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The Sakura Festival Celebrates 14 Years of Sister-City Friendship

The beginning of Spring was one of the many things celebrated in the Japanese Friendship Garden during the Clark College Sakura Festival on April 18.  

First, you hear the beginning of the traditional Japanese song “Sakura Sakura.”

“Sakura sakura, noyama mo sato mo, miwatasu kagiri.”

This translates to, “Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, blanketing the countryside, as far as you can see.”

When Michelle Golder, special projects and activities manager planned the first Sakura Festival in 2006, it was just another event for her, she said. Now, it is a part of her.  

“I hope [the students] will appreciate the culture, and in doing this for ten years I myself have learned a lot about the differences in culture,” Golder said. “[We want to] promote the relationship with Joyo and Vancouver. We have students from both Japan and here.”

There were cultural displays, such as calligraphy, a Kyoto drum player, music (including the “Sakura Sakura”) and a traditional dance performance by Clark’s Japanese club.

Portland based Japanese drum and dance ensemble Takohachi, were also present at the festival.

This was the first Sakura Festival to feature a Shodo calligraphy performance, by calligrapher Sora Shoda. Shodo calligraphy is a meditative practice, which emphasizes the calligrapher’s body and heart.

Shoda’s performance was complimented by background music by Yukiko Vossen playing Koto, and Peter Zisa, a classical guitarist. Shoda’s calligraphy pieces were about spring blossoms, people and sound.   

“We made this art, not me” Shoda said as she finished. “You, you and you.”

Students got a chance to participate in the festival too, involving both a song from the Women’s Choral Ensemble and a performance of the Okage Odori (a traditional dance from Japan) from the Japanese Club, led by Nami Inoue.

When performing the Okage Odori, Inoue simultaneously involved the audience by both teaching the crowd and inviting them to stand up and join in the dance.

Michiyo Okuhara, a Japanese professor who is a part of the Sakura Committee, always encourages her students to participate, or at least attend the event.

”Students from the Japanese class and club performed on stage every year. Each moment is memorable for me when I see students practice hard and show what they accomplished in front of the audience,” Okuhara said.

Okuhara has participated in every Sakura festival. She has also travelled with the students in the Japanese classes to Joyo for the past four years. She acknowledged her appreciation for the kindness of the people of Joyo.

“As an instructor, the Sakura Festival is important to educate our students with Japanese culture and the history of the friendship with Joyo,” she said. “The Sakura festival is also a day when I feel very proud as I remember that I am from the country with many beautiful cultures.”

Yukiko Vossen (left) and Peter Size (right) add ambient music composed with a Koto and classical Guitar. (Tyler Reyes/The Indy)
Yukiko Vossen (left) and Peter Size (right) add ambient music composed with a Koto and classical Guitar. (Tyler Reyes/The Indy)

The students enjoyed their time at the Sakura festival as well.

Valorie Randel, a bookstore employee working towards a medical certificate, has always been curious about Japanese culture. Randel took pictures of the cherry trees and attempted the origami construction, though what she really enjoyed was the calligraphy, as did another student, Gabriel Davis. He said he felt that it displayed a “passionate sense of community.”

Davis is currently taking Japanese while working towards a general transfer to WSU Vancouver. He said he had heard of Sakura festival for years, but was finally able to attend this year.

”I noticed, other than the bigger strokes, there’s lots of small dots, it makes me think of many more people, it’s nice to look at,” Davis said of the calligraphy performance.

He also enjoyed Takohachi’s performance, describing it as “intense.”  

Takohachi was the final performance during the festival. The group aims to educate and entertain at local schools and festivals. Takohachi practices “okochisin,” which means “developing new ideas based on study of the past.”

They learn traditional Japanese music and dance from Japan directly, and include songs in the modern Kumi Daiko style, or traditional Dentou Geinou style of Ancient Japan.

Their performance lasted for more than ten minutes. They rotated drums, maintaining rhythm while dancing and posing. The general rhythm was tense and the drums were loud enough you could feel them pounding in your chest.

Takohachi’s performance has always been one of the standout performances of the Sakura Festival not only this year, but in previous years as well. A number of students and faculty cited Takohachi as one of the highlights of the festival.

The Shirofugen Cherry trees that started the festival have been around for 20 years, though maybe not for too much longer, Golder said.

“They have been nurtured and our grounds team is amazing, but their lifespan is not as long, because it’s such a delicate tree, it’s not as long as we’re used to in the northwest,”  

Clark was gifted with 200 more trees in 2017, many of which have been planted and are now growing.

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