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Chicago Shimpo
Contestants Talk about Cultural Experiences at
31st Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest

• Thirty contestants competed in the 31st Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest held at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago’s Japan Information Center on March 25, each talking about unique cultural experience.

• The annual event, co-organized 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 Osaka Committee, provides Japanese-learning students with a testing ground for their language skills.

• The program was divided into three categories: 1st for elementary and junior high school students; 2nd for high school students; and 3rd for college students.

• University of Wisconsin student Yixuan Cheng was awarded the Grand Prize for the speech titled “Cultural Openness and Understanding through My International Relationship.” He received a round trip ticket to Japan donated by Japan Airlines.

• “My girlfriend is an American,” Cheng began his speech. “My relationship with her taught me a new way of thinking, and it’s been enlightening for me,” he continued. “Having been raised in Beijing, I have values and viewpoints radically different from hers, so our relationship had a rocky start. Specifically, we were miles apart regarding the gender equality. I always thought a woman was supposed to take care of her children and husband and that her life must have been easier than a man who had to work outside home. Therefore, it was hard for me to accept any of my girlfriend’s ideas about gender equality. But she was very patient with me in her effort of understanding me as she realized the cultural differences between us. In turn, I started to appreciate her effort and became less rigid, gradually accepting the idea of equality between a man and a woman. Now I’m looking at the society we live in today with a fresh eye. Despite the fact that an increasing number of women have a career today, their social status is not raised proportionally because men are not espousing the changes occurring in our society. I believe I can improve myself if I maintain an open mind and look at the world with a viewpoint different from my own.”

• Cheng became interested in the 16th century Japan through playing a game based on that period. He began studying books about Japanese history, and ended up reading modern Japanese literature. His favorite author is Osamu Dazai. Now he majors in East Asian studies and the Japanese language.
• In the post-contest interview, Cheng said he views cultural interaction between Japan and China to be something separate from political interactions. “Still, the people in East Asia have a certain degree of anti-Japanese and anti-Chinese sentiments. We should all try to not have prejudice when interacting with each other,” he added.

• The Sister City Osaka Award went to Ryan Kenny, a Kansas State University student, who presented a speech titled “We can Understand Anything, If We Just Talk.”
• “Growing up in Kansas, I wanted to broaden my view and chose to study Japanese,” Kenny began his speech. “My dream came true and I went to Japan to study. On my visit to Kyoto with my friends, I was refused entry to a restaurant that said, ‘The Japanese only.’ That was my first experience of racial discrimination in reality.”
• In Kansas, Kenny said, it’s a highly singular environment where you are not encouraged to speak out about the racial issues. His minority friend who majors in criminology has told him that he would never express his opinion about racial discrimination, fearing he would never know what could happen to him if he did.
• Why have we ended up with a society like this? Kenny said that we must reach out beyond the difference of opinion and creed and try to listen to each other in order to change a situation we are in today. “If we recognize that everybody has prejudice, I think we’ll be able to understand where the others came from a little better. Our first step for peaceful coexistence should be to build a society where all of us can speak and listen more freely,” Kenny concluded.
• He received a round trip ticket to Osaka and two-week home stay in Osaka arranged and donated by the Chicago Sister Cities International Osaka Committee.

• Ningy Lyu from Grinnell College was awarded the Chicago Shimpo Award for a speech titled “Horumonyaki and Japanese People.”
• The lesson in his speech is that you can’t jump to conclusions when things are more complicated than meets the eye.
• Lyu recently visited Japan for the third time and tasted a “horumonyaki” dish in Nagoya for the first time. Its red-miso flavor was something completely new to his built-in idea of typical Japanese cuisine represented by sushi, sashimi and other “simple” but sophisticated dishes. The realization was trifle but turned out to be long lasting.
• Lyu also visited Kyoto, where he stopped at a shop that sold tea ceremony tools. When the shop owner learned that Lyu was Chinese, the smile on his face disappeared, and he angrily said “Get out!” to Lyu.
• The next shop Lyu visited greeted him kindly and sympathized with him for the treatment he received at the previous shop. People at all other shops were also nice to him, helping abate the anger he felt.
• Lyu’s initial reaction was to tell himself that the Japanese people as a whole hate Chinese people. And then he realized that he made a judgment on the entire national character based on the behavior of one member of that group – just the same way as he believed Japanese cuisine meant sushi and sashimi.
• Lyu thinks we tend to jump to conclusions when we have built-in preconceptions and prejudices, but we can change that. He is determined to remember this and act rationally the next time he is at a risk of making a hasty judgment.

• Following his unpleasant encounter at the tea ceremony shop, Lyu returned there and spoke with the owner for about 40 minutes to figure out what made him act the way he did.
• “He [the owner] expressed his attitude toward the Chinese people,” Lyu explained in the post-contest interview. “I made an expression that I couldn’t understand him, so the owner explained me the reason why he didn’t welcome Chinese. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but I think it was above all a subjective, personal feeling. I myself like Japanese people,” he added.

• The Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest is one of the rare occasions for the public to know what the students of the Japanese language and culture may experience through their learning and how they form their views toward Japan. It’s open to the public and anyone can come to listen to the contestants. Don’t miss it next year.

All the participants pose with the judges and supporters.

From left: Consul General Naoki Ito, Grand Prize Winner
Yixuan Cheng, and Yuji Oka, Vice President and Regional
Manager of JAL

Ryan Kenny, Sister City Osaka Award winner (L) and
Kaori Eguchi Stearney

Chicago Shimpo Award Winners from left: Sydney Goreishi,
Ningyi Lyu, and Yoshiko Urayama, President of Chicago Shimpo