With “nikkei” directly translating to Japanese living abroad, the Nikkei Student Union aims to unite Japanese students at UCR and teach Japanese culture to its members. Expanding across Southern California universities, NSU is present at multiple UC and CSU campuses, and even private schools. The NSU here at Riverside was created in 2011 by Scott Shima, and within five years the club has reached 70 members despite the fact that the Japanese-American population in the Inland Empire is not as large as it is in other areas.
With the background of such a unique country, NSU members work together to keep their culture alive and teach aspects of Japan that some Japanese-American students would not be aware of if they had not lived in the country. Many non-Japanese students choose to join, simply motivated by their fascination of the culture and the opportunity to learn about Japanese lifestyle and history. At a portion of the meeting tailored for cultural awareness, Grant Nakaoka, the Culture Chair of NSU, teaches a topic of interest for the week ranging from holidays to food.
For many college students, finding their home away from home is crucial for a successful college experience. “Our overall goal is not only to teach about our culture but also to have a place for members to feel at home. Many international students from Japan join and we abide as their bridge to help them with their stay,” remarked Asako Bonkobara, the current president of NSU. Unlike personal interests and preferences, culture is unchanged and therefore provides as an easier outlet to bond with.
Joining the club as a second-year student and finally finding her home at NSU, Asako has been a member for two years, and her experience as the president has helped her become a leader. As a fourth-year student now, she thanks NSU for providing a comfort zone for her and allowing her to be herself. With growing friendships, workload and membership applicants jumping from 20 to 70 within a year, Asako faced the struggle of training an almost-entirely-new board while still focusing on graduating on time. “This year was definitely a learning experience for every one of us,” exclaimed Asako.
Aside from providing a memorable bonding experience for its members, NSU also provides multiple committees for its members to become more involved with: the Intern Committee, Day of Remembrance Committee and the Culture Night Committee. Led by Alyssa Yamashita and Wesley Harada, the co-vice presidents, the Intern Committee aims to train future board members and prepare them for their upcoming positions through workshops, event planning and guidance to help them learn about what goes on behind the scenes.
As an annual event co-hosted with APSP on Feb. 17, the Day of Remembrance serves as an event to teach students about the conditions and incidents of World War II, specifically focusing on what happened to Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Also coordinated by Alyssa, the event will feature keynote speakers and cultural organization booths to provide a memorable experience.
Aside from co-hosting cultural events, NSU has also established its first-ever Culture Night, set to occur this year. Similar to other clubs here at UCR that host cultural-themed nights to perform and celebrate their backgrounds, NSU will finally be hosting its own. With a handful of board members involved in the planning and execution, they plan to perform a play and host a reception, and hopefully the event will become an annual affair.
“My favorite memory of being in the club is definitely this year’s winter retreat. I was a little worried of how things were going to turn out since many of our members are introverted. However, the competition from the lip sync and dance-off battles between the families helped them break out of their shell!” said Asako. Seeing her goal of establishing a comfort zone for her members become a success is what makes her experience as a leader worth it in every aspect.
With only a few months left of her college career and therefore her presidency, Asako hopes to encourage and inspire her current members in the same way that her friends and fellow club members have inspired her. “NSU will always have a spot in my heart even after I graduate,” beamed Asako.