Celebrating the East: A Week of Asian Cultural Festivals

Last week, the University of Massachusetts Boston campus hosted three different events celebrating Asian culture and traditions: the 祭Japan! Festival on April 10, the Cambodian New Year on April 12, and Bollywood Night, which was also on Friday. Each celebration featured traditional dances, food, dress, and music. The associations involved worked hard to present the UMass Boston community with representations that truly honored and promoted the cultures of India, Cambodia, and Japan

The 祭Japan! Festival

The 祭Japan! Festival took place on the Campus Center terrace on the first floor last Wednesday. It was the product of a collaboration between the Japanese Student Association, the Japanese Language Club, the Asian Student Center, the Anime & Manga Club, and the UMass Boston Japanese Language Program. The event consisted of various tables with activities and games and featured performances highlighting aspects of Japan’s traditional and modern culture. Performances ran from approximately 12:15 to 1 p.m., while those in attendance were free to explore the booths continuing on until 3 p.m.

The first performance was by Shiori Kubrick, a Japanese Pop band featuring a keyboardist, bassists, a drummer on the cajon, and their main vocalist who also played acoustic guitar.

Following their performance was Ai Yamashita, a touring pianist from Tokyo. Yamashita’s setlist included traditional Japanese folk music, popular songs from anime and other Japanese media, and a song off of her own album ‘I Am Ai’, a play off of her own name which also means “love” in her native tongue.

After Yamashita’s set ended, a member of the Anime and Manga Club, Maddie Rose, sang “I’m Ready” from the musical adaptation of a popular anime called “Death Note”; for her performance, she ‘cosplayed’ as the character Misa Amane. (The term cosplay is a contraction of the words “costume play”, referring to an important practice to the Japanimation subculture where fans dress up as their favorite characters.)

After Rose’s performance, Minako Itamoto performed a Japanese traditional fan dance dressed in a kimono, part of the traditional dress.

The last dance on the program schedule, the Japanese Festival Dance, did not occur for an unknown reason—instead, the performances concluded with a Judo demonstration by Yudai Kato and Carlos Farmador in which they displayed the throws and flips that are the hallmark of the Japanese martial art.

There were nine booths in total, each put on by the various associations. The ASC’s table had a cardboard sakura (“cherry blossom”) tree where people could write their dreams on paper flowers and have them put up. Heroes for Hire were guests who had a table where you could make little felt caricatures of various characters, with examples on view. The Anime & Manga club had a festival game called Yo-yo Tsuri where one would fish out water balloon yo-yos using hooks with paper. The Japanese Language Program had calligraphy and origami stations with toys called kendama. The Japanese Language Club had the Daruma Otoshi game, where players would have to try to knock out a series of stacked disks with a small hammer without the top doll falling over. They also had a Ramune Ringtoss, where Ramune soda was arranged and people could throw rings to “fin” themselves the soda. The Japanese Student Association had fukuwarai, a game similar to pin the tail on the donkey, only with masks on a table. Finally, starting at 1 p.m., a chef and Dunkin' employee from UMass Boston Dining Services came and taught volunteers how to make sushi, which they then served to attendees.

Cambodian New Year

Last Friday night, the Khmer Culture Association (KCA) hosted their New Year celebration in the main auditorium in University Hall. The KCA, one of the many spiderwebs of the ASC, has been a part of UMass Boston’s student landscape for 31 years, though their activity has varied. The current KCA has been active for the past three years now, with former president Chan Som returning to assist the current E-Board with organizing the event as well as to be the MC. The celebration of the Khmer New Year falls anywhere between April 13 and April 16, depending upon one’s practice. As a primarily Buddhist country, Khmer people typically celebrate the New Year by reciting blessings and visiting their temple. For the KCA’s celebration for the students, Som stressed their focus on the smaller Khmer population in Boston and the blend of culture between Cambodia and America. “This is about the second generation Khmer Americans,” she said, “and it’s about celebrating our identity.”

The event began with an introduction from Som and the E-board. They introduced the KCA and gave information on its background. In their mission statement, they conveyed that their goals “include promoting awareness and appreciation of Khmer culture and customs among the campus community”.

Following the introduction, Hoy! Pinoy, the Filipino club, also under the Asian Student Center banner, performed one of their traditional dances called ‘tinikling’. Once their dance ended, models sporting modern and traditional Cambodian dress walked across the U-Hall stage. Their clothing was donated for the event by Bora Chiemruom, the owner of Kravant Boutique, LLC in Lowell.

After the fashion show concluded, several rounds of a jump rope competition ensued, with those who outlasted the other 8+ participants winning their choice of Pocky.

Before a food break, they held trivia on Khmer culture and history. Attendees were then allowed to exit the auditorium and get food to eat in the main lobby. After eating, people returned to the auditorium for even more jump roping with prizes before transitioning into some Cambodian line dancing. The event concluded with two of Chiemruom’s dresses being raffled off and closing remarks from the KCA’s E-board.

Bollywood Night

Food, music and laughter accompanied the echoes of Ballroom C on Friday. The Desi Student Association had a Bollywood Night that had every individual dancing on the floor. As guests entered, gold balloons littered the floor and a gold photo wall was hung up in the corner. Tables were decorated in red cloths and had white roses as their centerpiece. The dress code of the night was “dress to impress,” and various people either dressed western or in full out Desi clothes. Guests were served either vegetable or chicken biryani, a classic Indian dish. Before food was served and shortly after, a DJ played the most popular Bollywood songs, to which most of the guests danced to. There were also several performances by students, whether solo or group, who were cheered on by a tumultuous crowd.

UMass Boston will be hosting more cultural events in the future, including but not limited to the Cape Verdean Student Association’s “CV Night” on April 18, the Black Student Center’s “Step Up or Step Aside” showcase on April 19, and Hoy! Pinoy’s “Luz Vi Minda Filipino Culture Show” on May 3, 2019.

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