Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Mapping Isabella Bird: Geolocation & Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) — A New Digital Resource

I can’t properly put into words how happy it makes me to officially add this link to Mapping Isabella Bird to the site. It is a project that has been in the making since 2015, and one that really came together in the last two years since arriving at St. Kate’s. I have long wanted to create a comprehensive resource for students and researchers studying Bird’s travelogue Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), and this website has a little bit for everyone–Literary Studies, Art History, Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, Ainu Studies, Tourism Studies, and Geography.Putting the site together reminded me why I became fascinated with Bird in the first place: her work manages to serve as a resource in so many disciplines and her legacy keeps on. The release of the site is timely with a special issue titled “Isabella Bird, Victorian globalism, and Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880)” appearing in vol. 21 of Studies in Travel Writing (2017). I’m looking forward to working my way through these essays.

Mapping Isabella Bird was built with Scalar 2, a digital publishing platform developed by the University of Southern California. I first learned about Scalar (then in its first iteration) as a graduate student at UC Irvine. The ability to annotate media made it particularly attractive to me, and I knew it would work well for this project. The website can be navigated in a variety of ways — through the path at the bottom of the home page or through the drop-down menu in the top left. You will find interactive maps created on ArcGIS, CARTO, and Google Maps, which build on tabular data culled from the books. You will also find an image gallery that is slowly being annotating with original source images (and if you are interested, I am always looking for help tracking these photographs down!) The website also deliberately highlights Bird’s travel in Hokkaido and the Ainu in the Saru River Valley today in a recognition of their adaptation and development over time. I remain committed to recognizing the present of the Ainu in addition to their past.

What’s next? I’m in the process now of designing some sample assignments using the various resources of the site for secondary and higher education. Some will be for use in Art History classroom while others will fit will into a syllabus on Japanese History. Many will be paired with chapters of the travelogue. I hope that the resource will be useful for years to come for others who remain curious about Bird and her Japanese journey in 1878.

You can access the project directly via the menu on the left. If you find it useful, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Meiji-era Prints in the St. Kate’s Special Collections

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

I feel like I keep saying this a lot, but I’m often surprised about the treasures that are hidden in plain sight. When I first arrived at St. Kate’s, Heather Carroll, a graduate student in the Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) Program, told me that we had a few Japanese prints hidden in the library’s Special Collections. It has taken us a year, but we finally picked a day to head down to the library to check them out. As we slowly lifted the prints off the cart, I quickly realized that “a few” was in reality MANY! I took study photographs of about 70 prints just this past October.

There are some exceptions (such as a few examples of sōsaku hanga), but most of the prints we found are Meiji-era (from between 1890 and 1899). A few different artists are represented, but we have a fair number from Chikanobu Yōshū (楊洲周延) (1838-1912) also known as Chikanobu Hashimoto or Chikanobu Toyohara (seen in the top example). Most of our prints at St. Kate’s come from a series about court ladies living in the Chiyoda Palace. As an artist, Chikanobu first studied Kano School painting before moving on to ukiyo-e, where he was a disciple of Keisai Eisen. Later he studied under Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi and then Kunisada. Many of our works have subject matter that hails from either earlier historical periods or from Japanese mythology, but we also have a few prints that conspicuously recognize the changing nature of Japan under modernization with red brick (akarenga) and the Emperor in Western military garb.

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

We are in the process of identifying the prints, assessing their condition, and looking for the original donor information. Together, we hope to figure out a better storage solution that will keep them laying flat and prevent them from curling. Long term, it would be great to put together some sort of exhibition to reintroduce these prints to the St. Kate’s community. We have some big idea, so stay tuned!

Gachapon & Middle State Publishing

For curious eyes, I just published a brief essay titled “Should You Pull?: Gachapon, Risk, and Reward in Mobile Gaming” with First Person Scholar. I’m trying to historicize plastic capsule toy vending machines in Japan, or gachapon, while also thinking forward to their application in mobile games as a monetary model. The essay brings together cultural history with some examples of application where the physical meets the virtual. I hope you enjoy it! I couldn’t help but to throw some contemporary art in there too. I am an art historian, after all.

