(Written by staff writer Sara Arthurs for The Courier. Story originally published on Feb. 9, 2018).
A wide cross-section of the community has been coming together to celebrate Japanese culture this week – and more activities are coming this weekend.
The events were advertised with the name “Tomodachi” – Japanese for “friend.” That’s because the event was coordinated and made possible by friends, said Hiroaki “Hiro” Kawamura, associate professor and director, area of modern languages at the University of Findlay.
He and others started discussing the idea for a celebration of Japanese culture when the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts was first established. As a public facility right in the center of the city, and a former school, the arts facility is one of the “major symbols” of the community, Kawamura said. And he thought performing arts would be a way to promote more connection with the local Japanese community. Organizers aimed to offer activities that would appeal to all ages, including young kids and young adults who may not have access to Japanese culture.
Heather J. Clow, executive director of the Marathon Center, identified the renowned taiko drumming group Yamato, which performed at the Marathon Center on Monday.
But as planning for the performance progressed, a single event grew to include many other organizations. Instead, a series of community events began Jan. 29 and will conclude Sunday. As more and more organizations got involved, people started chiming in and saying they could contribute – “I mean, so many people,” Kawamura said.
The Hancock Historical Museum held a lecture by Kawamura, and featured an exhibit of Samurai armor. The Arts Partnership and the Findladies, a Japanese dance group in Findlay, organized a demonstration of Japanese dance in Findlay City and Hancock County Schools. The Findlay-Hancock County Public Library screened a Japanese movie last weekend and will show another Saturday. Prior to their performance, Yamato held a demonstration for area high school and University of Findlay students interested in percussion.
Mitsuhiro Wada, consul-general of Japan in Detroit, said businesses, government and academia all came together in Findlay to celebrate Japanese culture, citing the leadership of Mayor Lydia Mihalik and especially Kawamura’s work.
Wada, who spoke at a reception at the Marathon Center prior to the Yamato performance, said the consulate-general’s mission is to promote good relationship between the United States and Japan. He holds this role for Michigan and Ohio and labeled Findlay “really a very unique, interesting area.”
Mihalik, at the reception, said the relationship between Findlay and Japan goes back more than 30 years and “it seems like it gets more rich and deep” year after year.
Kawamura said several companies came into Findlay in the late 1980s, and Friends of Findlay was established around that time. One of its missions is “to promote friendship” between the local community and the Japanese community.
Kawamura said he’s heard different numbers, but believes about 250 Japanese individuals live in the community, including children. Most, he said, are not U.S. citizens. They may stay for three to five years in the United States to work or study, then return to Japan.
A few years ago, Kawamura conducted some research on the early days of the Japanese community in Findlay, interviewing people both in Japan and the United States, including “many so-called old-timers” who were in Findlay in the late 19809s and early 90s. He learned that decades ago, when there was a trade conflict between the United States and Japan, Japanese people living in Findlay weren’t as comfortable speaking Japanese in public as there was “a sense of fear.”
Wada, at the reception, said 318 Japanese citizens are living in Findlay, and he expressed his gratitude on their behalf.
The drumming group Yamato, he said, is one of Japan’s greatest cultural ambassadors. He said group members are very famous taiko (Japanese percussion) performers and have performed in more than 30 countries.
Taiko as a whole is “loved by” many in the United States, Wada said, noting that Bowling Green State University has its own taiko group. In addition, the Ohio city of Dublin has a friendship with a Japanese city that began when taiko teams from each city visited each other, “and they loved each other.”
Kawamura said his hope is that the community-wide celebration isn’t an isolated event, but part of an ongoing, continual effort. “The work never ends” of building relationships, he said.
Clow said the performing arts center got great feedback on the Yamato performance, with people particularly praising “their athleticism… how engaging they were.”
Bob LaClair is president of Fifth Third Bank in Northwest Ohio, which sponsored the event. He said “having a strong performing arts” community is good for overall economic development, as it is appealing to potential new businesses.
Additional events include:
- The Japanese family movie “From Up on Poppy Hill” will be shown free at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Lindamood Room of the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library. The movie is set in 1963 Yokohama as Japan is picking up the pieces from World War II and preparing for the Olympics.
- The University of Findlay Pops Concert “East Meets West With Traditional Japanese Dance” will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday in the TLB auditorium of Winebrenner Theological Seminary. It features Jack Taylor, conductor; Colleen Abrams, soloist; and Haru Hashiguchi, Japanese dancer. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Tickets are available at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts, marathoncenterarts.org, 419-423-2787 or at at the door