Club Conversations: NihonGo!

Posted by Julia Leef


Alex Salerno, Co-President

So just briefly, for people who don't know, what is NihonGo!?

Well NihonGo! is the Japanese language and culture club, and we basically do what the title says. We have monthly language tables, and at language tables we help Japanese students with homework or test prep or conversation, basically whatever they want, and then all the other weeks we do culture events.

So I'll pick an aspect of Japanese culture like clothes in fashion or we'll have a Jeopardy night or food or just some aspect of pop culture or traditional culture and I'll just make an event around that. Sometimes the event will be a presentation or sometimes it will be more hands on.

Why don't we talk about the academic side of this, because I don't think a lot of people realize that you offer language tables and tutoring for Japanese and for people who want to learn.

I would like to promote that a lot because we have a lot of turnout for culture events, particularly food events, which is understandable, it's food, but we don't have as much for the language events. And the reason it's only once a month is because it's not a big turnout. It used to be twice a month. So it would be every other week but there was so few people coming that I decided to make it once a month so we can have more room for events that draw a lot more people. And we're always available any time for language help, so that's something to take note of. And hopefully I can get the word out about us offering help anytime, particularly at language tables, to the people studying Japanese here.

How would students interested in getting help, either through the language tables or outside of that, contact you?

You can contact me through email, and at the beginning of the year I always go to the beginning class, the 101 class, and I let them know who I am and about my club. So I try to make sure that everybody studying, or who has just begun to study, knows that this is available.

What is the basic history of NihonGo!? Is it a relatively new club?

Well, I can pull up my charter if you would like to know exactly what the dates are, but I believe it started in 2011, so it's relatively new. When I was reading over my charter, I'm probably going to have to update it, it seemed very language-based, and I think we've been changing more since then because we would like to have people coming to the club, even people who don't really know anything about Japan or who only have a slight interest in Japan because that's fine too. It's really open to anyone. If the event we're doing is interesting to someone, even if they don't know anything about Japan or even care that much, it would be great for them to come in. So even though it's like a focus club and Japan is the focus, it's not exclusive at all, it's for everybody.

Along those lines I think one of the biggest misconceptions about NihonGo! is that you have to know Japanese to participate in events.

Yeah, I always get that question, especially at the club fairs. Like, "I don't know Japanese is this okay, can I do this?" or "I'm only a beginner," and really all our eBoard-I mean, I know a lot of Japanese, but all our eBoard are also beginners, and we're learning along with you and it's about students coming together and practicing together. And it's not so much of, like, maybe it pushes people back because they don't want to have a class again when they're already in class, but no it's about coming together as students and working together.

Now, with the cultural events that you put on do you sometimes partner with other clubs?

In the past we hadn't done many collaborations, but now that I am the president I'm trying to push for collaborations. So we're doing a lot with ACA coming up next month and in the future, and I've already talked to them about this, I would like to collaborate with Anime Club.

Can you tell me a little bit more about ACA?

Yeah, Asian Culture Awareness. Next month we're actually doing a bunch of collaborations with them. They just all happen to be next month because that's how scheduling worked out. We're doing curry night with them, a tea tasting and we're doing karaoke night. So all of those are actually going to be in the Spa, and basically NihonGo! is co-sponsoring karaoke night, so that's pretty straightforward, but we're going to be in charge of the Japanese curry that's going at curry-tasting and then we will be in charge of the Japanese teas at tea-tasting night.

Are there any other highlights this semester that students can look forward to?

I think I've said most of them. Calligraphy, then curry, then tea-tasting, then karaoke night, and after that is going to be a big event. We did it last year, before I was on eBoard. There's a lot of festivals, especially in the spring and summer in Japan, and they try to recreate a festival. The Obon Festival last year. Unfortunately it rained, it was supposed to be a big event on the Case green but it rained so it got pushed to the side of Case on Case Walkway. But it was still fun and we had just basically festival foods and we had Skidaiko there so we collaborated with them too because Skidaiko's drums are often seen at festivals. And we also had ACA there who provided bubble tea, and we had a couple other elements of a Japanese festival, and this year I hope I can make it an even bigger thing, especially if it's sunny and we can do this on Case green.

When you mentioned that collaboration with other clubs is something that didn't used to happen but that you're trying to push for more, are there any other changes to the NihonGo! that you're looking to do?

Yeah, so basically two of the changes I made so far were changing the structure from 'every other week is language tables' to 'once a month,' more collaborations, and I would like to, we're already set in our schedule for the rest of the semester, but next semester bringing in a guest speaker or something, someone who could come in and talk about something. We had ideas for this semester, but we're going to wait until next semester.

Is there an outlet for students to talk to you if they have ideas about what they might like to see in future events?

We, at the beginning of each semester, we ask everybody what they want to do because while we have ideas for what we want to do in the semester, I have a calendar which says that every single week there is something planned, but nothing is set in stone and we want to do what everyone else wants to do. So even if it's just an idea like, 'what kind of Japanese food do you like?' or 'What aspect of Japanese culture do you want to know more about?' If someone just tells me then I can make an event based around that.

Is there any event in particular or a topic that you find is really popular among students?

Other than food events, which are always popular, I think our most fun food event of this year was takoyaki which was great because it's very hands on instead of 'I make the food and share it.' Some of our other events are 'I make the food and they arrange it,' this was more like 'I have batter, go make it.' Like, they made it themselves which was very fun for everybody because everybody got to cook in the same room. Other than food events, we had a Japanese fashion night at the end of last semester and we had a presentation on different Japanese fashions and each of our eBoard dressed up in their specific fashion that they were explaining and it was a lot of fun.

[Salerno takes out her calendar to run through the club's events from this semester]

When we got back [from winter break] our first meeting was about New Years in Japan and we had a small presentation on what is New Years in Japan and we ate a special soup that they eat in Japan on New Years. We've had a couple movie nights, and that's always fun. We watched, do you know Akira Kurosawa, the famous director, Seven Samurai? We watched one of his. We did a game show and ramen night. I wanted to separate those but we didn't have enough time so we basically just ate ramen while watching Japanese game shows and it was a lot of fun. And then we had a documentary on an aspect of Japan.

Is there anywhere students can go to see a schedule and find upcoming events?

I haven't thought about putting the schedule anywhere, mostly because it changes all the time so if I put something up there it's not going to be the same a week later. And I think an element of surprise is more fun. So I wouldn't want everyone to know exactly what we're doing because then it's not fun that way.

[Salerno takes another look at her calendar]

We started the beginning of the year with a Go event, which is like a Japanese board game. Then onigiri has happened for multiple years, and onigiri is just rice balls and you put stuff on top of it and inside of it and it's a lot of fun. Then there's Jeopardy. We did a bento event so everybody got to keep their own bento box and take it home with them and they got to decorate and fill it there, and that was a lot of fun.

Is there anything else you'd like to add that we haven't gone over?

I think I covered everything I would like to say. I guess I'll just stress the points that we are open to everybody and if someone has any interest in anything, any aspect of Japan or food they like, just telling me what that is can turn it into an event. And we're always here to help with Japanese. There used to be a lot of people learning Japanese here and lately that's just been getting much, much smaller. We would like to see an interest and excitement for the language and hopefully maybe I can do something in the future that brings the Japanese students together because a lot of the students who take Japanese here don't go to clubs so maybe I could do something that brings a lot of energy into the department.

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