Japan Night 2016 takes new angle, finds success

Cheers and roaring applause could be heard in the Atwood Ballroom as the 2016 Japan Night wrapped up Saturday evening.

“Our goal this year was to make a breakthrough,” said JP Network President SJ Drong. He said the organization’s hope for this year’s event was to bring the cultural experience as close as possible to what you would find in Japan.

“That’s our motivation,” he said. “We want to bring that experience here to St. Cloud State University for the students and community to enjoy and to actually educate them about Japanese culture.”

Drong said the turnout was bigger than expected. A line wrapped around upstairs in Atwood as people waited to enter. Around 5:30 p.m., the doors opened. When people finally made it through, students with the JP Network bowed as they walked in.

The ballroom was decorated with lamps that were strung up, all connecting back to a cardboard building near the back of the room that was to represent a Japanese shrine. The structure featured dragons, flowers, and the symbol for the theme of the event, “Matusuri,” which means “Festival.” It took nearly two months to build.

The lights that were hanging overhead represented the four seasons: winter, summer, fall and spring. This was in part, because Japanese songs often tell stories, Drong said.

As people walked in, they were invited to play games, stop by different booths that gave them the shot at winning small prizes, and get their picture taken in traditional dress at the photo booth.

Before the opening speech, people grouped together near the back of the ballroom where the games were.

You could hear small rings bounce from glass bottles, chattering and laughter. The ballroom filled with the rustling from the crowd, as people talked with one another. The opening speech was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., just before the first performance.

Dave Harris, dean of the Herberger Business school, gave a short speech before the event continued on with the first performance. Harris, who was born and lived in Japan for 16 years, talked about the importance of coming to cultural events like Japan Night and learning other languages.

“We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful international students,” Harris said. “They are such an asset to our university and community.”

“I strongly believe that one of the ways you can distinguish yourself from others is to be actively involved with international programs and events like this one,” he said. Harris explained that there is a demand for people who are fluent in other languages and have an understanding of other cultures. He encouraged students to study other languages, adding that his background has undoubtedly helped him in his career.

Following Harris’ speech, JP Network Adviser Owen Zimpel came to the podium. He began by explaining the process of setting up events and asked for a round of applause for the student officers of the organization who had the vision for the event.

“I’m always nervous as the adviser,” he said. “This is a long process; they start this in the fall.”

In past years, he explained the event was structured differently, featuring just a presentation and performances. But, the elaborate set up and agenda proved successful, he said before thanking the audience for coming. Zimpel has been the adviser of the organization since the beginning, which has been on campus for 11 years.

The lights dimmed soon after the opening speeches. The audience grew quiet. Bright multi-colored lights illuminated a group of performers on stage in position to perform the first traditional dance of the evening.

Back to back, performers came on stage and walked off with applause at their backs. Following the opening traditional dance, members of the organization performed “Eisa,” a traditional dance featuring collective drumming and dancing.

What seemed to catch the audience’s attention was the karate performance that followed. The lights dimmed, signaling the performance was in transition. When the lights came on again, about a dozen performers came on stage, wearing white clothes and black belts.

Together, they demonstrated a karate routine, drawing out various reactions from the audience, especially when they brought out the bricks.

The performers had demonstrated different board breaking routines, where a single performer, who was surrounded by others, would punch, kick or elbow boards out of the others’ hands.

Soon after, they laid a cloth out in the middle of the stage. Performers took two bricks and stood them so they were parallel to each other. They started with one board, but then began stacking them three high and thrust their fists right through them. But, when the wooden boards were gone, they pulled out stone slabs and, without hesitation, forced their hands through them, to the floor.

Karate ended with applause. Performers bowed to the audience, cleaned up the stone pieces and walked off stage. After the first round of performances, there was a short raffle before the audience was encouraged to try food prepared for the evening.

People were given time to eat, and the event continued for roughly another half hour.

When the audience seated themselves again, student officers were invited to the stage by Zimpel, who presented them individually with awards for their service. Zimpel, too, was presented with an award for his dedication and time with JP Network.

Soon after, performances started up again.

Large, wooden drums were positioned on stage. Performers took their stance behind the drums. With two wooden sticks, the performers began a rhythm that resounded through the ballroom.

Each performer played in unison, beating the drums faster and faster, hitting note after note before the stage darkened again, signaling the next performance.

Similar to the first half, dance performances were allotted for the evening. However, the students presented the audience with modern dances, upbeat tones and a faster beat.

The last performance features a large group of performers dancing together, feet stomping the stage and hands moving with the music.

The music picked up and from the darkened sides of the ballroom rushed dozens of people involved with the events, waving lights, singing and joining the others on stage to dance the evening to its end.

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