By Rebecca Nelson

The Asian Studies Center at Michigan State University will be tipping its hat to Japanese culture throughout the month.  The celebration will include a series of events that have been carefully planned out by students in the hospitality business class at MSU.  Although the campus-wide recognition of Japan has been an annual occurrence for decades, this is the first year of a month-long festivity.

“Our hope is that by focusing on a region for an entire month, we can provide a wide range of activities that will appeal to a diverse group of people. We hope that we have put together a program that has something for everyone,” explained Leslie Jablonski, coordinator of the Asian Studies Center.

The events began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, Feb. 27, to announce “The Dolls of Japan: Shapes of Prayer, Embodiments of Love,” which will be displayed in the International Center Lobby until the end of the month.

The film "Ran" was screened in honor of Japan Month on Wednesday, March 14.

The travelling exhibit showcases more than 70 representative dolls from Japan including Girls’ Festival dolls and Boys’ Day dolls, dolls associated with performing arts, regional dolls from throughout the country and “creative dolls” made by Japanese craftsman.

“They reflect the customs of Japan and have regionally distinctive attributions,” Jablonski said. “These dolls are more than toys; they tell the story of the Japanese people, their history and their aspirations. This exhibit has been a truly wonderful opportunity for us; we’ve already seen a great deal of interest in it, and the fact that it can be viewed by anyone, at any time, is such a bonus.”

The opening ceremony also featured a keynote from Kuninori Matsuda, Consul General of Japan in Detroit, as well as a presentation by professor Ethan Segal that commemorated the year of challenges that have faced Japan since the tsunami in March of last year.

“We wanted the opportunity to remember the devastating events of March 11th, 2011 in Japan. So, hosting Japan Month during March was perfect,” Jablonski said.

Also occurring in honor of Japan Month is the highly anticipated 19th Annual Michigan Japanese Quiz Bowl.  Japanese students in grades K-12 will compete in a quiz-show style competition, allowing students to exercise their knowledge of spoken and written Japanese language and culture.  Since its start almost 20 years ago, the Michigan Japanese Quiz Bowl has grown into quite the competitive occasion, complete with a final awards ceremony.

Jablonski explained, “The goal of the Asian Studies Center is to promote education of Asia topics at Michigan State and across the Lansing Community.  We hope to provide opportunities that allow individuals to partake in cultural exchanges, giving them the chance to learn something that perhaps they didn’t know.”

“One of the reasons that I wanted to attend MSU was for the cultural experience,” said MSU grad Colleen Keehn. “Coming from a small town, I missed out on that and I think it’s wonderful that we are part of such a diverse university that offers opportunities such as these.”

It’s important to celebrate all cultures and learn about each other’s beliefs and cultural experiences.  Understanding others has a variety of benefits; we can become better students, teachers, parents and scholars, and it will ultimately make us better people. A lot of misconceptions exist between groups of people, and learning helps us to better appreciate one another.

“The importance of Japan Month is great,” said French exchange student Mathieu Bouchaud.  “It’s not very often that a culture is celebrated and appreciated for an entire month, and learning about the world and its people is imperative for every individual.  We should feel so lucky to be a part of this.”

As Japanese peace activist Daisaku Ikeda stated, “People can only live fully by helping others to live. Cultures can only realize their full richness by honoring other traditions. And only by respecting life can humanity continue to exist.”

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