Japanese Speech Contest
20 Contestants Speak about Experiences
in Two Cultures
• High-school senior Yoshiyuki
Otani was the winner of the Grand Prize at the 3rd annual
Heritage Japanese Language Speech Contest on January 27, where 20 contestants
impressed the judges and guests with their Japanese language skills and
a wide range of personal experiences.
• The annual event is co-organized by the Consulate-General
of Japan in Chicago, Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago,
Japan America Society of Chicago and Chicago Sister Cities International
Osaka Committee. It’s designed to encourage young people with Japanese
heritage to learn Japanese and develop further interest in their heritage.
• This year’s contest was held at the Japan Information Center at the
Consulate-General in Chicago.
• “It’s rice field as far as the eye can see and the
nearest convenience store is several kilometers away. Not even Wi-Fi is
available – that’s the place I spent some time last summer, and it was
such a wonderful experience.”
• “Gratitude” – the title of his speech – is what Otani, the Grand Prize
winner, wanted to express most this day.
• Otani, a student at Chicago’s Futabakai Japanese Saturday school, visited
Japan last summer as a participant of the Kakehashi Project, a youth exchange
program between Japan and the U.S. He stayed in the Tochigi prefecture
with his host family, the Gotos.
• The host father, Mr. Goto, showed Otani the pictures he took in Italy,
where he visited for business years back. Goto didn’t speak Italian, but
he was welcomed by his host family, who made him feel at home and enjoy
his time in Italy without much trouble.
• Having shared that experience with Otani, Goto offered some unforgettable
• Say “Domo arigato” instead of a cursory “Arigato” to thank someone;
that’s a better way to express your true gratitude. Say “Ittekimasu” instead
of a definitive “Sayonara”; it will convey your conviction that you’ll
meet the other party again.
• True to his advice, Goto sent Otani back home with the words: “Come
back as a grown man, and we’ll drink sake together,” and gave him an Ichigo-masu
(a wooden measure that’s also used as a cup to drink sake from) as a token
of his promise.
• “Mr. Goto taught me that you can be friends with anyone as long as you
have compassion for others,” Otani concluded. “I hope to be part of the
bridge to connect people across borders; I hope to be a host to someone
someday and tell Mr. Goto’s story as a legacy.”
• In the post-contest interview, Otani said he was nervous
but thought the prize was the result of tons of practice he had done.
• “I couldn’t have come up with this essay if I hadn’t met Mr. Goto, so
I’m filled with gratitude for him above anything else. I’m going to let
him know as soon as I get home,” Otani said.
• Otani’s mother said she had thought that it was enough for her son,
who had competed in the contest in its first year. “I was saying he was
too busy to prepare for this year’s contest, but I’m glad he did it and
won the prize.”
• Otani received a round-trip ticket to Japan donated by All Nippon Airways.
• The contest was fought
in two categories: the 1st category is for elementary
and junior high school students; and the 2nd is for high school and college
students. Following the speech, each contestant was asked some questions
by the head judge in Japanese; the answers also counted toward the score.
• Naoki Ito, Consul-General
of Japan in Chicago, welcomed the contestants by saying
that the contest continues to grow in scale, as the number of applicants
this year doubled from last year to more than 50. He reminded the guests
that there were four contestants from Minnesota and Wisconsin, encouraging
wider participation from across the Midwest.
• According to Ito, the number of the Japanese residents in the area grew
40% over the past 10 years. He was hopeful that the children of those
residents would continue learning Japanese, with the help from the local
schools and institutions that provide Japanese and English education.
• Ito said the Japanese government will continue to support the students
with Japanese heritage and their effort of learning two languages/cultures.
• “We hope that these bicultural representatives in the Midwest will continue
to hone their language skills and become a real bridge between the two
countries in the future,” Ito said.
• Ryan Rogers
from the University of Minnesota was awarded the 1st Prize in the 2nd
category with a speech entitled “My Parents.”
• Rogers’ Japanese mother, who had studied for two years in the U.K.,
married his American father from Minnesota while he was visiting Japan
for business. When Rogers was three and his brother was a year old, his
father’s job brought the family from the U.S. to Taiwan. Four years later,
just before moving his family to Japan, Rogers’ father was killed in a
• Hoping to bring up her sons where their father grew up, Rogers’ mother
took them to Minnesota. She handled everything on her own, from finding
the house and sons’ schools to finding her own job.
• Today, Rogers studies Japanese at the University of Minnesota. He knew
his mother wanted to educate him as a bilingual but didn’t have time to
do so. Another motivation was his desire to work in Japan just like his
father had done, to experience first-hand what he must have seen and felt
• In April, Rogers will begin studying in Japan. In preparation, he is
currently working at an American company in Japan as an intern. He often
wonders what his dad might say about him, had he been alive.
• Rogers thinks his father had shown him how important it is to respect
multiculturalism through the family’s life in the U.S., Japan, and an
international community in Taiwan, as well as the importance of not being
afraid of challenging things. “I hope to become a father like mine, who
opens up the world for his child,” he concluded. “Just like my mom expanded
her horizon by learning English, just like my dad had gotten to know many
people through working in Taiwan and Japan, I want to take on a lot of
• In the interview following the award ceremony, Rogers
said he was being overwhelmed with things to learn about the Japanese
language, which he began studying in the university classes. “There are
just too many things to learn all at once [in the classes], so I’m going
to study the grammar and vocabulary first and then build on them for speaking,”
he said. “I speak to my mom in English because there are too many Japanese
words I don’t know, but I hope I can talk with her in Japanese when I
come home from Japan.”
