Phuong Nguyen —
Japanese culture was on display at the Matsuri Festival on Tuesday, February 25, continuing a long-loved tradition of the twenty-seven-year-old exchange program between Illinois College and Ritsumeikan University in Japan.
The festival, free and open to the public, lasted from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Bruner Fitness and Recreation building. Program Director Rebecca Spencer estimated that more than 200 people came to the event, many of whom came for the first time.
“We’ve had outstanding turnout,” Spencer said, “I’ve seen people here that I don’t know, which means that not just host families, host students, but members of the Jacksonville community are here as well.” Spencer has run the program since 1997, and she was glad to see that the program has reached beyond the Illinois College campus to receive local support.
The festival featured Japanese food samples, calligraphy, yukata dressing, and origami. The calligraphy section, where visitors could learn to write in Japanese with the help of Ritsumeikan students, was the most popular stop for many spectators.
Illinois College student Michael Fox, said that he enjoyed the event a great deal. “[It] is well-organized,” Fox commented, “[and] the Japanese students are super, super friendly.”
Ashley Smith, a host family member, shared the excitement. Her favorite part about the festival was its inclusion of activities for people of all ages. Her sisters, Ellie and Jenny Smith, added that they loved seeing things from abroad, and that the two cultures are similar and different at the same time.
In preparation for the event, the twenty-seven Ritsumeikan students had brainstormed its programming and divided the works among themselves even before they arrived at the IC campus. The turnout was beyond their expectations. “We are very happy that many people came and visited us,” Ritsumeikan student Kaho Sakomoto said, “I love it because many Americans are interested in our culture and they love to try many things.”
For these young cultural ambassadors who came to learn about American culture like Sakamoto, the festival was a great opportunity for them to give back and introduce their proud culture to the community.
The town of Jacksonville also benefited from this camaraderie.
“This is really good spirit,” Host Family Coordinator Janet Chipman said, “It just brings people together.” Chipman has hosted Japanese students for almost two decades and spoke with joy about the relationships that she and her family have had with the friends from the East. To her, the program is an opportunity to promote peace and international friendship.
The Matsuri festival was the last public event for the Intercultural Exchange Program. On Thursday, the Ritsumeikan students said their informal farewell to their host families and friends before heading to Chicago for their final stay, concluding their month-long visit to America.