VEMU’s 11th Fundraising Evening: Japan is Close, and the Museum is Closer

May 8, 2023

The arrival of springtime has many markers depending on where you reside. In Japan, people await the sakura blossoms of cherry trees. They are an ethereal symbol of the passing of time, representing birth, death, and renewal.

More common in Canada are tulips and daffodils. At the same time, we have human markers, and that includes the VEMU Tuluõhtu (Fundraising Evening).

As VEMU Estonian Museum Canada strides towards constructing its destined home—a new museum building— these fundraising evenings are all the more essential. The proceeds of the fundraising go to the construction of the museum.

And what ticket holders received in return was a reminder of all VEMU has worked hard for. Namely, facilitating the connection between EstonianCanadians and their heritage. All that is traditional, but also the most noteworthy Estonian creations and figures of the present.

Thus, VEMU invited Kaido Höövelson— the only Estonian to have ever become a professional rikishi (sumo wrestler)—as the guest speaker on Saturday, April 29th.

Cultivating the ambience for Höövelson’s arrival were two local makers of Japanese culinary specialities: EDO and Ken Valvur of the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. There is, of course, a connection to the Estonian community through Valvur, but the quality of the sake and Japanese dishes served added to the sense of authenticity.

From the hors d’oeuvres to the main course and dessert, the array of food prepared by EDO was delectable and vibrant. Maki, sushi, and nigiri. Misoinfused black cod that was perfectly tender. The chocolate avocado mousse was extra thick, with tangy fresh berries contrasting the rich chocolate flavour. The yuzu sake, which might be compared in taste to limoncello, was smooth but had a citrusy freshness to it.

Between conversation and dining, speeches and live music warmed the hearts of participants. Jaan Meri, soon to retire as Chair of the Tartu College Board of Directors, recalled his introduction to the career of Kaido Höövelson (known in the sumo wrestling world as Baruto Kaito). Noriko Yamamoto, Executive Director at The Japan Foundation, Toronto, spoke fondly of the foundation’s relationship with VEMU through the Bloor Street Culture Corridor. Piret Noorhani, Chief Archivist at VEMU, provided an overview of the museum’s accomplishments in the last 12 months, plus many thank yous.

From there, Baruto gave a whistle-stop tour through his mythical career, from the invitation to Japan by Hidetoshi Tanaka to achieving the second-highest ranking in sumo wrestling. Although his story has been a topic of interest to many (including a previous article in Eesti Elu), there were fresh and intriguing details. It was moving, for example, to learn that his wife-to-be was disapproved of by his heya (“stable”, where rikishi train). It was only after many unsuccessful arranged dates that the marriage was permitted to happen.

All the while, Professor Andres Kasekamp interpreted from Estonian to English. The oratory and linguistic interplay between the two of them were hilarious, as though they had been doing this together for quite some time.

Before Baruto said goodbye, Aki Takahashi and Kiyoshi Nagata from the music group Ten Ten performed folk songs with a shamisen (a traditional three-stringed instrument), bells, a shime daiko drum and a taiko drum. No previous fundraising evening has been quite like this.

The title of the evening, „Jaapan on Kaugel…“ was derived from a haiku by Juhan Viiding:

Japan is far

Estonia is further

the winds whisper

Yet, the events of the fundraising evening demonstrate how times have changed and how, with a museum in the works, VEMU Estonian Museum Canada will continue to bridge the gaps between Estonia and its friends all over.

First published in Eesti Elu / Estonian Life newspaper

Vincent Teetsov