Tucked away in room 101 of Sondheim Hall on a Wednesday evening, the Japanese Student Association gathered in anticipation. Over 20 people come to watch movies, eat pizza and celebrate Japanese culture. Friendly members offered to pour rice tea for attendees, which had a savory, grainy flavor.
The club showed two movies during the four hour event, both with a romantic theme and English subtitles. The first was an anime film called “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” about a teenage girl who discovered the ability to time travel and used it to navigate the difficulties of adolescence. The second was a live action film called “Train Main,” which was based on discussions on an online forum about a young, socially awkward man who stopped a girl from being harassed on a train and ended up falling in love with her.
Most attendants watched the films with rapt attention and some couldn’t help themselves from commenting on the stories, giggling and loudly urging characters to kiss.
The films were fitting icebreakers since anime is what first led many students to become interested in Japanese culture. Susan Rutherford, a senior majoring in information systems and the public relations chair of JSA, had exactly that experience.
“I always thought that Anime was a silly cartoon thing. It seemed like a cult,” Rutherford said. “My friend was like, just watch this one with me. I watched it with her and I got really into it.”
Rutherford’s interests in Japan expanded, so much so that it helped her decide to attend UMBC. “One of the reasons I decided to go to UMBC was because they offer Japanese language and I wanted to take it. A lot of other schools don’t offer it,” she said.
Many JSA members are also learning the Japanese language. Many attendants added Japanese phrases into their conversations or confirmed the meanings of words spoken in the films with each other. The organization meets during free hour in Sondheim 112 and every other meeting they offer speaking sessions where members can practice their language skills.
Rutherford said, “Whatever your skill level is, whether you’re taking Japanese or not, it gives everyone an opportunity to practice getting comfortable speaking it with your peers in a non-classroom setting.”
In addition to practicing the language and watching anime, the club puts on a variety of events. In the past they have had karaoke and Japanese games. Their upcoming cultural event will be unique. Jeremiah Quijote, the JSA president and a junior majoring in math and statistics is excited about the upcoming event.
“We’re going to be teaching everyone how to put together a bonsai tree and teach everyone the cultural significance of bonsai trees,” Quijote said.
The name Japanese Student Association may be a little misleading, but Quijote affirms that the organization is open to anyone — it is a Japanese interest organization. “People think you have to be Japanese to join but pretty much no one here is Japanese.”