An audience sits transfixed as the powerful beats from Japanese taiko drums echo through the hall, strong enough for attendees to feel in their bodies as the seven drums were struck. Arranged on the tables audience members sit at are candles placed inside glass bowls, the dim light illuminating scattered pink flower petals.
The Japanese Student Association’s (JSA) 10th Annual Spring Matsuri held in the Porter Dining Hall hosted Japanese taiko drummers, various Japanese musicians and bands and the dance group Japanese Korean (JK) Family.
Matsuri, or ‘festivals,’ held in Japan are often sponsored by a local shrine or temple, sometimes for religious and civil celebrations. They often include food stalls, entertainment and carnival games, all of which were included in the JSA’s Spring Matsuri. JSA President Marie “Ai” Maguire, who helped planned the Matsuri starting in fall, stressed the importance of the Matsuri in raising awareness about Japanese culture.
“It’s definitely just to get more awareness of underrepresented cultures,” Maguire said. “And so that other ethnicities and different groups of people can get together with a common interest and have a great time.”
Organizers sought performers who represented different aspects of Japanese culture, including Watsonville Taiko, a group of drummers that performed in the second act. The drummers invited over a dozen audience members to the stage to show them how to play the taiko drums.
“I like audience participation and for people to experience taiko drumming,” said artistic director of Watsonville Taiko Ikuyo Conant. “I love performing but that’s the fun part when [the audience] gets excited about drumming […] because drumming gives you a lot of power and then [you can] release all the stress.”
As taiko drumming has a close connection to Japanese culture, Maguire said the JSA had been trying to get Watsonville Taiko to come to its Matsuri for years. Taiko, which literally means “fat drum,” comes from thousands of years of Japanese tradition.
“It is a good way for [Japanese students] to reconnect with a culture that they might not be able to in other places on campus,” Maguire said, adding that events such as JSA’s Matsuri offer Japanese American students space to reminisce about their culture, food and speak Japanese with others.
Games included popular carnival games with Japanese titles. Wanage, or ring toss, fukuwarai, roughly translated to ‘pin the tail’ and shateki, or target practice. In target practice, one brave organizer sat behind a pyramid of stacked red plastic cups as people stood about 15 feet away trying to topple the pyramid with a Mega Nerf gun.
After two hours of carnival games, the stage hosted various performers, including JK Family, a dance group of about 20 people that danced to songs such as “Low” by Flo Rida. In the second act, the group members wore black surgical masks, the fabric puffing out then clinging to their noses and mouths as they breathed.
All of JK Family’s performances use original choreography and give group members the opportunity to try their hand at making their own dance routines, said JSA president and JK Family member Marie “Ai” Maguire. Other JSA members also appreciated the opportunity JSA’s spring Matsuri gave for dancers and musicians to perform.
“I like seeing all the orgs coming together and performing,” said JSA member Matthew Won. “They get to show off what they’ve been working on for the last couple quarters and that’s always really cool, seeing your friends in some of the groups and seeing some other groups that you haven’t seen before.”