Courtesy of Thanh Ngo

The Japanese aspects of culture that we commonly know today — kimonos, sushi, and origami — are all part of a multi-layered, complex culture that has established itself over the past millennia. Starting this spring semester, UR students can embrace the richness of Japan firsthand as one of UR’s newest clubs brings a taste of the country to campus.
UR’s Japanese Students’ Association (JSA) recently met with the Students’ Association (SA) Senate earlier this month to sign an official constitution, where it formally received final recognition from SA.
“JSA is now eligible for funding from the Students’ Association Appropriations Committee starting next semester,” JSA co-president and freshman George Iwaoka said.
Iwaoka and two others students, sophomore Koji Muto and freshman Mikako Harata, currently hold positions as JSA co-presidents.
The trio collaborated after mutual dissatisfaction over the lack of community between Japanese students and the rest of the UR community.
“Our first question when we came to this school was ‘why wasn’t there already a Japanese-affiliated student club?’” Muto said. “Despite the popularity of Japanese culture that has permeated throughout the US, there was no such thing as JSA. We felt the interest was there, and all we needed to show was some initiative.”
Five years before JSA’s time, a former alumnus had created and led a club called Japan Matsuri, a student group dedicated to spreading awareness regarding Japan. Over time, however, the number of club members diminished until, eventually, the club itself faded into UR’s history.
JSA’s dedication and persistence throughout the entire process of SA recognition shows how much potential this club holds. The paperwork initially started in October 2012, and JSA eventually reached official club status five months later in April.
“UR has multiple steps for any potential club to become SA recognized,” Iwaoka said. “SA wants to really make sure the club is dedicated and the members involved are also dedicated.”
After the first set of paperwork in the fall semester, the co-presidents worked with their cultural club adviser Lydia Crews as they entered preliminary status, a trial period set up by SA to determine a club’s aptitude on campus. JSA was required to hold a general interest meeting, recruit and compile a list of members, and hold events promoting the club.
By drawing curious and hungry students, JSA secured a solid list of members at their general interest meeting where forty “Cup Noodles” were offered. JSA continued its presence on campus through a very successful cultural exhibition called Japanese Expo this past month. Co-sponsored with the Sigma Psi Zeta sorority and the Pi Delta Psi fraternity, the Expo gave students the opportunity to sample sushi, play matsuri games, and learn the art of traditional tea tasting. In addition, students were offered brushes to practice calligraphy and inflatable sumo suits to wrestle friends. Seeing a turnout of over 300, JSA successfully got their name out to campus.
“I was amazed so many people came out that day, especially since we’re a new group,” JSA publicity chair and freshman Yunshan Yang said.
While JSA continues to establish its presence throughout UR, its members grow excited for what the future holds. Coming from different backgrounds, yet sharing a passion for diversity, JSA’s members show genuine interest in Japan and its heritage, which is exactly what a cultural club needs.
“As a Chinese person, I find Japanese culture attracting,” Yang explained. “It’s similar to Chinese culture but they also have so many differences. Sometimes it can confuse me more than American culture. To learn more about Japan, I joined JSA.”
Enthusiasm, cultural curiosity, and diligence are what drive a club to success, and in only a semester, JSA has proved to be more than a club offering yummy food and origami lessons. By promoting themselves through social media, co-sponsored events, and word of mouth, JSA strives to continue flourishing in the coming years.
JSA secretary and freshman Mana Takeyama attributes JSA’s uphill success to the close-knit group of people willing to make JSA prosper.
“I believe our closeness and true love for Japan will ultimately bring us success in spreading its beautiful culture and traditions,” she said.

Yoon is a member of
the class of 2016.

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