Working with First Person Scholar was an amazing experience, and a venture that I hope to continue as my path through visual culture helps me to connect art history with game studies. FPS is a “middle-state” publication. Described by Jason Hawreliak, this means a hybrid publication that addresses two of academia’s biggest downfalls: accessibility and speed. When dealing with material that is fast moving, like games tend to be, these kinds of publications are invaluable for presenting immediate critical reflections in a timely manner. The essays do not go through the rigor of the peer-review process, but are vetted and edited. In many ways, I see the AHTR Weekly of Art History Teaching Resources doing similar work with regard to pedagogy and art history. Personally, I think we need more of this kind of publication in academia, and we especially need this kind of work to be valued. The art world moves fast as well, and it would be great if some weight could be given to these kinds of immediate explorations, essays, and critical commentaries. I know the change needs to come at the level of what search committees value in order to encourage young scholars to take stock in these sorts of publications. But I have to say that there is something intensely satisfying about a quick turn around… Especially when our work gets stuck in typical publication cycles that can take anywhere from 1-3 years time from submission to publication. By the time something comes out, nobody cares…

I feel energized — what an awesome way to kick off the Fall Semester! I’m teaching Ways of Seeing and Art History: Renaissance through Modern this time around, so more about my in-class experiences soon!

 

Photo credit: MsSaraKelly Vending machines outside a games shop in Shinjuku via photopin (license).

Constructing a (Digital) Resource: Isabella Bird in Japan

The summer is off to a fantastic start! It has been hard to get my head into writing, so I’ve thrown my effort into developing a new online resource using ArcGIS and the StoryMap feature that they offer for free. It isn’t live yet, but I’m close…

I have some experience working with the basic functions of mapping in ArcGIS through the Traveling Hokkaido project. I’ve got a long way to go before that work is done, but I wanted to make a resource more squarely focused on the various dimensions of a single traveler. Since I’ve been working on an essay on the role of illustration and the depiction of the Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) (which will be moving to proofs soon, hopefully), I thought this might make a nice supplement.

My goal with this is to create something that is accessible for audiences of all ages. The points I plotted out for Traveling Hokkaido form the basis of the Hokkaido map above, but I’ve gone through Bird’s itinerary and began plotting out her travel in Honshu as well. Although her journey is in two volumes, I am breaking it up into four stages: Yokohama to Niigata, Niigata to Aomori, Hokkaido, and Kansai. Each point on the map to the right is an actual location Bird indicates either in text or in her itinerary. For each pin, I am going through the original 1880 text and isolating relevant quotes that pertain to place, geography, specific sites, or customs. I haven’t worked with her first volume extensively before this, and it has been enlightening to see seasonal changes and her subjective evaluations of place before and after her time in Hokkaido.

In addition to creating an overview of her entire Japan trip, I’m also trying to conxtualize the importance of her time in Hokkaido. I feel committed to doing this in terms of Japanese history while also recognizing the current state of the Ainu in the Saru River valley, where Bird spent her time. I’m highlighting the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum, the Kayano Shigeru Ainu Museum, and the legal debate regarding the Nibutani Dam. Too many popular writers only see the Ainu in terms of their “pastness” and it would be irresponsible not to consider their present and their future.

As I put this together, I am also compiling ideas for an Educator’s Guide pitched towards high school and undergraduate students. I want to give educators ideas about how to use this series of maps in their classes. (After all, what good is a resource if you don’t know how to use it?) I think it could be extremely useful in Japanese history (of course), discussions of Victorian travel writing in literature, understanding the role of women in 19th century exploration, understanding the role of the Ainu in these narratives, and as a way to highlight the geographic context for understanding earlier practices of tourism that inform our own “beaten routes” today.

A work in progress! I anticipate releasing the project in two weeks or so. The Educator’s Guide might come a little bit later, but it will definitely be done before fall. For now, enjoys the screenshots!

