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Cultural Exchange - Hanami

Sincere Friendship Connects Us With Japan

The Vršac-based “Hanami” Association is preparing numerous cultural and sporting events that will commemorate the 140 years of unbreakable and sincere friendship between Serbia and Japan

Standing behind “Hanami” and everything it does is a special woman, Adrijana Barši, a medal winner in Japanese fencing and a fan of the Land of the Rising Sun, Japanese culture, art, language and customs.

The Goshinkan Club of Japanese Martial Arts and Sports from Vršac has brought guests from Japan to Serbia every year since way back in 2005, with those guests promoting sport and their cultural activities. With many fans of the Land of the Rising Sun having gradually gathered around the club, a need also emerged to organise as many activities as possible that would familiarise not only the citizens of Vršac with Japan, but also Serbia as a whole. It was then that one special woman, Adrijana Barši, decided to form the “Hanami” Association of Serbian-Japanese Friendship.

The association is named after a beautiful Japanese custom that see friends and family come together to enjoy observing flowers, most often the blossoming of the Japanese Sakura cherry, which is one of the symbols of Japan.

CRANES BROUGHT GRANTED WISHES

Adrijana organised the first “Days of Japan” event in a desire to connect all friends from Japan and Serbia, recreating the Japanese flag from “Senba Zuru” [a thousand origami cranes]. The members of the Association spent a week folding paper cranes, carefully measuring the proportions between the red circle and the white rectangle.

“Legend has it that everyone who makes a thousand cranes has the right for one wish to be granted, and ours was for “Hanami” to one day become what it is today. To be a centre of activities for fans of Japan in Serbia and fans of Serbia in distant Japan,” reveals Adrijana, explaining that in recent years they’ve organised numerous schools of the Japanese language, origami, taiko drums, calligraphy, martial arts, Japanese ceramics courses, haiku poetry evenings, ikebana flower arranging, manga comic strip drawing, competitions in video games, master classes in Japanese music, Japanese cuisine, “Cosplay” parties etc.

All of these activities were free of charge thanks to the support of numerous supporters of the “Hanami” Association, including institutions from Japan, the Serbian ministries of culture & information and youth & sport, provincial secretariats for culture & information and sports & youth, but also the City of Vršac, which has been the host of all activities for 17 years already.

TEA DRINKING IS PRECEDED BY AN ENTIRE CEREMONY

Japanese scholar Marijana Rašković Ph.D. led a Japanese language school under the patronage of company Mitsubishi at the Borislav Petrov Braca High School in Vršac. Then, after several years that included numerous successfully organised activities and the great expansion of the network of fans of Japanese culture, she became the programme director and most important link in “Hanami”.

The covid-19 viral pandemic brought a new organising of activities between the two countries, resulting in the first Serbian-Japanese newspaper, called “Hanami”, which is very widely read in both countries. The newspaper covers ordinary people who aren’t often seen in the media, despite contributing significantly to strengthening cooperation between Japan and Serbia. These are artists, athletes, retired diplomats, exchange students etc.

“We are proud of our newspaper, but also of our cooperation with the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade and Milica Jotov Ph.D., thanks to whom we organised educational activities and presentations of the ‘sado’ tea ceremony. Attendees learned how green “matcha” tea is used, how it is prepared and what the ceremony that precedes the drinking of the tea looks like,” recounts Mrs Barši proudly.

Our interlocutor adds that an evening of Japanese culture was organised in Novi Sad, in honour of the promotion of the latest hybrid vehicle of company Toyota Tago Car, while concerts of the JapALkan band in Belgrade and Aisa Ijiri and the LP Duo in Tokyo were organised together with the Association for the Promotion of Music Exchanges Between Japan and Serbia. Following a series of successful events, the president of this association, Mrs Etusko Tsunozaki, together with “Hanami”, is making preparations for a major concert to be held in Tokyo this November by Japanese pianist Aisa Ijiri and Serbian trumpeter Danijela Veselinović.

MUĆKALICA STEW ARRIVES ON JAPANESE SUPERMARKET SHELVES

“While we’re on the topic of music, I can’t fail to mention that we organised a concert in Vršac in cooperation with the Embassy of Japan, which secured the arrival of Yosuke Irie, a great star of the shakuhachi bamboo flute. This occasion provided the pupils of the Vršac Music School with an opportunity to try to produce sound on this traditional Japanese instrument. Together with Yuko Yoshikai, the Japanese girl who played a Serbian trumpet at the Guča Trumpet Festival wearing a kimono, we published a large number of articles, organised a series of educational sessions and concerts, while the most interesting fact is that she wrote a book about the Serbian trumpet in Japanese,” says Adrijana, recounting the achievements of the association she heads.

