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Steve Dornbach (FF ’09–’12) reflects on 50 years of Daruma, ASIJ’s literary magazine.
“Time is a sort of river of passing events and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place.”
The Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius may have been speaking about time and the passing of our lives, but his words certainly ring true when talking about the ASIJ student literary and art magazine, Daruma.
Daruma turned 50 years old this past spring. This was the latest edition recognizing ASIJ student creativity and expression through writing, artwork, poetry and prose. The magazine has captured five decades of creative pursuits providing insights into the lives, hopes, dreams, thoughts, feelings and passions of generations of ASIJ students. After 50 years, Daruma has become, as student and Daruma staff member Sena Chang ’24 says, “a treasured relic of ASIJ.”
Each school year, a team of typically about a dozen students, along with a faculty advisor, solicit work from their peers in the form of poetry, short stories, photography and artwork. The purpose is to give students an opportunity for creative expression outside of the classroom. The process starts, as last year’s Daruma staff said, “the moment a student decides to put their confusions, their questions, or their emotions into color, language, and form” and it continues when they choose to submit and share their work.
The student editorial staff then curates the submissions that best capture the “confusing, enigmatic and immaterial,” the expression of the ASIJ student’s lived experiences. And the product, (the magazine itself) has evolved into a time capsule of sorts. As the quote by Marcus Aurelius states, “a river of passing events” that “provide insight into the perspectives of the contemporary student body through the curation of an enduring published product.”
A unique example of time, and how Daruma reflects the experiences of ASIJ students throughout, is on display in a section of this spring’s 50th edition. Several of last year’s seniors had an opportunity while in grade 2 to write haikus about “time.” They wrote about how landscapes change over time, wanting time to move faster so they can get outside to recess and the memorable clock kits they used to learn to tell time. Many of these 2nd grade haikus were included in the 40th edition of the magazine, as that milestone provided a chance for a “Time” retrospective, and some of these students went on to be Daruma staff members in high school. Last spring they had the chance to meet again to reflect on time and discuss some of those shared 2nd grade memories. And though some of the students had not necessarily been close friends over the past decade, student Ina Aram ’21 realized they “know each other in a uniquely intimate and distant way — we hold memories of each other from age seven, at seventeen.” And those memories are shared through their experiences and reflected in Daruma. 10 years on from 2nd grade and they can see how they “are intimately and unexpectedly a part of each other’s stories,” how their lives “run parallel to those of the people around us,” and how the lives and experiences of ASIJ students “are spurred by the lines of poetry and pencil drawings circa 2011.” The common thread where all of these experiences intersect? On the pages of Daruma.
Whether looking at an issue from this past spring, to an issue 15 years ago or even going back as far as 30 years, the photos, the poems, the stories all thread a common needle. ASIJ students can find a familiarity on the pages of Daruma relating to the experiences of identity, what we call home and finding our place in the world, to working out and connecting our past to reflect the realities of our present. There can also be found in the pieces a longing from students to understand how our pasts and presents might inspire our futures. Time has been the constant thread that any ASIJ student could relate to or could see reflected in any issue of Daruma.
As magical, as reflective and as connecting as time can be, time does not come without its faults. Last year as Karen Noll (AP ’03–21), former faculty advisor and current librarian, along with Daruma staff members, browsed and digitized 50 years worth of student work, they realized that there were some pieces that simply didn’t “age well.” Though time gives us a unique and refreshing perspective, as reflected by last year’s seniors, it can also reveal some truths about our pasts. Max Duncan (FF ’19–21), the faculty advisor for the past few years, commented that time posed a challenge in that “last year’s staff struggled a bit with reconciling the past with the present. The reality that some issues, some language and topics don’t ‘wear well’ into the present day. Some language that was common in the ’70s or ’80s just may not be considered appropriate or acceptable today. The benefit of hindsight allows us to see that now.” Duncan posed the question: “What will Daruma staff 50 years from now say about our language and representation (or lack thereof?) today? Only time will tell.” This was an issue much discussed, grappled with and considered throughout the year and there was consensus amongst the staff that though the magazine’s purpose is to provide a forum for student experiences, we must look at these pieces within the context of when they were written and try to understand and learn from that.
Two things have remained constant for Daruma over time. One is the support the administration and the school has given to the arts through this student publication. ASIJ must be lauded for supporting the written and visual artistic life of its students for 50 years! There have certainly always been yearbooks, and those serve a wonderful purpose of capturing the day to day, the events and the accomplishments from one year to the next. But an artistic magazine like Daruma, captures the thoughts, hopes, fears, ambitions, confusions, anxieties and truths that students experience while growing up. To support an advisor and the costs associated with printing a magazine each year, for 50 years, demonstrates a multi-generational commitment to their students and the arts.
The other constant is the unique relationship the magazine has had with a local publisher, Murooka Printing. Eriko Murooka and her father Hikoe Murooka have printed Daruma for the past 30 years. They are a local, family owned printer and when I took over as advisor from Wally Ingebritson (FF ’86–09), his one admonition to me was “Use Murooka Printing!” I’m sure the printing work could be outsourced at a lower cost, but Wally’s was a sage piece of wisdom in that through the 30 year partnership with Murooka Printing, they have developed an understanding of the role Daruma plays in the life of the school, for the lives of its students, and how that can be best represented on the printed page.
To quote faculty advisor Max Duncan again, “Time has been an ever present member of the Daruma staff and artistic representation year in and year out. Though advisors and students come and go, the lived experiences of ASIJ students at school, in Tokyo and greater Japan remain constant. And these experiences are borne out in the words and images that are curated each year in the magazine.” Last spring, former advisors to Daruma, including June Kushida (advisor ’74–’75; ’84-’02), Mary Onions (advisor ’04), Wally Ingebritson (advisor ’05–’09), myself, Steve Dornbach (advisor ’10–’12) and Karen Noll, met for a trans-Pacific and trans- Atlantic Zoom call to share reflections and stories about Daruma. Just as the 2nd graders turned 12th graders met and quickly felt the connection they had through the work represented on the pages of Daruma, so too, did we as advisors. We quickly fell into easy conversation, reminiscing mostly about our students, their commitment to the sharing of ideas, to making sense of their lives and representing that, for their classmates, on the printed page. It was clear that each advisor carried with them during their tenure, the weight of that responsibility and the desire for the magazine to be the best representation of students’ lived experiences as possible.
To read Daruma is to get a glimpse into the common and shared lives and experiences of 50 years of ASIJ students. Sena Chang ‘24 said it best at the conclusion of an article from this past spring, describing how Daruma links one generation of ASIJ student with the next, when she says “Through its power to refine our cultural, familial, and personal identities, the pages of Daruma transcend generations, possessing an immortal soul that you, dear reader, are a part of at this very moment.”
And student Nathaniel DuBois ’21, wrote a lovely piece titled “A Trek Through Time” for the 50th edition that deftly encapsulates the concept of time and the connection students have been describing for generations. It is a written piece that creates a walk through the experience of each grade level while weaving in a poem that connects each stanza along the way. The poem portion of is work reads:
“The journey starts with a single step. One foot in front of the next.
The ground may be hard.
The path may not be set.
We may meet others.
They may help; they may not.
But they too trek as we do.
We all walk along.
Ahead lies our own future.
Beneath lies our life.
Yet we’re drawn back to the path we’ve already traveled. The connection we create with people.
The moments we share with others.
The feelings we experience together. Foundation is found in the past.
Look back on the short trail I trekked and try to find
Maybe you’ll see something I don’t.”
Life at school is full of stories and the narrative of where our vision will take us is told each day through the learning our students experience in the classroom and beyond.