Autumn, Art, and Archives at St. Kate’s

It is hard to believe how quickly autumn as come — it feels like  yesterday that I was just getting settled into this office. Our campus is positively gorgeous at this time of year, and I take every opportunity that I can to set foot outside of the brutalist concrete of the Visual Arts Building to soak in the color of the changing leaves. People love this season here in Minnesota, but part of me does miss the seasonal tourism of Japan where whole streets would occasionally be closed to traffic for pedestrians to admire and take photos of the 紅葉 (momiji, maple) and 銀杏 (ichō, ginkgo). When I was at Hokkaido University, they would not only close ichō dōri (ginkgo street) for a couple of days, but they would also illuminate them with floodlights at night. It made the street look otherworldly; a dark sky punctuated by pale yellows and greens. We have some gorgeous side streets in St. Paul lined in vibrant shades of orange and yellow, and I so desperately want to rid them of cars.

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Looking across the lawn at St. Kate’s towards the Visual Arts Building and Mendel Hall

In addition to teaching art history and visual culture, things are finally coming together on a variety of fronts. I’m editing my chapter on artist Kondō Kōichiro to submit for peer review (a long time coming!), I will be guest blogging at the Art History Teaching Resources this spring on digital cartography in the classroom, and I will be presenting the third, and possibly last, iteration of my arcade fighting games and gender project at the Popular Culture Association conference (this time strictly focused on Street Fighter II, Chun-Li, and fashion) before drafting it into an essay. Classes are also now set for Spring 2017. I will be teaching Art History: Ancient through Medieval and Global Japan: Art, Anime, and Visual Culture. It will be such a treat to teach Japanese visual culture again, and based on feedback I received at St. Olaf College, I’m looking forward to reinventing part of my approach to teaching it. All good things.

Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, 1897-1898. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

I also had the chance to visit the Special Collections here at St. Kate’s and take a look at some of the material hiding in the Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection. Imagine my surprise to find a Meiji-era copy of Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, edited by Captain Francis Brinkley and published by J. B. Millet circa 1897-1898. There are 10 volumes here at St. Kate’s. They contain original hand-colored photographs by Tamamura Kozaburo and a few flower colotypes by Ogawa Kazumasa. When Denise Bethel was describing this work, she said, “[It] may be the last great book to be illustrated with original photographs” (1991). Harvard has a brief write-up of their fine art edition of the work that is worth checking out if you are curious.

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

In addition to this great find, we also have a copy of a crepe-paper book called The Smiling Book by Hasegawa Takejiro published in 1896. I’m fascinated by this work, and I think it would be fun to work more closely with it in the future. Otsuka Nanae has written a few articles on this work and other period publications which use the same images at the National Diet Library: here and here. I can’t help but think that this small crepe paper book is in conversation with research that I’ve done regarding late 19th and early 20th century practices of borrowing and re-appropriating images in Japan. The second page of the work mentions American author Lu Wheat, and I’m curious about the relationship between this female writer (who published The Third Daughter: A Story of Chinese Home Life in 1906 and Ah Moy: The Story of a Chinese Daughter in 1908), the female collector Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, and the content/imagery of The Smiling Book. I hope I can get back soon!

I have also been to a wide range of exhibitions as of late. All I can say is that I’m continually impressed with the work being done here in the Twin Cities. Exhibitions alone warrant their own post, so I’ll leave you all with this page from The Smiling Book

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

 

Antique Finds: Inuit in the Twin Cities

The greatest part of moving to St. Paul thus far has been the sheer amount of local antique and thrift shops. I love antiquing because of the treasures you unexpectedly come across. A while ago, I posted about two Ainu nipopo dolls that I stumbled across in an Orange County shop. Although I will never again be so lucky, it is surprisingly easy to find affordable and original artwork when antiquing. Although I am usually pretty lucky with American prints and lithographs, this past weekend I spotted an Inuit painting of a salmon hung high on the wall. Needless to say, about an hour later, it came home with me.

 

Spawning Salmon Rattle by Haida-Salish artist Jordon Seward. Yellow cedar and cedar bark.

Spawning Salmon Rattle by Haida-Salish artist Jordon Seward. Yellow cedar and cedar bark.