Thanks to the efforts of the association MySerbia.Jp, which promotes Serbia, one Serbian dish found itself on the shelves of supermarkets all over Japan: mućkalica stew. And thanks to Tijana Zdravković, who tirelessly holds lessons on Serbian cuisine, ever more Japanese people are getting acquainted with our culinary delights.

“Hanami” also participated in the Japanese-Serbian Film Festival of actress Jovana Stević, which is being held in Tokyo, Belgrade and Novi Sad, as well as in the organisation of major photography festival “Fotorama”. It is held annually in Kragujevac and brings together a large number of art photographers from all over the world, and particularly from Japan.

WE CELEBRATE 140 YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP IN 2022

Adrijana says that this year is very important, because numerous activities will be organised in both countries to mark the 140th anniversary of friendly relations between Japan and Serbia.

“We have created a logo that will promote the good relations between our two countries during all activities. The logo includes the artwork of renowned, multi-award-winning Niten calligraphy artist Sumiko Takei (97) and talented high school pupil from Vršac, Maša Šalinački (16). Sumiko last year donated a valuable work of art, her golden calligraphy on “washi” paper, to the Serbian Embassy in Japan, and Maša has won prestigious art competitions and is a great connoisseur of Japanese pop culture,” notes our interlocutor.

This apparently great contrast in years, 97 and 16, and the contrast between traditional calligraphy and modern pop art, is connected with the circle of “Enso”, which, Adrijana explains, represents a circle of togetherness.

“It is drawn in one stroke as a distorted circle, but actually represents the beauty of imperfection, art without expectations and the beauty of creation in the moment,” explains Mrs Barši, before mentioning some of the events that will be organised by the end of this year.

The Vršac house of famous writer Jovan Sterija Popović will host the first international Serbian-Japanese piano festival “Aisa and friends”, which will be held from 15th to 25th October and will feature famous Japanese pianist and honorary Steinway artist Aisa Ijiri. The “Aisa and friends” festival will be the largest cultural event commemorating the 140 years of friendship between the two countries, and it will be preceded by a series of concerts in Tokyo, London and Belgrade. Interestingly, in honour of this great jubilee, Ijiri recorded a duet with the princess of the Serbian trumpet, Danijela Veselinović, with motifs from the traditional Serbian song “Igrale se delije”. The duo achieved great popularity thanks to their collaboration, which is why a concert of these two ladies is planned to be held in Japan this November.

EUROPE’S BEST SAMURAI ARRIVE IN SERBIA

The second major event planned for this anniversary year is a sporting competition that will bring the best young samurai in Europe to Serbia for the 12th European Sports Chanbara Championship, which is being organised by the Kendo Federation of Serbia and will be held from 6th to 9th May. The Serbian national team has achieved notable results and is even the top favourite to win medals in some categories.

And to ensure that no one feels left out, a video game called “Nea and Kuki discover Japan” is being prepared for schoolchildren from the first to fifth grades of primary school. The idea for the game is the brainchild of a girl called Nea, a great Japan enthusiast who wanted to use the medium of a game to show her friends how to learn the names of Japanese foods, important places in Japan, basic words for communication… For older schoolchildren in Japan and Serbia, a bilingual social game, called “Meet our two countries”, is being developed in cooperation with Vršac’s Borislav Petrov Braca High School.

“Over the course of 2022, “Hanami” will host more than a hundred artists from Japan, who will present their work within the framework of our activities across Serbia. It is a great honour for us to have the support of the Embassy of Japan in the Republic of Serbia in our activities. We believe that all great deeds begin with small agreements, which is why great international cooperation is based on personal contacts among ordinary people. May 2022 – as the year in which we celebrate 140 years of friendly relations between Japan and Serbia – bring new acquaintances, new cooperation and new projects, and show that 9,170 km is only a short distance if we have similar interests.”

Adrijana Barši, Founder of “Hanami” Association of Serbian-Japanese Friendship
Winning a medal was the turning point

“My sporting career ended with me winning a medal in the Japanese fencing Sport Chanbara at the World Championships in Tokyo in 2015. That was both the pinnacle and the finale of my career. After returning to Serbia, I had a lot of energy, I missed competitions, so I continued my career as a coach. However, I didn’t feel fulfilled enough doing that, so I decided to bring together all fans of Japan, for us to start actively organising the promotion of Japan in Serbia, but also Serbia in Japan. And the rest is history,” says Adrijana, explaining to us how she came up with the idea of establishing the “Hanami” Association of Serbian-Japanese Friendship.

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