2014 Japan Wizards Competition Winners Venture to Japan

Iolani JWC Level A team members make yakisoba with local high school students in Nagaoka

This past summer, four teams from Iolani School, Kalani High School and King Kekaulike High School traveled to Japan to experience all they had studied after winning the 2014 Japan Wizards Statewide Academic Team Competition (JWC) hosted by the Japan-America Society of Hawaii (JASH) in February. Student winners and their team advisors explored various landmarks and regions of Japan, utilizing the cultural knowledge and Japanese language skills they had acquired from the competition. King Kekaulike High School student winner Maya Ooki encapsulated the sentiments of all Japan trip winners: “The trip I’ve just recently taken to Japan has been one of the best opportunities I have ever had to broaden my mind and see the world from a different point of view! … Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by a completely different world, and I learned so much from my short time visiting. I’m very grateful to have [had] this opportunity and to have met the people I’ve seen.” 

JWC Iolani teams at TUJ

From June 6-14, JWC Iolani School Level A winners Matthew Imanaka, Naomi Natori, and Kara Wong and JWC Iolani School Level B winners Tamlyn Kurata, Michele Yamanoha, and Alex Young along with their advisors Ann Tomatani and Jo Ann Akamine explored Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka, and Nara. Iolani’s Level A winners were hosted by the Executive Committee for Developing a Bridge of Friendship between the U.S. and Japan (ECDBFUSJ) in Nagaoka city, Niigata Prefecture. They ventured to the Isoroku Yamamoto Memorial Hall and Museum and partook in various cultural activities with local high school students from Nagaoka, while Level B winners remained in Tokyo and were hosted by the America-Japan Society of Tama Tokyo (AJSTT). They explored the Edo-Tokyo Museum and Japan’s famous hot springs at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari. Students got a glimpse of Japan’s history both through an authentically Japanese perspective and by experiencing the longstanding traditions that make Japanese culture so unique. On the following day, the students were hosted by the staff at Temple University Japan (TUJ) in Tokyo, where they were given a chance to tour a Japanese college campus, observe a shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese guitar) performance, and participate in suikawari (splitting watermelon with a wooden stick while blindfolded). This visit was particularly enlightening to Naomi Natori, who wrote, “The Temple University visitation was very enjoyable and it made me question where I want to go to college. Before the visit, I was very against studying abroad, but after the visit I have an open mind to foreign options.”

King Kekaulike High School Level A team members pose with their host students in Ehime

JWC King Kekaulike High School Level A winners Charlotte Bridge, Devynn Leigh Kochi, Maya Ooki, and advisor Jan Matsushita were next to leave for Japan, departing July 2 and remaining there until July 14. The team began their trip in Osaka and Kyoto and after a busy weekend of sightseeing, headed to Ehime Prefecture to be hosted by the Ehime Prefectural International Center (EPIC). The team members separated for a one-night homestay with local students from Matsuyama Higashi High School. Devynn Leigh Kochi, much like her other teammates, was nervous to meet her host family at first but later reflected upon the experience as her “favorite event of the trip.” While in Ehime, JWC teammates learned about the historic tragedy that brought Ehime and Hawaii together and how these two distinct regions have since moved forward, forging intimate ties and a mutual respect for one another, as attested by the warm welcomes and smiles that greeted King Kekaulike High School team members. Within two short days, JWC team members grew close to their host sisters and brothers, tasting home-cooked Japanese food and observing firsthand a day in the life of a Japanese student. Charlotte Bridge remembers the invaluable moments she and her host sister Yuri shared: “I loved the cultural feeling of Ehime, and just walking the streets at night with my [host family] was super nice. I spent an hour sitting in the footbaths and talking with [Yuri], and that was an experience that I feel I’ll remember Ehime by.”

JWC Kalani Level B team members and their host families in Hokkaido

From July 8-21, JWC Kalani High School Level B team winners Kira-Ann Hayashi, Janelle Morimoto, Rebecca Yamashiro, and advisor Robynne Klein finally got their chance to travel to Japan. The Kalani team began their trip in the northernmost region of Hokkaido and then rode the bullet train south to Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Osaka. During their time in Hokkaido, Kalani team members were hosted by the America-Japan Society of Hokkaido (AJSH) and also given a homestay experience for two nights in Hokkaido’s capital city, Sapporo. Escorted by their host families, students ventured to the small harbor city of Otaru, observing remnants of older times when the city was once a bustling trading port. Team member Kira-Ann Hayashi “got a chance to view a bit of that history when [she]… saw all of the old glass fishing buoys piled up along the shoreline,” a sight largely absent from commercial tourist webpages and Japanese textbooks. Rebecca Yamashiro reflects upon visiting Hokkaido as “one of the best stops on [her] trip and probably [her] new favorite place in Japan.”

JWC Kalani team members pose with Koyo High School students in Nishinomiya

JASH would like to thank our contacts at ECDBFUSJ, AJSTT, TUJ, EPIC, and AJSH for their warm hospitality and aloha towards our JWC teams. Kalani senior Kira-Ann Hayashi summarized the experience for all participants, as it helped her realize future goals and further desire to study Japanese: “I never imagined that this trip would help me in this way… This is an unexpected result, but… I think this is what the Japan Wizards Competition is all about. It helps foster these interests in the Japan-United States relationship and inspires people to continue to study. I cannot thank JASH and the other sponsors of the Japan Wizards Competition enough for granting us this trip and helping give me motivation for the future.”