Salmon was and is a lifeline for many northern indigenous peoples, the Ainu included. In Hokkaido, Ainu elders hold ceremonies for the divine fish (kamuy cep) to ensure their abundance each year. The fish held importance as both spirit and sustenance. (If you want to know more about the relationship between the Ainu and salmon, especially now, I recommend this essay). It is amazing how the stories of the salmon in the Pacific Northwest resonate with those of the Ainu. Recounted by Clint Leung, the salmon were seen as eternal people who lived in the ocean. When the tribes who lived on land were starving, the salmon presented themselves as fish to ease their hunger. The bones of the salmon were ceremonially taken back to the ocean in order to ensure their return the following year. Animals that give themselves to satiate our hunger are worthy of our respect.

 

The Trapped Salmon by Haisla artist Lyle Wilson. Glass and aluminum.

In 2010, the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver held a show called The Return: Salmon Imagery in Northwest Coast Art. The artists blended traditional designs and iconography with their own signature style and materials in sculpture, painting, and jewelry design. The “return” in the title could refer to the yearly return of the spawning salmon to the river or the original return of the salmon’s bones to the ocean. But it could also refer to a return of interest in a fish that has been heavily impacted by everything from industrialization, over fishing, pollution, to climate change. As various species dwindle, people are once again considering the cultural and environmental importance of the fish. The website for exhibition shares a quote from Andy Everson, who explains, “People often ask me why I keep including salmon in my artwork. The answer to this lies with the importance of salmon to me, my relatives and my ancestors. Put simply, salmon was the vital link between mere survival and the development of the splendor of our culture.”

 

One thing about looking at art from the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshiam, Kwagiutl and Sadish peoples in the Pacific Northwest is that there is a certain inventiveness and consistency of design that makes the styles iconic. I agree with Leung in that if you put works from this region next to any other, you would still be able to isolate those features which make it unique. Although his e-book on Pacific Northwest art focuses on sculpture and falls short of an academic treatise, it provides a helpful cheat sheet for beginners introducing some of these design elements–the formline, the ovoid shape, the u-form shape, the split u-form shape, and the s-form shape. These small elements are combined, juxtaposed, and contrasted to create larger forms. Most all of these shapes can be found in Lyle Wilson’s The Trapped Salmon above, but they are also present in the painting that I found.

 

In this work, the formline of the salmon is a thick and black modulated line that encases most of the body. Although most contemporary artists use commercial ink, in traditional works, the formline was typically created with pigment from charcoal, graphite or lignite charcoal. Occasionally red formlines are also seen, created from red ochre or hematite. Several ovoid shapes make their appearance here. It defines the eye socket of the salmon, fills out the fin, and is used to hinge together the body and the tail. The body of the salmon is defined by contrasting s-form shapes, which mimic the striation of the salmon’s flesh, and split u-form shapes perhaps reminding us of its bone structure. The split u-form shape reappears inside the eye, fin, and tail. And, finally, the fish’s gills are defined by a single, simple u-form shape. The aspect of this work that interests me is the string of pearly red roe spewed almost fountain-like out of the mouth of a face located near the fish’s pelvis.

 

All of these small shapes merge together to form a larger creature. Alongside the salmon, artworks commonly feature the bear, the killer whale, the thunderbird, and the raven. The repetition of common forms across these sacred creatures is a powerful device in both traditional and contemporary art. I also find that art from the Pacific Northwest presents a great opportunity for teaching students visual analysis, and the differences between iconography and style, or about the different effects of line, space, and color.

 

IMG_0475.jpgIn my own research on the Ainu, it is not all that common to see representational art in older work (although bear carving and representations of salmon are both present staples of tourist and contemporary art). Instead, most graphic art similarly focuses on the repetition of smaller design elements, called siriki in Ainu. In embroidery and woodcarving, these patterns are combined into unique compositions, as seen here in these Ainu robes. I’ve reproduced a helpful chart from the Ainu Pirka Kotan website for your reference below. Occasionally there is more in common than what appears at first glance.

