By Laura Hayes, Diversions Editor
A Japanese puppet theater show worthy of a standing ovation, traditional herb tea tastings and archery demonstrations all took place at Furman’s Mini-Festival of Traditional Japanese Performing Arts on March 22.
The festival, sponsored by the Department of Asian Studies at Furman and Upstate International, was organized by Yuji Kishimoto, professor emeritus at Clemson University. Shusuke Yagi, Ph.D., department chair and professor of Asian studies, and Jay Oney, Ph.D., department chair of theater arts, coordinated the details of the event from Furman.
“Dr. Oney, chair of the theater arts department, and I have been planning to invite [the Japanese puppeteer group] for close to a decade,” Yagi said. “However, it was too costly so this time the Upstate International, and Professor Kishimoto brought up the topic that if we create the Mini-Festival of Traditional Japanese Performing Arts and put the Tonda Ningyô Jôruri Puppet Theater as the main event then we could invite them. So Furman became the main sponsor of the whole event.”
The festival included a variety of traditional Japanese cultural elements, such as archery and Aikido demonstrations, calligraphy practice, a tea ceremony and sushi-making demonstrations.
“The archery and tea ceremony are very unique. There aren’t many opportunities for students to do these,” Yagi said. “Aikido is a club at Furman and we have already incorporated calligraphy as part of the curriculum in Japanese Literature and Culture courses. And sushi, even at Furman, is available.”
The events were hosted not only for Furman students but also to foster a sense of community and diversity among locals.
“We regard it as part of the efforts of our department to combine three things…the Furman community and the local community that includes the international community, including Japanese citizens and businesses,” Yagi said.
The hands-on unique demonstrations allowed students and community members alike to engage in various aspects of Japanese culture. For example, during the tea ceremony, the host, Hideoko Nagasaka from the Omotesenke School in Kyôju, led observers through the tea making process by explaining the tools, such as the Chasaku, a bamboo spoon used to scoop the matcha tea from the tea container, and ingredients used in making each tea. Observers had a chance to sample the homemade matcha green tea after the ceremony.
The puppet show also proved to be a highly engaging show. With more than 500 Furman students and community members in the audience, the Japanese theater group was able to convey the story, told entirely in Japanese, in a manner that resonated with the audience.
“In the second play…one of the students told me that the first row [of spectators] were crying,” Yagi said. “So they were moved not only by the performance but also by the actors.”
In hosting the Mini-Festival of Traditional Japanese Performing Arts, Furman hoped to promote its vision of not only a more involved and informed student body, but also a more connected community.