On Friday night, the Intercultural Center lounge was booming; students were eating traditional Japanese food, drinking green tea or soft drinks, listening to J-pop, playing games and unwinding with friends after the start of the new semester. Why? The Brandeis Japanese Student Association threw its annual Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) celebration.

JSA kicked off the event with a presentation detailing the cultural significance of Oshogatsu. The new year is the most important holiday in Japanese culture. Many celebrate the new year by eating traditional foods, playing games and visiting shrines and temples. In addition, the new year is an opportune time to reconnect with family and friends.

After the presentation, the event became less structured; students got to socialize with friends while learning about and appreciating Japanese culture. Students were served ozoni (soup with mochi), soba (buckwheat noodles) and mochi (traditional desserts). In an interview with the Justice, JSA Event Coordinator Diya Liu ’22 showed the effort the club put into the preparation of the food: “Our group did the soup this afternoon, like four-ish, so it was really fresh out of the pot. So we really make sure because we bought the vegetables and stuff last night — we drove to H-Mart — so everything we made was clean, fresh, and we also make sure every taste that everyone is having is fresh and authentic.”

In addition to the food, traditional Oshogatsu activities such as writing nengajo (greeting cards), omikuji (fortune drawing), top spinning and a photo booth were available for students to try out. Students also had the opportunity to take home Fukubukuro: mystery luck bags filled with an assortment of Japanese goodies. These activities exposed the students to Oshogatsu traditions outside of food. Liu said, “I think usually all of the events are emphasized on the food, but I want to do more than that. So the way of creating the slides, to adding the game booth with traditional cultural games and also writing cards to others, also sharing the Japanese cultural side of the event, not just, like, food. Food is definitely important, but it’s only part of this event. Other parts can also play a big role, too.”

This holistic emphasis on Japanese culture contributed to the successful turnout for the event. In addition to many members of JSA attending the event, many students who were not Japanese turned out as well, not only celebrating the Japanese New Year but Japanese culture. I enjoyed taking part in the celebration; the event was meaningful to me because I learned a lot about Japanese customs and Oshogatsu, and I believe it is of utmost importance to celebrate the diverse backgrounds and cultures represented by the students of the Brandeis community.

JSA President Alysa Noda-Hines ’20 said in an interview with the Justice, “ICC’s on the edge of campus and a lot of people find it bothersome to come, but we hope people come here to enjoy the great food that we offer and the games, and have a great time with their friends.”

Attending the Oshogatsu celebration was a wonderful experience. It is definitely worthwhile to go to the ICC and learn more about the cultures of our friends and classmates!