- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2005

Students from across the country were in the District yesterday to test their knowledge of Japanese culture and language during the 13th annual Japan Bowl at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Northwest.

About 400 students, teachers, friends, family and J. Thomas Schieffer — the recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan — packed a second-floor ballroom to watch teams of high school students who study Japanese as a second language square off for the title and a 10-day trip to Japan this summer.

“I think this is one of the best intercultural events ever seen,” said William T. Breer, chairman of the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. and the Japan Bowl organizer. “We get together students who are really enthusiastic learners of the Japanese language. It’s a mind-stretching experience for all young people to study [because] it is one of the third-hardest languages in the world.”

Mr. Breer, who flew in from Tokyo yesterday to attend the competition, said he is not surprised that the language has become popular among young adults.

“Japan grew to become the world’s second-biggest economy,” he said. “It is admired for its technology, art, video games and comic books. It’s slightly exotic with an intriguing culture. There have been business opportunities for those who speak Japanese. And Japan is a major ally of the United States.”

The contest format is similar to that seen on the “It’s Academic” quiz show, except the content is about Japan and the questions are presented in Japanese.

The 160 students competed in such categories as culture, grammar, written Japanese, Japanese proverbs, onomatopoetic expressions and listening comprehension.

During one of the 45-minute final sessions, students from Chesterton High School in Chesterton, Ind.; Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif.; and St. Albans School in Northwest answered questions in English and Japanese.

Some of the multiple-choice and translation questions stumped the students, who have studied the language for years.

Other questions were a breeze.

For example, storyteller Shinosuke Tatekawa engaged and entertained the audience and students by introducing himself before presenting three questions in Japanese.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is nice to meet you,” he said. “Can you understand my English? But, I cannot understand myself,” he said as the room erupted in laughter.

Mr. Tatekawa portrayed a bird, a dog and a cat. Then he asked the students to identify the animal.

At the end of the daylong competition, Cameron Finucane, Adya Beasley and Courtney Baker of St. Albans School received the winning gold trophy and the trip to Japan. The America-Japan Society in Tokyo and the Japan Foundation will sponsor visits to Tokyo and Osaka during the trip.

Cameron, 17, the captain of the St. Albans team who attends Sidwell Friends, said the secret to the competition was to remain composed and self-assured.

“I knew we were well prepared, but when we came in we didn’t know what would happen,” he said. “The key is to be relaxed and confident. … But, we are all really grateful to our teacher, Taeko Wu, who teaches at St. Albans. She makes [the language] fun, exciting and interactive.”

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