Early last fall, the Arm in Arm Education Committee, still on a mission to raise awareness of diverse cultures, came up with a new idea: art and food. “We wanted to explore mediums beyond books and talks to communicate our message,” said committee member Sarah Saleh. “In the pleasure of learning something, we can ask questions and learn not to be afraid of ‘the other’.”
As the committee pondered, the idea of food led to sushi, and sushi in Japan, which led to origami, bonsai and calligraphy. These different activities have come together in the idea of a month of cultural workshops. The first would be about Japan, followed periodically by a month dedicated to the food and art of another culture.
In January, the Arm in Arm committee met with Mark Mikitarian, Chairman of the Board of Fivesparks, who was delighted to collaborate on the idea of “Culture Months”. Mikitarian said he is committed to creating engaging programming and making Fivesparks an environment for education. He said that during the shutdown, Fivesparks held cooking videos on Zoom as well as a bonsai demonstration. Both Arm in Arm and Fivesparks have a sequel, and collaborating on Culture Months, starting with Japan, will be a way to bring the groups together and expand everyone’s exposure.
There will be six workshops during Japan Month, with something for every age. The first workshop will be “Learning to Make Sushi” from 4 to 5 p.m. on Saturday April 2. It will be held upstairs at the Congregational Church and will be taught by Keiko Dion, who was born and raised in Gunma Prefecture in Japan and came to the United States for college. Since 2013 she has lived in Devens with her husband and daughter, now a student at Bromfield. Dion works for UMass Chan Medical School Digital Medicine as a project manager.
In an email, Dion wrote that growing up in Japan, she only ate sushi on special occasions. “Sushi is written 寿司 in Japanese. The first letter, 寿, means celebration. I remember we celebrated special days and people ate sushi together. She said her family doesn’t eat sushi every day and they don’t make fancy sushi like what a sushi restaurant serves. Instead, they sometimes like to make homemade sushi with simple ingredients available at any local supermarket. “My daughter loves making sushi with her friends, and I often let her and her friends make their own,” Dion said.
Sushi can be a simple dish that anyone can make at home, Dion said, and it’s fun to make with your family and friends. In the Japan Month course, participants will learn how to roll sushi maki and will receive a sushi tool kit to take with them after the course so they can enjoy sushi making at home.
Dion will also be offering a Shodo calligraphy class at Fivesparks on Saturday afternoon, April 9, from 3-4 p.m. All participants will receive a kit containing a special brush called ‘fude’, ink called ‘bokuju’ and special rice paper called ‘hanshi’. ” so that they can experience the art of Shodo calligraphy during the workshop.
Dion said she started taking Shodo lessons around the age of 5, before she could even read and write in Japanese. She continued the lessons for at least eight years because it was important to her parents that she learn Shodo. She said they believed and still believe that beautiful letters represent inner beauty.
Dion described the workshop: “Participants will learn how to write 平和 (means ‘peace’) in Japanese during this calligraphy class. It is only a two-letter word, but each one is constructed by many traits. One of the rules of Shodo is that you only have one chance to make each move. When we practice Shodo, we write slowly and only advance to the next stroke. We are not trying to “fix” our previous moves. We keep going until we finish our words and fill a page, then we start over each time we get a new piece of paper. We hope that participants will find their inner peace while learning to write the symbol of peace in Japanese. After the workshop, they will take home their “peace” Shodo art.
Wednesday April 6 is an early release day at school, and there will be two felting workshops for children with Rachel Benson, who has taught at Fivesparks in the past. From 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. the project will be a Maneki-Neko cat, and wet felted sushi from 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Attendees of “Bonsai Basics,” April 30 from 1 to 3 p.m., will receive all the materials needed to create their own bonsai and learn how to care for it. The teacher is Harvard resident Miki Fitzgibbons. On the same day from 2-3pm, an instructor from the Origamido studio in Haverhill will animate the origami group, telling part of a story with each fold of the paper.
Arm in Arm and Fivesparks look forward to future programs in the World Cultures Month series and are eager to receive suggestions and volunteers from the community.
Space is limited for all Japan Month workshops. Register at fivesparks.org. Click on the World Culture Months Japan logo on the home page and then on the workshops that interest you.