Chicago Shimpo
33rd Japanese Language Speech Contest Welcomes Wider Range of Contestants

• Twenty-six students from seven Midwest states competed in the Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest at the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago on March 23, with a variety of topics ranging from Japanese culture to personal life stories.
• The annual contest welcomes students of elementary, junior high and high schools as well as college. This year, the 33rd contest saw participants from the largest number of states under the Consulate-General’s jurisdiction, which covers 10 Midwest states.

• Kansas State University student Robert Ault won the Grand Prize with the speech, “Chatterbox Ryan.” The Sister City Osaka Award went to Ruby Grillier from DePaul University with the speech, “The Pursuit of ‘Likeness’.”

Winners’ Speeches

• “Looking at my brother Ryan, it’s clear to me that autism doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of abilities but simply means the brain functions differently.”
• In his speech “Chatterbox Ryan,” Robert Ault shared his personal, day-to-day interactions with his autistic younger brother Ryan and discussed social stigma attached to autism.
• Ryan can instantly tell what day of the week a day was, no matter how long ago. He quickly learns the rules of a game, no matter how complicated, and he is unbeatable in chess and other board games.
• At the same time, Ryan has trouble learning social rules and manners. At a restaurant, he thought he saw a friend of his, and spoke to him in a loud voice. It turned out to be a stranger – but Ryan wasn’t embarrassed or didn’t understand it was a mistake.
• The level of autism varies in each child, and it’s difficult to provide appropriate education tailored to his or her learning ability. A lack of appropriate education at the most opportune time in the child’s life has a serious impact on his or her future development, but public schools today lack adequate funds to meet the needs of autistic students. Some private schools with ample funds offer superb programs, but they are so expensive that they are not for everybody.
• “So, I believe it’s all the more important to support free education through public schools,” Ault said.
• Preparedness is also important for families with autistic children. Sometimes Ault’s family is forced to change their plans on the spot because of Ryan. “No matter how well prepared you think you are, things can happen unexpectedly, so you have to learn to be flexible and adjust yourself.”
• Ault has learned a lot from living with Ryan. It’s important to be understanding toward someone who behaves out of the social norm or thinks differently. Being highly adaptive has helped him make friends easily.
• While it’s not easy to live with an autistic brother, Ault is now grateful for the experience he is sharing with Ryan. “I hope the society will change more to accommodate people with autism,” Ault concluded.
• In response to the question about what he thinks he can do now, Ault said he could enlighten others by talking more about autism. “A lot of people would give it up thinking it’s too hard to educate others, but I think the social change will follow if people understand autism better,” he said.
• Ault received a round trip ticket to Japan donated by JAL.

• The first time Ruby Grillier, the recipient of the Sister City Osaka Award, began thinking about “likeness,” or being herself, was when she heard a song by a Japanese band Super Beaver called “Rashisa” (likeness). It was about being yourself instead of trying to become like everybody else.
• She was in high school and had just begun studying Japanese.
• When she was in elementary school, she was a rough tomboy who would play only with boys. Girls around her would say, “I don’t want to be your friend because you’re too rough.”
• In the junior high years, she started to be with girls to avoid the same reputation. It meant acting the same way as others – and part of her kept wondering why she had to do so.
• The study abroad experience in Japan was a difficult one for Grillier, who fell a victim to homesickness. In an environment that was completely unfamiliar to her, she had no clue how to behave like others around her. Then it hit her – why don’t I do things here that I would never do in the U.S.?
• Grillier tried new food, took new classes, and made friends, both boys and girls. When she had given up “going with the flow,” Grillier began acting just as who she was, and that led to discovering a new herself.
• When she was a child, she was rough; today she is calm and gentle. She feels the two sides of her have finally met.
• “Being yourself means you are you, unchangeable. If so, why don’t we start with liking ourselves?” she said. “As I found out in Japan, if you stick to being yourself, you’ll have friends who will like you as you are.”

• To the question about the changes before and after the Japan experience, Grillier answered without hesitation: “I now can want to speak with strangers or challenge new things more easily.”
• Grillier received a round trip ticket to Osaka and a two-week stay in Osaka, donated by the Chicago Sister Cities International Osaka Committee.

Past Contestants

• In his opening remarks, Consul-General of Japan in Chicago Naoki Ito shared stories of some of the past contestants who have continued on the path of learning Japanese.

Jessica Yoon, last year’s 1st prize winner in the 2nd Category, went on to compete in the 15th Annual All-USA High School Japanese Speech Contest in June 2018, and won the 1st place. The prize was a 10-day stay in Japan. In July, she participated in an international high school Japanese speech contest in Yawatahama, Ehime Prefecture through a cross cultural experience program and received the Yawatahama Mayor’s Award.

• Another former contestant, Steve Feldman, is the winner of the Grand Prize in 1993. Then a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, he gave a speech about his two-month experience working on a chicken farm in Japan. Wearing a chicken farmer’s uniform complete with rubber boots and a wide-brimmed hat, he stood out in his appearance as well as in the compelling story and delivery.
• Following his winning the Grand Prize, Feldman received numerous job offers from Japanese companies in the Chicago area. With his dream of working in Japan, however, he turned them all down and went to Japan. “Japanese companies here in Chicago lost a great opportunity to hire a promising young talent,” Ito said.
• Today, Feldman is a popular YouTuber with his “Steve’s Point of View” program. In his latest video, he talks about how he began studying Japanese and what it was like to compete in the speech contest 26 years ago. (Visit

• “Jessica and Steve are two great examples of how far your Japanese speech can take you,” Ito said. “Regardless of the result today, all of you should be very proud of yourselves for being able to write and deliver a speech - it’s no small feat.”

