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A night of celebrating culture with okonomiyaki

Would-be studiers looked on in awe last Friday as the Armstrong Community Kitchen was taken over by a gaggle of motivated Miamians -- chopping cabbage, slicing shrimp and whisking batter in a flurry of culinary activity.

The cause of this unusual scene was the Miami University Japanese Culture and Language Club's annual cooking night. In what has become a club tradition, members gathered in the Armstrong Lounge to cook, laugh and celebrate Japanese culture through authentic cuisine. This year the club also partnered with Signal, Miami's Chinese Culture Club, to bolster attendance and foster a connection between the two clubs.

"In past years we've made sushi, but not everyone is a fan of that, so this year we decided to cook something different," said Danielle Rymers, JCLC's president.

She describes the decided-upon dish as a savory Japanese pancake, made with stuffed cabbage, onions and various kinds of meat. Its name: Okonomiyaki.

As the cooking process continued, members of the club laughed and joked with one another, with topics ranging from Japanese onomatopoeia and the cultural origins of okonomiyaki, to the comical tragedy of the club only possessing a single knife with which to cook an entire dish.

Members of Signal and JCLC mingled, and within the lighthearted atmosphere of the kitchen, conversations in Chinese, Japanese and English all flowed together freely.

In total there were around 15 people packed into the small kitchen, all clamoring to get a better view of the cooking taking place.

When asked about club attendance, Danielle claimed that it varied from event to event.

"Our biggest event of the year is 'Shinnenkai,'" she said, referring to the Japanese new year celebration. "Usually around 50 people come out for that. For other events, it varies. But in general, if there's food involved, people will come."

Until recently, JCLC and MU Anime Club were a single organization, before splitting apart a few years ago. After the two clubs separated, JCLC membership dropped as people interested more in Japanese pop culture left with the Anime Club.

The dip in membership certainly didn't seem to dampen any spirits though, as the cooking night was full of people laughing and carrying on happily with casualness and camaraderie.

"The best thing about this club is the people," said Monica, the club's event planner. "Everyone here is really casual and fun."

Monica said she joined JCLC after her professors recommended it, and found it a fun, welcoming environment.

Eventually, after recipies had been consulted and everything had been prepared, the okonomiyaki was completed, and people set about enjoying the fruits of their labor.

The sizzling dish was a welcome departure from dining hall meals and Easy Mac, and people tucked in eagerly after a long night of cooking.

Directly across the hall from Pulley, where students sat eating chicken tenders and cheeseburgers, a dish originating from Osaka, Japan, was cooked and consumed by a club celebrating Japanese culture.