Five Teams Visit Japan This Summer through the JASH Japan Wizards Competition

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This summer, JASH gave five teams 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 two categories, levels A and B, depending on Japanese language proficiency. 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.  Thanks to Hawaiian Airlines, who sponsored the winning teams’ air fare to Japan, students and their advisors explored a variety of landmarks in Japan while traveling through the regions of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Kansai, Chubu, Chugoku and Shikoku.

First to leave were the winners of the Dr. Michael Leineweber Trip Award, IPA Level A. They spent the majority of their time in Tokyo, and received a special tour of Temple University in Japan, arranged through JASH. Student testimonials proved that the trip, and especially the learning opportunities provided, were educational and eye-opening experiences that should be encouraged among high school students. The students from Iolani also participated in JASH-organized visits, theirs with the America-Japan Society of Tama Tokyo (A team), and the Ehime Prefectural International Center (B team). At these visits, the teams learned of ongoing efforts to bridge our two countries, and of the importance of sister-state relationships such as that between Hawaii and Ehime. Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park also gave students a new perspective on global understanding and peace-building. Yufei Xiao recalled the grief, horror, and hope she felt while visiting the monument, and upon reflection discovered that “although we come from different backgrounds, culture is an integral, interwoven part of people’s lives and is a uniqueness that should be celebrated and appreciated. The need to understand each other’s cultures cannot be emphasized enough… Opportunities such as this truly foster a sense of empathy and peace between countries, and I hope to continue promoting goodwill in my own small way.”

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Justin Kogasaka of Iolani School prepares the dough for his hand-made soba!

JWC winners from Kauai High School explored both modern and historical sites, such as the Edo Tokyo Museum, Yomiuriland amusement park, and Fushimi Inari Shrine, enabling them to compare and contrast these two sides of Japanese culture. During their two-night homestay in Sapporo, organized by the America-Japan Society of Hokkaido, they ate meals and talked with local families, gaining an authentic Japanese perspective that would not have been otherwise possible.

Finally, on June 24th, the Leilehua team got their chance to travel to Japan. After beginning their trip in Tokyo, they set off to Tokai University Shonan Campus in Odawara, where they were graciously provided with an orientation about the Tokai school system, an official meeting with Chancellor Yamada and Vice Chancellor Yoshikawa, and a campus tour. Tokai has award winning facilities and makes great efforts at internationalization—the team even had lunch at the “International Café,” where students gather and are only allowed to speak English. They then traveled north to Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture, where they participated in a two-night homestay and attended classes at Leilehua’s sister school, Hanamaki Minami Senior High School. As Leilehua has not had a chance to visit Hanamaki since 2005, the JWC trip was an important event for both the sister schools and their students. Ethan Toriki recalled this cultural exchange: “the class was very talkative while we were there, as they were genuinely excited to meet people from Hawaii. We taught the students basic Hawaiian words and general facts about Hawaii. We also sang Hawaii Pono`i and danced Hula with the Japanese students.”

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Leilehua visits their sister-school, Hanamaki Minami Senior HS!

JASH would like to thank our overall sponsor, Hawaiian Airlines, for generously donating the four winning teams’ flights, along with our other major supporters—ABC Stores, Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation, Freeman Foundation, Friends of Hawaii Charities, Hawaii Hotel Industry Foundation, JTB Hawaii, Temple University Japan, The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, and Ms. Jean Rolles—for continuing to encourage Hawaii’s high school students to study Japan and its fascinating culture through the Japan Wizards Competition. Without their tremendous support, these 15 students would not have had this life-changing opportunity to learn from and experience Japan. Iolani School student Emily Ching summarized the experience for all participants, describing how it fulfilled a long-held dream of hers: “In preparation for the competition, we studied about every aspect of Japanese life, but actually being there taught me more than I could ever learn from a book. Seeing the historical sites and experiencing the culture we learned about gave me a new appreciation for Japan. Not only did I learn so much, but I was genuinely so happy to finally be in the place I had dreamed of for years.”