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UW Matsuri

Photos & Text by David Yamaguchi,
The North American Post

The crowd to get into the UW Ballroom Food booths The Pankui Kyousou booth literally bread eating competition

On Saturday May 13, the UW Japanese Students’ Association (JSA) held its annual end-of-the-school-year matsuri in the UW Hub Ballroom, 4 – 9 PM, where a great time was had by all. In addition to the usual assortment of food and game booths, a booth new to this observer was “Pankui Kyousou,” where cellophane-wrapped donuts suspended at jumping height are grabbed from the air by mouth by competing entrants.

Stage performances also occurred throughout the festival, including students performing karaoke, sumo, taekwando, wushu, chanoyu Japanese tea ceremony and the like.

The tea ceremony seemed unusual in that it was the second-to-the last performance of the evening. It felt incongruous to me, but still I was impressed by how the audience quieted to watch the performance in earnest.

Only in retrospect did I recognize the larger festival strategy of placing the tea ceremony next-to-last. The arrangement was probably deliberate, to bring the audience to a meditative state, before the final act. The latter was a performance by the UW-based J-pop/J-rock band “Kaede01,” which superbly brought the house down on the entire evening!

Pankui contestants leaping for suspended donuts UW chanoyu tea ceremony club Kaede01 J popJ rock band pictured Luna Osaki Maxwell Frissel and Kensho Gendzwill

The closest thing to the experience I can think of is the closing scene of the Japanese film, “Linda Linda Linda” (Doona Bae, 2005), where a last-minute band closes out a high school festival to the screaming masses. While Kaede01’s original music is a bit amateur, the six-member band performed with panache.

Kaede01’s performance was notable in that a professional New York-based DJ “Kohei,” had tried, unsuccessfully, to bring the crowd to life earlier in the evening.

The attendees had been too shy.

All in all, this observer left the festival with three feelings. The first was a sense of culture shock. It was probably only the third time in the past 39 months that I have walked into a large crowded room. The second was nostalgia for my own long-ago student days. The third was a reminder of the passage of time. That is, while fellow boomers reading this manage to convince ourselves in everyday life that we are “still young,” I could count on one hand those present in the room who had gray hair like me! Similarly, my hand was not among those that shot up when the sumo demonstrators asked for volunteer wrestlers.

The UW chanoyu group especially is looking for new members, as much of their club is graduating next month. They meet weekly in Savery Hall.

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David Yamaguchi has written for the NAP since 2006, at first as a volunteer, then as a paid freelancer (2016-2020),then as a staff writer/editor (2020-2023). He is presently executive director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington (JASSW).