Valparaiso University’s Japanese club, Wakabakai (若葉会), is a student organization with close ties to the Chinese and Japanese Studies program. It started out of student interest in the early 1990s, and has continued to thrive with superior leadership of presidents such as Cat Hoffman, Jenna Throw, Blain Keller and Brittany Part. The most recent president, Adam Raynor, has maintained the tradition by which the club provides a community for students who are interested in Japanese culture. Valparaiso University professors Fred Kavanagh, Jeni Prough, and Zhimin Lin have been strong supporters of the club.
Every semester the club takes a trip to the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Chicago, and every spring it holds a large Japanese dinner for the community. These dinners have included an array of entertainment, including activities for guests, skits, and karaoke. At other times throughout the school year, club members cook Japanese food together, watch Japanese movies and anime, and represent Japan at the international festivals held on campus. Many of the students in the club are studying Japanese, so every week they hold Hanashihoudai (話し放題), the All-You-Can-Speak conversation hour. All students studying Japanese are welcome to come and practice over tea and cookies.
The official club name, Wakabakai, was modeled after the Japanese club at the University of Hawaii in the 1970s. It can be literally translated as the “Young Leaves Club”, because like leaves in spring, club members are all budding with interest for Japanese language and culture.