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The 29th Japanese Speech Contest: The Participants Compete Against Each Other with a Variety of Topics

• Today’s technology has made our communication much easier, but it brought us distraction. During a face to face communication, one cannot help checking his or her smartphone. While a smartphone is a convenience, you do lose something important.
• When I traveled to Alaska, no online service was available. I was uneasy at first, however, I gradually forgot about my smartphone and could enjoy beautiful landscapes and spent healthy enriched time. (Kara Benninger)

• While traveling alone to Japan, I climbed a mountain. Every climber greeted each other on the mountain, so I never felt being alone. I met a man and enjoyed having conversations with him. He also shared his cane with me. When I returned to the starting point for a climb, the winter sunset was very beautiful. If I didn’t meet those people, I wouldn’t feel the sunset was so beautiful. I think that Japanese people’s minds made their country beautiful. ( Shihao Zhang)

• The 29th Japanese Language Speech Contest was held on March 21 at the Japan Information Center, Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, and one interesting speech followed another.

• Special Award winner Hui Zhang’s speech was “Let’s talk more about the good part of our country.”
• Zhang is a Chinese student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He questioned how Chinese and Japanese people perceive each other while the political relationship between the two countries has deteriorated these last few years.
• He said that the most popular travel destination for Chinese was Japan. In fact, more than 1.6 million Chinese visited Japan in 2014. Many Chinese would say that having negative image toward Japan was due to the Sino-Japanese war. However, most Chinese who had visited Japan said that the Japanese were more polite and kind than they had expected.
• On the other hand, how do Japanese think about Chinese? After Senkaku issue had arisen, the number of Japanese sightseers to China has decreased by half. Aren’t Japanese interested in deep Chinese history or culture? Zhang found that misinformation about China on the internet had played an important role. Most Japanese websites have carried exaggerated information about China’s issues and written little about good phases of China. He questioned, “If we do nothing about the situation, how can we make it possible to fix Chinese-Japanese relations?” He said that as a student who has studied Japanese, he and other students should make good use of Japanese language skills and share more about Chinese history, culture, and the other virtues of China.
• Zhang received a round trip ticket to Japan donated by ANA and a $200 gift card donated by Nippon Steel & Sumikin.

• Errol Phalo, a student of Macalester College, won the Grand Prize. Her speech was “The Bond between Myself and My Mother.”
• Phalo’s mother raised her and her brother and sister. In later days, her mother adopted her nephew and niece. When a doorknob made a click-clack sound, it was a sign that their mother came home. Even if she was very tired, she loved the children with gentle smiles.
• After Phalo left home for college, she heard that her mother lost her job. She was under great stress and unable to work. The rent payments were behind, so she and her family had to move out.
• When winter break came, Phalo returned to her smaller house and found less food in the refrigerator and home appliances such as their washing machine had gone. Her mother had no motivation to find a new job and lost her smiling face. When Phalo tried to talk with her mother, argument always followed. Her mother looked like a different person.

• During the winter break Phalo watched a YouTube video, which explained a kanji character “morning”. The character consisted of 10 months and 10 days that coincided with a pregnancy period. Thus, it meant reborn. Another character “night” meant reflecting the day. A morning comes after a night that means rebirth comes after reflecting. The explanation encouraged Phalo to talk with her mother. Then her mother smiled and said that she would turn herself positively very soon.
• Phalo said in her speech, “I realized the importance of being positive in my life because of my great experience with my mother. I’ll overcome difficulties and live positively like my mother does. I think that makes each page of my life bright.”
• Phalo received a round trip ticket to Japan donated by JAL and a $200 gift card donated by Nippon Steel & Sumikin.
• Phalo answered Shimpo’s interview and said she wanted to become a Japanese teacher in the U.S. or become an English teacher in Japan. She was also interested in working in a Japanese company, but hasn’t decided anything yet. She thanked her mother for supporting her Japanese study, along with patience and encouragement to continue to study Japanese.

• Hassan Awaishi, a graduate student at University of Chicago Divinity School, won Sister City Osaka Award. His speech was “My connection to Japan.”
• Interestingly, Awaishi, a Pakistani American, was born in Kobe, Japan. His grandfather came to Japan in the 1950s to found a trading company, and his mother was raised in Japan with her sisters. They learned ikebana flower arrangement and Japanese classical dance.
• When Awaishi became three years old, the family moved to the U.K., then the U.S. As a Divinity School student, he is interested, especially, in the history of the Moslem community in Japan and the WWII influence on Japanese culture and society.
• He has studied Arabic, Urdu, Persian, and Spanish. He started to learn Japanese six months ago as a new challenge. Japanese study was also a promise with his mother. He looks forward to going to Japan for further study and having leisure times.
• He received a round trip ticket to Osaka (near Kobe) and a two-week-home-stay in Osaka arranged and donated by Chicago Sister Cities International Program Osaka Committee.

• At the Speech Contest, 39 participants competed against each other. For students and the general public, who are studying Japanese, this annual contest is one big goal. The contest is divided into four categories according to age and length of time studying Japanese. After the speech, a judge asked questions in Japanese. Even if the speech was in fluent Japanese, one cannot memorize answers to the questions. Some of the speakers were so nervous that they could not answer well, but most of them were able to express their opinions confidently.

• The chief judge Akiko Kakutani praised their efforts and said that foreign language study helped in opening doors to understanding other countries and their people. She also said that although English has become a global language and people are able to communicate with each other by speaking English, it was not enough to understand the background of foreign people. She encouraged the participants by saying that making efforts to study the second, the third, and the fourth language was critical in the global scene and asked them to spread the importance of studying other languages.

• The speech contest was sponsored by the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, The Japan America Society of Chicago, and The Chicago Sister Cities International Program Osaka Committee.

Errol Phalo receives Grand Award

Chicago Shimpo Awardees

Special Award winner Hui Zhang

Sister City Osaka Award winner Hassan Awaishi