These activities offered prizes and handmade items that attendees could take home. If visitors wanted a few more mementos from the event, a variety of items (many from Japan) were available for sale, including cards for all occasions and JSSL T-shirts.
Over the 11 years JSSL has organized the event, Sakura Matsuri has remained fairly consistent. “These past years we’ve added new groups to our performance list, such as Willamette’s Koto Club, which is a relatively new club where students can learn how to play the traditional instrument, the Koto. Our school also has a Taiko Club and a Sanshin Club which also made performances at Sakura Matsuri yesterday,” Andrews said. “This year we had Utsukikai, a mochi pounding group from Portland, come and give a demonstration of how mochi is pounded while also allowing the audience to try their hand at pounding.”
The event is the result of a dedicated team of Willamette JSSL and ASP students, who Andrews says made up “99 percent of the food committee, decorations committee and activity booth committees.” This event helps to bring ASP students memories from home, as well as allowing them to share their culture with the Willamette and larger Salem communities.
“They are a great group of students that I’m blessed to have the pleasure of working with,” Andrews added, “as well as becoming friends with.” In addition to the students that help to make the event a reality, Sakura Matsuri would not have been possible without the support of the Japanese Studies Department — especially Professor Miho Fujiwara, who originally helped kickstart the event.
“I feel like Sakura Matsuri is usually a smaller event focusing on very Japanese stuff. Most of the staff were Japanese students, so it was real Japanese culture that people could see,” Kakinuma said. “I was able to talk with other American students about Japanese culture, and I enjoyed that.”
“I think this event is beneficial to Willamette’s student body because it fosters a connection between not only the Willamette community, but the Salem community and the ASP students in the common goal of understanding a beautiful festival from a foreign culture,” Andrews said. “It was amazing to see how much fun attendees and volunteers were having, and I hope this tradition will continue after I, and my exec team, leave Willamette. It’s been going 11 years strong, with hopefully many to come.”
Saturday’s Sakura Matsuri was yet another successful iteration of the annual event celebrating Japanese culture, spring and the blooming cherry blossom trees that bring color to Salem.
Photo Caption: Japan Studies Student Leaders welcome attendees of WU’s 11th annual Sakura Matsuri.
Credit: Lauren Montana