 

 

"Ainu Siriki," from Ainu Pirka Kotan website.

“Ainu Siriki,” from Ainu Pirka Kotan website.

If anybody knows any information about the artist of this work (or helpful resources that may point me in the right direction), please do let me know. I would love to learn more about it.

Ainu and Video Games: Presentation at Console-ing Passions

This paper is a bit of a “break” from my recent research on visual and material culture in the late Meiji period. I will be chairing a panel at Console-ing Passions (International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media and Feminism) on Japanese visual culture, with papers presented by Colleen Laird from Bates College (“Screened and Not Heard: The Transnational Treasure Text of Kikuchi Rinko”), and Sho Ogawa of the University of Kansas (“Internalizing Hybridity: Japan’s Gay Boom and Reconfiguring National Identity”). Our diverse panel will explore the convergence between media and gender studies in and out Japan.

Nakoruru’s stage background in the original Samurai Spirits (1993). Nothing like an Ainu man and woman surrounded by forest friends…

The paper I’m presenting is titled “Recasting the Indigenous: Virtual Ainu Ambassadors in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008.” This project has been on the back burner for a little while, but it is fun to get back into contemporary visual culture for a bit. I will be discussing the role of two female Ainu video game characters–Nakoruru and Rimaruru–from the video game Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown in the US). As the title hints, I have been trying to think through the role of these characters as cultural ambassadors in 1990s Japan. The topic feels timely with the impending creation of the new Ainu museum in Shiraoi in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the marketing of Ainu culture will undoubtedly be important for Hokkaido tourism. In addition to investigating their domestic popularity, I’m also looking at the localization of these characters in the US. This is inspired by a class that I just finished teaching, Visual Culture in Modern Japan, where issues of localization kept creeping into our discussions. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the transformation of Ainu/indigenous visual signifiers when transported abroad to a culture with no framework to understand them.

楽しみにしています。

Presentation at Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium

art_history_symposiumI am thrilled to present some of the work I’ve been doing on Japanese artist Kondō Kōichiro at the Art Historians of the Twin Cities symposium this April 2nd (Saturday). I’ll be exploring the work of Kondō Kōichiro, who traveled to Hokkaido in 1917 and depicted the Ainu in the village of Shiraoi in manga caricatures published the same year in the Yomiuri Newspaper. Kondō’s work gives us an interesting look at the role of tourism in these indigenous communities, and from the perspective of a tourist, his visual representations are quite different from any “ethnographic” work being done in the area! Although the project originally derives from the 4th chapter of my dissertation, I will be working out some new ideas and approaches to his material that I developed after coming to St. Olaf College. It is like revisiting an old friend! If you are in the area, please feel free to join us to hear about what Art Historians in the Twin Cities are up to! There are a lot of exciting papers, and it is a great opportunity to hear about the research of many local art historians.

Date: April 2nd, 2016

Time: 10am – 3pm

Location: St. Catherine’s University, Visual Arts Building, Room 102, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN

Ainu and the Antique Store

photo 6_editedMy childhood in Pennsylvania was filled of memories of antique shops, flea markets, auctions, and estate sales. I think it was somewhere between the rows of old objects that I discovered a love of history and a passion for the hunt. I vividly remember summer Saturdays, watching the world fly by from the passenger seat of my mother’s car. It lacked air conditioning and my legs used to stick to the seat every time we stopped to check out a new garage sale. When our search was over, we would giddily talk about our “finds” on the drive home, and remember the new neighborhoods through which we traveled, guided only by little neon-colored signs with a poor sense of direction.

This past weekend, J and I were rooting through old antique shops in Old Towne Orange, CA. Often called the “Antique Capital of Southern California,” small shops and specialty cafes decorate a one-mile stretch around the historic Orange Plaza. Proceeding from shop to shop, I relived the days of my youth feeling my way around the unique and rusted.

Old souvenir objects from Japan and China seem to be a staple of the antique market, and there is no shortage of blue-and-white porcelain, geisha dolls, and Chinoiserie. But you can imagine my surprise when stumbling upon two modest wood-carved figures of an Ainu man and woman. As if experiencing a bend in time, my childhood activities seemed to link directly to my current research.

