This summer, JASH gave five teams from Iolani School, Kauai High School, Leilehua High School, and Island Pacific Academy (IPA) the opportunity to travel to Japan and experience first-hand the country and culture they had studied in preparation for the 2016 Japan Wizards Academic Team Competition (JWC) hosted by the Japan-America Society of Hawaii (JASH). The JWC in February gathered 28 high schools to compete in groups of three in two categories, levels A and B, depending on their Japanese language level. The four winning teams of the JWC—Iolani School Levels A and B, Kauai High School Level B, and Leilehua High School Level A—received free trips to Japan for themselves and their advisors.
In addition, this year, a generous donation from JASH Board Member and Educational Committee Chair Jean Rolles gave one additional team the chance to go to Japan: Island Pacific Academy Level A. This prize, named the Dr. Michael Leineweber Trip Award after Ms. Rolles’ fellow JASH Board member and friend who passed away in 2014, was awarded at random to one team from the top 20 scoring teams with over 100 points.
Upon receiving the Dr. Michael Leineweber Trip Award to travel to Japan, award recipients from Island Pacific Academy Level A began excitedly planning their itinerary. And with a departure date of June 1st, this group was the first of the Japan Wizards Competition (JWC) winners to leave the islands. Brynn Matsuoka, Kristy Munakata, and Kylie Higashionna, with their advisor, Brent Takenouchi, opted to spend the majority of their time in Tokyo, with just a day trip to Nara and Kyoto. In Tokyo, they visited not only the most famous attractions such as Tokyo Tower, Harajuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara, but also to less frequented places such as the Epson Aqua Park in Shinagawa, the University of Tokyo, and Temple University Japan. At Temple University, the students received a special tour arranged through JASH and were graciously given a lesson on playing the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Brynn Matsuoka valued the experience as a chance to interact with “such an important instrument to Japan’s culture and history.”
However, beyond the important opportunities this trip provided for the students to practice their Japanese speaking skills and to experience the culture they had diligently studied, the trip also prompted students to look into many of the societal differences between Japan and the United States. These included diet, transportation, the lack of litter in urban areas, the politeness of store clerks, and attention to environmental issues. Kylie Higashionna commented on yet another difference, in the ways children are raised: “I learned how I should be more responsible by seeing how many students that are younger than me are able to go to school by themselves by just taking the subway system while my parents drive me to school…”
Student testimonials proved that the trip and especially the learning opportunities it provided were eye-opening experiences that should be encouraged among high school students. Beyond fact-based knowledge, JASH believes that the accumulation of these hands-on experiences will undoubtedly enable the team members to continue to grow both as students of Japanese and as global citizens even long after their return to Hawaii. JASH would like to extend a warm mahalo to Ms. Jean Rolles for allowing the students from Island Pacific Academy this unique opportunity to learn and grow through their trip to Japan.