• One of the judges of the contest, Kenton Knop (Attorney at Law, Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell, Ltd.), is also an alumnus of the contest, winning the Grand Prize in 2006.
• After his first encounter with Japanese in high school, Knop studied at Nanzan University in Japan for a year while enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduating from the UW-Madison, he then taught English in Hokkaido as a JET (Japan Exchange Teaching Program) teacher.
• “I can say with utmost confidence that study of Japanese language and culture has been a most fulfilling experience in my life both personally and professionally,” Knop recalled. “If you feel you are losing confidence, just don’t forget your original intentions.”


• The contestants competed in three categories: 1st Category (elementary and junior high school students); 2nd Category (high school students); and 3rd Category (college students). Following the speech, judges asked each contestant questions in Japanese. The answers were also counted for the total score along with the speech itself.
• Winners of the 1st to 4th prizes were selected for each category, as well as the Japan America Society of Chicago (“JASC”) Award, Chicago Shimpo Award, Japan Airlines (“JAL”) Award, Illinois Association of Teachers of Japanese (“IATJ”) Award and Bonjinsha Award.

• The contest was co-organized by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, the Japan America Society of Chicago and the Chicago Sister Cities International Osaka Committee, as well as the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago.


Award winners:

Grand Prize:
• Robert Ault (Kansas State University), “Chatterbox Ryan”

Sister City Osaka Award:
• Ruby Grillier (DePaul University), “The Pursuit of ‘Likeness’”

1st Prize:
• [1st Category] Charlotte Richards (Dooley Elementary School), “How Japanese and I Found Each Other”
• [2nd Category] Sage Hamm (Indiana Academy), “The Music of the Field”
• [3rd Category] Yuezheng Jiang (University of Wisconsin Madison), “Let’s Talk”

2nd Prize:
• [1st Category] Joseph O’Brien (Dooley Elementary School), “My Sister and the Marines”
• [2nd Category] Katie Park (Glenbrook South High School), “One Band One Family”
• [3rd Category] Coleman Adams (Kansas State University), “Homeless College Student”

3rd Prize:
• [1st Category] James Reinke (Dooley Elementary School), "My Hockey Experience”
• [2nd Category] Zhilin Gao (Indiana Academy), “Philosophy of Anime”
• [3rd Category] Gershon Pevnick (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), “W. Edwards Deming”

4th Prize:
• [1st Category] Aranab Piya (Dooley Elementary School), “Drawing”
• [2nd Category] Colette Staunton (Glenbrook South High School), “Encounter with Japanese Culture”
• [3rd Category] Victoria Black (Missouri State University), “Like Water”

JASC Award:
• [1st Category] Brook Wojtasiak (Dooley Elementary School), “My Dog, Mocha”
• [2nd Category] Trish Le (Northside College Prep.), “Let’s Protect the Giraffes”
• [3rd Category] Eric Leith (Winona State University), “The Things I Learned as a Radio Personality”

Chicago Shimpo Award:
• [2nd Category] Anna Parkinson (Chesterton High School), “Japanese Culture’s Impact on America”
• [3rd Category] Litian Shao (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), “Learning to Love Loneliness”

JAL Award:
• [2nd Category] William Bermudez (Glenbrook South High School), “I Want to Live in Japan!”
• [3rd Category] Kiet Tram (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), “The Lessons I Learned at College”
• [3rd Category] Summer Snyder (Indiana University Bloomington), “The Japanese Beverage Brand ‘Ito En’s Advancement into Overseas Markets and Localization”

IATJ Award:
• [2nd Category] Isabella Nash (Chesterton High School), “The Importance of Survival Swimming”
• [3rd Category] Hyun-Gyu Kang (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), “Daily Living without Cellular Phone”

Bonjinsha Award:
• [3rd Category] Brenna Tanner (University of Iowa), “Because of Me”
• [3rd Category] Jonathon Roecklein (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), “High School Study Abroad”

All contestants pose for a photo with judges.

Grand Prize winner Robert Ault (C), Consul General Naoki Ito (L), and Kenya Yamada, Vice President and Reginal Manager of Japan Airlines

Sister City Osaka Award winner Ruby Grillier (L) and Reiko Takahashi, member of
Osaka Committee

From left: 1st Prize winner Yuezheng Jiang, Sage Hamm, Charlotte Richards, and
Toshiya Abe, Vice Chair of JCCC U.S.-Japan Relations Committee

From left: 2nd Prize winner Coleman Adams, Katie Park, Joseph O'Brien, and
Toshiya Abe of JCCC

From left: 3rd Prize winner Gershon Pevnick, Zhilin Gao, James Reinke, and Toshiya Abe of JCCC

From left: Chicago Shimpo Award winner Litian Shao and Anna Parkinson