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Blooming blossoms draw big crowd

Monday, 23 September 2019

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The University's annual Hanami Festival on Friday was an opportunity to celebrate all cultures. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

The annual cherry blossom viewing festival just keeps getting better as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.

The University held its Hanami Festival under the trees outside of the Clocktower building last Friday.

Hanami is a centuries-old Japanese practice of welcoming spring through gathering under a blooming sakura (cherry blossom tree), and appreciating the transient beauty of nature.

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Haruko Stuart, of the Japanese programme of the Department of Languages and Cultures, has been organising the official celebration for the past decade, and in conjunction with the Dunedin-Otaru Sister City Society for the past four.

“For Japanese people, sakura is the symbol of hope and new beginnings because schools start in spring and fiscal years in companies start in spring.”

However, the festival has been happening unofficially for far longer.

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In 1997, when Mrs Stuart began teaching at Otago she was leading a tutorial class during a nice day in spring, so she decided to take the class outside and do their activities under the “beautiful” cherry blossom trees.

Under the sakura trees that day the first Hanami was held.

“I wanted to have this get together with my students simply because sakura, cherry blossom trees, are such beautiful flowers. It was pleasant on a sunny spring day and it was great fun speaking Japanese with each other on the lawn under the flowers,” Mrs Stuart says.

For several years Hanami was held on a casual basis but in 2010 the first official and annual festival was held with the support of the Department of Languages and Cultures and the audience.

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The most important thing about the festival is to raise awareness of sharing, enjoying, understanding, accepting and appreciating any other cultures, not just Japanese culture, Mrs Stuart says.

This year’s festival was a huge success thanks to the 300-strong audience and wonderful performers, she says. The weather also played its part and was sunny throughout.

Along with musical performances from the O-Taiko taiko drum ensemble and the Otago Koto Ensemble, the audience was also treated to demonstrations from the Otago Kendo Club and Seido Karate Club. A table of food, including sushi, was quick to disappear as the crowd enjoyed the revelry.

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Mrs Stuart says along with the event getting bigger every year, it is also becoming more “meaningful” for everyone involved. The festival is also becoming more international, with a lot of people from different countries participating in the event, she says.

Lots of students stayed until after the party to enjoy one another’s company and many new connections were made, she says.

“I am very happy to see that the festival has been giving people opportunities to reconnect and meet new people. When we are busy we tend to contact friends only by email and text messaging these days, but we all know that it’s the best to communicate with them in person.

“So their interactions during and even after the event made me really happy. I would like to continue to organise this event as long as I can to see everyone’s happy smiles!”