• “I don’t have many memories of my dad, but I think he was a strong,
good man,” he added.
• Rogers’ mother shared that they had had a hard time
when he was younger, specifically in his high school period, when he was
rebellious. His college teacher says it’s hard to imagine that he was
once such a rough teenager.
• “We were fighting all the time, so it was good we became physically
apart. It helped to build a better relationship,” his mother said. “Listening
to his speech made me feel that it wasn’t wrong after all, the way I brought
him up. I feel thankful and rewarded.”
• She looks forward to conversing with her son in Japanese when he comes
home from Japan. She believes her son most likely learned from her only
the Japanese words she used when she was angry. “Maybe we can have more
meaningful talks in Japanese when he returns,”
• “He’s found his own drive to learn Japanese, and that’s the key to his
winning today,” she offered. “I want to say ‘Great job!’ to him.”
• Taira Shinohara
from Jane Addams Jr. High School won the 1st Prize in the 1st category.
• His speech was “Just Laugh!”, which began with a “tickle” for the audience:
“A breeze came in the room and blew the open page of my book shut, and
I just blurted out, ‘Shimatta!’ (Shut!)”
• Laughing has full of benefits, explained Shinohara. For example, it
stimulates NK cells and B cells, which help our body to fight off diseases.
It also stimulates hormones like serotonin, endorphin and dopamine that
reduce stress, improve our mood, and help us feel happy and energetic.
• Smiling is contagious and makes others smile, too. A big fan of “rakugo”
traditional Japanese comic storytelling, Shinohara is apt at creating
his own short rakugo stories, such as this one:
• Child: Dad, can you list five ways to cut vegetables?
• Dad: Sure. Sen-giri (shredding), mijin-giri (chopping), wa-giri (round
slicing), icho-giri (quarter slicing), tanzaku-giri (rectangular slicing)
. . . I can keep going!
• Child: Whoa. Amazing!
• Dad: Can you say five ways of cooking, kid?
• Child: Maybe ways of grilling (“yaki”). Kushi-yaki (roasting on skewers),
teppan-yaki (grilling on teppan), sumibi-yaki (charcoal grilling) . .
• Dad: Pretty cool. Any more “yaki”?
• Child: Medama-yaki (fried egg) and tamago-yaki (Japanese omelet)!
• Shinohara’s skillful performance was a reminiscence
of a real-life rakugo performer, drawing authentic laughter from the audience.
• Rogers and Shinohara received a $100 gift card donated
by Sumitomo Corporation of Americas and an audio headset by Panasonic
Corporation of North America.
• The 2nd Prize winners were Ibuki Takahashi (Dooley
Elementary School) for the 1st category and Iris Takahashi-Bloede (Chicago
Futabakai Japanese School) for the 2nd category. The titles of their speeches
were: “Edo Kotoba (Tokyo Dialect)” and “The Light of Hope,” respectively.
• They both received an $80 gift card donated by Nippon Express U.S.A.,
Inc. and a Tumi Backpack by Mitsubishi Electric Automation, Inc.
• The 3rd Prize winners were Harune Nagaya (Dooley Elementary
School) for the 1st category with the speech, “Impressive Habit,” and
Julia Wakikata (Chicago Futabakai Japanese School) for the 2nd category
with the speech, “Goodbye Grandpa.” They both received a $50 gift card
from Hankyu Hanshin Express and an Amazon Echo Dot Smart Speaker from
The rest of the prizes went to the following
• 1st category: Yurina Takeda (Dooley Elementary School), “My Name’s Meaning”
• 2nd category: Anthony Miller (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee),
The Reason I Became the King of Pirates”
• 1st category: Tamaki Shinohara (Dooley Elementary School), “Wow! Impressive,
• 1st category: Sawa Ishizuka (Dooley Elementary School), “It’s Important
to Continue Everything”
• 2nd category: Hina Kadono (Chicago Futabakai Japanese
Saturday School), “A Family Bond That Shishimai Brought”
Chicago Shimpo Award:
• 1st category: Tabitha Scott (Chicago Futabakai Japanese Saturday School),
“How to Say ‘Itadakimasu’ in English?”
• 2nd category: Kyla Aoyagi (Chicago Futabakai Japanese
School), “Friends Who were Born and Raised in the U.S.”
• 1st category: Alec Osato (Chicago Futabakai Japanese Saturday School),
“The Recipe to Success”
• 2nd category: Myu Visconde (Chicago Futabakai Japanese
School), “I Found My ‘Chim dondon’”
• 1st category: Zen Nagao (Milwaukee Doyokai Japanese Saturday School),
“Manzai and Me”
Daichi Kurita (Chicago Futabakai Japanese School), “Never Give up”
• 2nd category: Riena Walter (Chicago Futabakai Japanese
School), “Heart of Japanese”
Riichiro Fujiki (Chicago Futabakai Japanese School), “My Experience at