Oh hi, Ohio

Ohayo Ohio Festival brings Japanese culture back to Antioch

By Tara Pettit

Photo: Antioch and Yellow Springs community members reveal their shibori-dyed patterns at Ohayo Ohio; photo: Talitha Greene

While Antioch College is recognized for its non-traditional and progressive educational style—the institution started making early waves in activism at the beginning of the 1900s—what may not be as widely known is how unique partnerships and cultural connections throughout the century have shaped its existence today. This year’s second annual Ohayo Ohio Japanese Festival, May 18-26, is a celebratory reminder of Antioch’s longstanding commitment to cultural diversity and meaningful international experiences as a part of its cooperative work study program.

Antioch’s Japanese influences can be traced back to the 1940s, when the college participated in a post-WWII Japanese scholarship program to provide education to those in U.S. Japanese relocation camps. Since the exchange program was established, the college’s ties to Japanese universities have remained strong.

Antioch’s faculty decided to come together with ideas for celebrating those relations with Japan. Out of those ideas was born the Ohayo Ohio Japanese Festival, a 10-day symposium and cultural event designed to draw awareness to Antioch’s intimate connection with Japanese students, arts, and culture.

“We are very proud of our Japanese connections and program,” says Caitlin Meagher, visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Antioch and one of festival’s organizers.

Antioch’s first Ohayo Ohio Festival, in 2016, sought to “bring Japan to Yellow Springs” for a week of shared education and appreciation of Japanese experiences with the community. Ohayo Ohio II, with a “tidier and more compact schedule of events,” according to Meagher, seeks to do the same by bringing Japanese trade skills and artistic techniques to its workshops.

This year’s celebration will bring back popular traditional Japanese art workshops such as raku pottery, washi papermaking, and shodo calligraphy, as well as healthy bento box-making, interactive storytelling, and koto performances.

Master papermaker and Antioch alumnus Tim Barrett will be back to teach the popular washi papermaking workshop. He feels grateful to be able to share the unusual craft that has become his life’s work due to the experiences and skills he gained as an Antioch student.

“Foreign study opportunities for Antioch students have been going on for a long time,” Barrett says. “Many people study abroad, like I did, and their lives are changed by it. This festival is a way to continue to celebrate that.”

Meagher is pleased this year’s festival will introduce a live koto performance, a traditional Japanese instrument, from a Columbus-based group of performers who creatively bridge the traditional koto musical style with covers of contemporary rock and roll songs.

“There has been more of a focus on traditional arts in our festival; however, we strive to incorporate a contemporary spin,” Meagher says. “We currently have students who are actively engaged in these arts and traveling to Japan where they bring their experiences of the contemporary world back.”

This year’s festival will also bring back the popular shibori workshop, where collaborating partners Jackie Mullhall and Shannon Hart will teach the traditional Japanese technique of indigo dyeing.

Mullhall, a Yellow Springs community member, and Hart, an Antioch student, have deepened their knowledge, skill, and passion for the shibori process as they have learned from one another’s technique.  Together, they will introduce a new class to shibori, a technique that can be practiced at home using found natural materials in one’s own backyard.

Hart studies natural dyeing processes from a range of perspectives and techniques. She has spent time studying in a variety of natural dye studios and came to the shibori process with an appreciation of the Japanese methods for spontaneously creating organic print types with natural materials.

“Shibori is so unpredictable and exciting,” Hart says. “The reveal, when you open up your fabric to see what you’ve created, is so satisfying. I am constantly amazed by the colors and patterns this art form can create.”

Hart, like many Antioch students and alumni who came before her, claims she never would have been exposed to such a unique art technique as natural dyeing if not for the college’s co-op program, which allowed her to spend two of her work experiences with natural dyers in California and Washington.

Both Hart and Mullhall advocate shibori as a prime example of what the Ohayo Japanese Festival seeks to achieve in vision and cultivate with participants: a space for community and college collaboration around a common appreciation and celebration of the shared relationship with Japan.

As for Meagher, her academic background in the anthropology of Japan and Japanese studies spurs her interest in the dynamics of a Yellow Springs relationship with Japan. She hopes to strengthen those ties by leveraging opportunities for students to study abroad and participate in events like the Japanese festival.

“It’s interesting to me that this little town in Ohio has such a curiosity about a place that’s so far away and different,” Meagher says. “In a lot of ways this festival is symbolic of all our interactions with Japan over the years where we are sending and receiving students and integrating our cultures. It’s something we should continue to build on.”

Ohayo Ohio Japanese Festival takes place May 19-May 26 at Antioch College in Yellow Springs. Workshops will take place at various locations across campus. For tickets and more information, please visit Facebook.com/OhayoOhio2017.

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