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Attendees from more than 35 colleges gathered last week for the Harvard Undergraduate Japan Initiative’s first-ever Japan Day, a student-run event focused on Japanese culture and society.
The event, which took place last Wednesday and Thursday at the Harvard Science Center, featured panels on Japanese business, culture, media, and artificial intelligence. Nearly 200 people registered to attend, according to HUJI President Bozhen Peng ’25, making it the “largest and most diverse student-led Japan-focused event” in Harvard’s history.
Peng and HUJI vice president Albert Yao ’24 began organizing the event in the spring of 2023 alongside Japanese businessmen Hideo Natsume and Daichi Mitsuzawa, who had helped stage past HUJI events.
Peng said the purpose of the event was to “enhance Japanese community,” adding that he felt there was a need for “an active initiative on campus to raise awareness of Japan.”
“Not a lot of students can get the opportunities to get involved with Japan, especially with the undergrads,” Peng said.
The two-day event consisted of four panels — which covered topics including anime, gaming, media culture, and Japanese startup culture — and a mixer at the end of each day.
Mackenzie Li, a student at the Graduate School of Design, said she attended the anime panels on day 1 due to her interest in anime, manga, and the Japanese language.
“I just wanted to learn more about how it’s being produced,” Li said. “I think maybe one day I could end up at an anime Studio. That would be cool.”
Enrique Abud Evereteze, a freshman at Boston University, said he came to Japan Day to hear about the future of Japanese animation. He said he believes in the importance of cultural exchange between Japan and other countries.
“Because of the rapid globalization we’ve been seeing in the last two decades or so, I would say that Japan and foreigners, they’ve gotten to know one another more now than ever,” said Abud Evereteze. “I think that creates a wealth of opportunity on both sides.”
Matthew Brummer, an event panelist and postdoctoral fellow at the Program on US-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, spoke on open innovation and AI with Masato Endo, a group manager at the Toyota Motor Corporation.
Brummer said he hoped the event would shed light on the importance of Japan in the current “technological industrial revolution” of AI.
“A lot of people focus on the US and China, and maybe some European countries. But in fact, Japan is the third leading innovator in artificial intelligence by a lot of metrics,” Brummer said. “If we have events like this, we can increase knowledge and understanding about Japan’s role in arguably the most important technology of today.”
Beyond the panels, the event had other draws, including sushi platters at the mixers.
Yao, HUJI vice president, said he hopes HUJI will continue to host Japan Day into the future with a wider range of panels and more participants.
“Even doing this as the first year, we managed to get really, really amazing guests,” Yao said, “I’m sure that we’ll be able to get more people from Harvard to come and we’ll also get more other prominent companies from Japan to be coming here.”
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