Japanese interest club at Rutgers focuses on solidarity, environment
Anime, Japanese culture and environmentalism all come together in an organization where students can socialize and discuss these interests.
The Anime and Japanese Environmental Society works to bring fans of anime, manga, Japanese pop culture and Japanese subcultures together and to celebrate all of those things, said Robert Rodriguez, president of the organization and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
“Usually, they're fairly introverted hobbies, but we're all about getting people to talk about them and befriend other fans,” he said.
The organization plays a variety of board games and video games, according to their website. They also host special events, seminars, trips to New York and the local Japanese store, Mitsuwa Marketplace.
Special guests are hosted, such as Uncle Yo, a comedian, and Vic Mignogna, a voice actor, according to their website. Members volunteer in environmental clean up programs and community service projects in attempt to make New Brunswick cleaner.
The group also hosts a Rutgers-only anime convention, MokuCon. It features guest speakers, video game tournaments, musicians, vendors and more, according to their website.
“We try to make things fun for both people who are really knowledgeable about anime and manga and people who don't have much experience with anime and manga,” Rodriguez said.
Lance Shopowich, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, stumbled across the organization on Facebook, thought it sounded interesting and joined.
Shopowich continued to attend the weekly meeting because he had nothing else to do on Thursday nights, but said he enjoyed the events and ended up meeting friends and mentors who changed his life. He soon became vice president of the organization.
“I like the events that we plan out for the club, and I appreciate the criticism that some of the board members give towards my ideas for events,” he said.
Shopowich is working to learn from his mistakes, to plan more fun events that others will enjoy and be reliable as a stand in for the club president when the president cannot make a meeting or event.
One of the organization's major accomplishments is their long-standing tradition of taking the most dedicated member to a convention in the spring semester, Rodriguez said.
“It's a really satisfying experience to take people who have never had the chance to go to a nice convention because there's a lot to see, photograph and even learn,” Rodriguez said.
The organization ran a free photo opportunity area where visitors could pose with props from popular anime titles like "My Neighbor Totoro," "Attack on Titan" and "Kill la Kill" at the last Rutgers Day. The event was successful, Rodriguez said.
As president, Rodriguez is working to improve certain aspects of the organization.
“We've been trying to incorporate more and different ways for people to express their fandom for anime, but the hardest part is figuring out what the club knows and doesn't know,” he said.
It can be difficult to incorporate the more knowledgeable demographic in the organization, he said. Striking the right balance is tricky.
“If you appeal to them too much, you'll lose the majority of the room a good deal of the time, but (if you) take it too easy most of the time, you'll lose the dedicated crowd,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is working to reach out for environmental volunteer opportunities as a way to give back to the community. He and the organization are also trying to incorporate events affiliated with American anime localization companies.
“Besides event planning, we're always trying to improve how well we can make new members feel like they're really part of the club and make new friends,” he said.
Noa Halff is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @NoaHalff for more.
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