By Adam Falluji—Staff Writer
This week 30 delegates from the Yamaguchi Prefectural University, Centre’s partner university for study abroad destination in Japan, will come to Danville, KY, to participate in the Japanese Winter Plum Festival at the Norton Center for the Arts.
The festival, will take place Thurs., Feb. 19 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and feature a number of booths, activities, and demonstrations, all products in a celebration of Japanese culture.
Events will include a traditional Japanese tea ceremony display, a sumo wrestling competition, a Japanese sweets, sake, and bourbon tasting, calligraphy demonstrations, and numerous others. Every hour Kyogen theatre performances will entertain audiences in Weiseger Theatre, and Yosakoi dance demonstrations will be performed in Newlin Hall.
Hoffman visited Yamaguchi last January while students studied abroad in order to make plans for the festival.
“Centre College is known for its commitment to global citizenship and its study abroad program,” Hoffman said.
“The Festival will feature traditional and contemporary cultural displays, demonstrations, and activities. The highlight is a performance by the Sagi-Ryu Kyogen Theatre Company that will be making its United States debut in over 100 years, at the Norton Center. Centre students and the surrounding community will have a great opportunity to be part of history with this historic theatre group performing at Centre.”
Yosakoi is a highly energetic dance style developed in 1954 that combines traditional Japanese dance movements with modern music and styles. A diverse array of colorful and historical costumes enhance the movement of the dancers. Some dancers carry naruko (wooden clappers) which intermingle with the sounds of other percussive instruments and drums.
However, the Kyogen theatre performances hold a particularly significance for our visitors.
“This style originated in Yamaguchi, Japan, where our partner University is, so it’s a big point of pride for them,” junior and president of Centre’s Japanese Club Kayla Morris said.
“It’s distinct from other dramatic styles. It’s short, slapstick comedy skits that would be shown during intermissions between larger scale dramatic performances. They use few props, so you’re using your mind to fill in the details.”
Kyogen theatre is an ancient Japanese tradition students studying abroad in Japan in the fall are given the chance to observe. However, all Centre students have this opportunity during the Winter Plum Festival. The humor is rather unique, still bearing its archaic nature.
“Kyogen is old and most of the plays haven’t changed over the year,” Morris said. “The jokes are easily understood and relatively timeless but it doesn’t really tailor to a young audience, kind of like a Shakespearian comedy.”
Kyogen theatre focuses on everyday subject matters and follows the lives of average people. Kyogen theatrical performances last between 15 and 20 minutes and are written so that both adults and children can enjoy them.
They feature an “Everyman” who is supposed to encapsulate the spirit of the audience. This character typically holds the name Taro Kaja, a gentle and comedic man.
Historically, Kyogen theatre provided a personal perspective into how the feudal Japanese people viewed the aristocracy, using a mix of harsh satire and slapstick comedy to comment.
The performances use minimal props and have few scene changes, which not only requires the audience to focus on the human elements of the play, but also requires those watching to participate through imagination.
And while the plays contain humor they also contain well-intentioned observations on the human condition. Contemporary plays tend toward addressing social issues, whether they are mundane or tragic, rather than strictly satirizing.
The dance troupe is around the same age as students in Centre’s Japanese Club, who will open their doors to their guests, literally, by housing the 20-some visitors.
Most large Japanese festivals take place in the spring and the Japanese Winter Plum Festival is no different since most celebrations occur during the months of March and June.
“I joined Japanese Club because I love the culture and I really want to go to Japan next year so I thought I could learn something and meet some friends and it’s been a fun, positive experience,” sophomore Greg Atchison said.
“When it was proposed to me to work on the festival, I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on other than there would be several activity booths, but I figured why not go ahead and immerse myself as much as possible and see what happens.”
While students will volunteer to help with the festival, the Norton Center staff should be given due credit for the massive initiative and planning that went into the festival.
“It’s not because of the Japanese club that this is going on. Steve Hoffman came to me as a go-to to make sure we had volunteers, but other than that I think it’s really amazing that Steve Hoffman was willing to put this together especially since this is an international arrangement,” Morris said.
Last year, the Japanese Club hosted the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, one of the biggest highlights of the Japanese year. During this festival, people celebrate the Japanese custom of hanami (literally referring to the viewing of flowers).
Hopes are high that the Winter Plum Festival will be as popular and continue as an annual event for students to participate and enjoy in the future.