Sharing culture, over a bottle of ramune

asianave January 17, 2012 Comments Off

“Here is your ramune! Do you know how to open it?”

“No; but I’ll use my muscles!” assured my 5-year-old customer as he flexed his arms on the countertop.

Staring fixedly at his glass-bottled soft drink, the young boy deliberated over how to enjoy his purchase at the 12th Annual Japanese Cultural Festival and Bazaar, hosted by the Japan America Society of Southern Colorado (JASSC).

Ramune, a carbonated drink originally sold in Japan by an entrepreneurial Scotsman in 1884, remains a popular drink during the hot and humid summer festivals in Japan. Though the soda is quite tasty in and of itself, the fun factor with ramune is that it is sealed with a glass marble. In other words, one must use the lid or “marble popper” to dislodge a marble seal in order to drink the ramune soda.

With a bit of guidance from a JASSC volunteer and some manpower provided by his father, the 5-year-old boy was able to taste bubbly, sweet success. Adults and children alike were greatly entertained by ramune. As marbles clinked, and bubbles and laughter filled the Stargazer Theater, the relative ease and beauty of cultural exchange was realized. The unique origins of ramune, its symbolic connotation of a playful Japan, its ability to initiate dialogue – all of these traits combined made the soft drink an ideal vehicle for cultural interaction at the festival.

On the morning of Oct.15, local Colorado Springs volunteers and even those from Pueblo and Denver, helped transform the Stargazer Theater into a bustling venue for the bazaar and festival. By 11 AM, a line of eager people had formed outside. With over a thousand in attendance, the theater remained packed and bustling until closing time at 3 PM.

Upon entering, attendees meandered in and around the auditorium while exploring a variety of vendors’ goods. Items available ranged from kimono wear, ceramics, bonsai trees, arts and crafts, and jewelry. Relief groups for the March earthquake and subsequent tsunami were represented as well. The main counter presented a variety of bento, from yakiniku, chicken or pork katsu, sushi, or yakisoba. Rice crackers, daifuku mochi, tea and, of course ramune, were also available. Nearby experienced koto player, Bea Brecht, shared with on looking children how to play the traditional Japanese zither.

The entertainment did not merely extend to the opening of ramune bottles. The list of performances featured multiple koto (Japanese zither), shakuhachi (bamboo flute), and traditional Japanese dance pieces. Several demonstrations were done by the Mushinkan Kendo Dojo and the Kashiwa Bujinkan Ninjitsu Dojo, including iaido, or the art of painting with a Japanese sword. Ceremonies concluded with a taiko drum performance and workshop by the Taiko Society.

The available activities, participation and fundraising for JASSC were successful, but perhaps the best and most redeeming aspect of the festival and bazaar was the obvious interest in Japanese culture held by the attendees. Among the crowds, all ages and ethnicities were represented. Several staff and visitors donned kimono or yukata. More events such as the Annual Cultural Festival and Bazaar should be held to not only expose and promote an exchange of culture over something as simple as a bottle of ramune, but to gather, integrate, and celebrate the community for that sense of shared experience.

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