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’.”
• “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,”
• 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
• 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
• 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.
• 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.
• Robert Ault (Kansas State University), “Chatterbox Ryan”
Sister City Osaka Award:
• Ruby Grillier (DePaul University), “The Pursuit of ‘Likeness’”
• [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
• [1st Category] Joseph O’Brien (Dooley Elementary School), “My Sister
and the Marines”
• [2nd Category] Katie Park (Glenbrook South High School), “One Band One
• [3rd Category] Coleman Adams (Kansas State University), “Homeless College
• [1st Category] James Reinke (Dooley Elementary School), "My Hockey
• [2nd Category] Zhilin Gao (Indiana Academy), “Philosophy of Anime”
• [3rd Category] Gershon Pevnick (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee),
“W. Edwards Deming”
• [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”
• [1st Category] Brook Wojtasiak (Dooley Elementary School), “My Dog,
• [2nd Category] Trish Le (Northside College Prep.), “Let’s Protect the
• [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”
• [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
• [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”
• [3rd Category] Brenna Tanner (University of Iowa), “Because of Me”
• [3rd Category] Jonathon Roecklein (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee),
“High School Study Abroad”