Kawasaki Reading Room: A Japanese Culture Center for Nebraska

Sitting on the top floor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, the Kawasaki Reading Room is a culture and resource center dedicated to all things Japanese. A cultural connection between Japan and the American Great Plains feels unlikely, but in fact, the Kawasaki Reading Room is a busy little space that is about to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, a sign of its popularity.

Even before walking in, visitors get a taste of Japan, as a series of black and white woodblock prints adorn the hallway outside the entrance and the reading room’s Japanese name appears in elegant kanji characters above the door.

Once inside, visitors are greeted with sights both familiar and exotic. There are library stacks, as one would expect in a reading room, but there are also traditional Japanese art objects and even a set of Hina dolls, the Heian period (740-1185) costumed king and queen and their courtiers, arranged on a stair-stepped dais. 

Even the library stacks offer their own exoticism (or familiarity, depending on the visitor’s background—in addition to its student patrons, the reading room is popular with Japanese living and working in the Lincoln area as well as with non-Japanese who have a special affinity or interest in Japan). Upon close inspection, the spines of the books on the shelves show titles in Japanese. The books are arranged by subject and genre. Further into the stacks, there is an entire section of DVDs of Japanese movies and television shows. Nearby are shelves devoted to Japanese manga.

Manga and anime are one aspect of Japanese pop culture particularly popular with young people worldwide, an interest the reading room plans to cater to with its upcoming AnimeCon, currently scheduled to take place on October 6, 2022. The event, part of the reading room’s thirtieth anniversary celebration, will include anime cosplay and music as well as a talk on “One Piece” by Professor Otaku, the alter-ego of College of Engineering professor Sangjin Ryu, a fluid mechanics expert and anime fan who often incorporates anime visuals into his teaching, to great effect. Professor Otaku gives popular anime-related presentations at the reading room every semester.

The reading room is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Signs advertise regular reading room events: a Japanese-speaking circle every Wednesday afternoon (5:00-6:00 pm) and Tea Time Fridays, Japanese snacks and tea tasting with the assistance of Lincoln’s green leaf tea co. every Friday from 11:00 am. These take place in a side room with atmospheric shoji paper screens. Sometimes other Friday activities complement Tea Time, including career talks and even martial arts demonstrations. Other special events offered from time to time include traditional tea ceremony, Japanese music performances and workshops on Japanese crafts such as origami.

The reading room opened on September 24, 1992. In addition to the upcoming AnimeCon in early October, various special events will be held on September 22, 2022 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary. 

The Kawasaki Reading Room was the brainchild of Takehiko Saeki, a Japanese national who for many years was the President of Kawasaki Motor Manufacturing, which operates the first foreign-owned motor vehicle manufacturing plant in the United States, established in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1974. He wanted to create a place where people interested in Japanese culture could find books and videos as well as cultural activities. 

Mission accomplished!

© 2022 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
We’re thrilled if you share this link; if you want to re-use in any other way, please request permission.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s