Tokyo Institute of Technology: Japanese Section celebrates Star Festival in hybrid format

On July 7, 26 international students, Japanese teaching assistants (TAs), and Tokyo Tech faculty and staff celebrated Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, through a hybrid exchange event organized by the Japanese Section of the Institute for Liberal Arts (ILA). The event offered participants — some on campus, some online — the opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture, share their wishes and aspirations, and practice their language skills in a lighthearted environment.

Tanabata celebrates the meeting between deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, and often involves the decoration of bamboo branches with tanzaku — paper strips on which people write their wishes — and other decorations called sasakazari. This year, a cut bamboo branch for these ornaments was placed in the International Student Lounge on Ookayama Campus on June 14 to ensure that everyone had ample time to join in the fun. Students from Suzukakedai Campus also sent in their tanzaku, which were hung on the tree as they arrived.

On the day of the event, four international students visited the International Student Lounge. This was the first time they had physically met some of their Japanese instructors, as language classes had moved fully online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While conversing in Japanese, the students wrote their wishes on tanzaku and create sasakazari nets and butterflies using colorful origami paper. Some participants decided to display numerous wishes on the bamboo, while others became extremely focused on their improvised paper cutouts. When the handicraft was complete, the students enjoyed sharing their creations with one another.

During the online portion of the event, participants wrote their wishes on virtual strips of tanzaku and displayed them on a digital bamboo branch together with other virtual Tanabata decorations. While decorating their strips, the participants read out their wishes to their counterparts. This activity quickly evolved into discussions about recent events and hobbies. To the delight of the online participants, TAs and Japanese Section faculty members copied wishes from the virtual environment onto physical tanzaku and added them to the bamboo branches at the International Student Lounge.

In the post-event survey, some participants said they enjoyed chatting while doing origami, while others commented that the session was like a relaxing trip back to their childhood.

Tanabata wishes for 2021 included success in university life and finding employment, messages of compassion towards family members located abroad, and hopes for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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