The two figures were each strangled by a snap lock pin security loop from which a price tag dangled: “Carved Wood Figure, $4.00 each.” They were sandwiched between a vintage straw hot pad that my grandmother might have used and a porcelain vase with a faux wood finish, decorated with a butterfly and the words “Maui.” In front of the figures were ashtrays of various designs, materials, and patterns. A large Native American figure loomed on the shelf above them along with brass and crystal candlesticks and an over-sized plastic M&M figurine. Kitsch at its best.

The pair was probably produced in Hokkaido as a tourist souvenir. Beginning in the late Taisho era (ca. 1924), dolls like these were produced by the Ainu specifically for a tourist market. The figures have roots the Ainu nipopo doll, which was carved and utilized by shamans as protective amulets. Although it was against Ainu beliefs to depict the human form in a non-religious context, the tourist trade was an important source of income for a vulnerable group of people dependent on the government (Dubreul 1999). Ainu dolls like these are often compared to the Japanese kokeshi, since some souvenir versions are more rounded in shape. But while kokeshi are lathe-turned,  Ainu dolls are carved (McDowell 2011).

For me, this pair of dolls amongst the random items on an American antique store shelf is a testament to the American interest in the Ainu and Hokkaido; an interest that feels almost alien to us today. But even now, any traveler can buy similar wooden Ainu dolls at almost every major tourist spot on the island. I can only guess how this couple landed in an antique store in Orange, CA, but their mere presence speaks to these larger networks of circulation and exchange.

I opened my wallet and laid the $8 on the counter.

Greetings from Hokkaido, Japan

Leaves are just starting to change on the Hokkaido University campus.

Leaves are just starting to change on the Hokkaido University campus.

This post is long overdue, but greetings from Hokkaido, Japan!  I was barely back in California for two weeks after researching at the Smithsonian before I re-packed my bags for a year of research abroad. I am very fortunate to be the recipient of a University of California Pacific Rim Research Program Advanced Graduate Fellowship for my dissertation research in Hokkaido, Japan. I am studying at Hokkaido University until September 2014, and today marks my second full week of classes. Aside from my research here, I do have quite the course-load. In addition to my Japanese coursework, I am auditing two undergraduate classes (Ainu Language and The State of Ainu/Indigenous Studies) and I am partaking in one graduate seminar in the Japanese History department in the Graduate School of Letters. (I am presenting my dissertation research in Japanese on the 3rd of December — I have a lot to prepare!) It has taken me a little while to set myself up, but I am loving Hokkaido. I visited here to do some preliminary research in 2011, and and I must say that Sapporo is one of my most favorite cities. I might change my tune come the winter (and temperatures are already starting to drop here — very different from a “California” autumn), but the people and scenery have been wonderful. As I continue to get settled, I will start doing research in the archives here on campus in addition to using the library and local resources. Looking through their Northern Studies Collection, it quickly became apparent that this is by far the best place to carry out this research. All the books I have been struggling to secure through ILL are within an arm’s reach.

A dramatic photograph of the Hokkaido University Museum (北大総合博物館)

A dramatic photograph of the Hokkaido University Museum (北大総合博物館)

Being here as a research student (in comparison to an undergraduate study abroad student) has also been enlightening in different ways. I meet many other international students here through my language courses. There are a fair number of Master’s and Ph.D. students here doing language work from various disciplines, 6-month and 12-month research students, and 12-month study abroad students creating a fairly diverse community. Although I have been back to Japan every other year since my own undergraduate study abroad, moving here is quite different from short research trips. I am not going through the “honeymoon” that many students experience upon arrival, but it is exciting to see so many glowing faces. (After all, I vividly remember my first trips to the conbini, hyakkin, and karaoke!)  I’m learning to balance new experiences and new friends with my fairly strenuous work flow.

Speaking of which, back to the dissertation. But I will try to post some upcoming events that are happening here at Hokudai in the near future, including several happening this weekend.

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