The Japan NewsForty-five American and Canadian high school students studying Japanese language and arts enjoyed a firsthand look at Japanese culture in Tokyo’s Asakusa and Harajuku areas on Tuesday.
The students were winners of the Japan Bowl, a competition testing their knowledge of Japanese language and culture launched by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., in 1992. This year’s U.S. national competition was held in Maryland in April, with 206 students from 30 U.S. high schools participating. Quiz questions included: “Japan’s largest department store, which started in the 17th century, is said to be the oldest department store in the world. What is the store’s name?”
The students visited Japan as part of the Kakehashi Project, a Foreign Ministry program that promotes exchanges between young people of Japan and North America.
The nine-day program started on July 3. Students were divided into groups and visited either Nagasaki Prefecture or Miyagi Prefecture to explore such sites as the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum or the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University, where they learned about the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
On Tuesday, the students visited Sensoji temple in Asakusa, after which university students from the Japan National Student Association Fund escorted them to Meiji Jingu shrine and Takeshita-dori street in Harajuku to show them both traditional and pop culture.
Mai Xee Vang belonged to a team from Harding High School in Minnesota that advanced to the national championship round of the competition. The 18-year-old has long been interested in Japanese pop culture like anime and manga, and started learning Japanese her first year in high school.
It was her first visit to Japan. Asked how she found the country, she said, “The Japanese people are very kind.”
“I once told my friend how I wanted to work in Japan one day,” Vang recalled. “She said, ‘The Japanese people won’t accept you because you’re not one of them.’”
“Maybe some people are like that, but the people I have met are very kind and very accepting, even if there’s a language barrier between us,” Vang said.
The high school graduate plans to continue studying Japanese at a college in Minnesota while pursuing a major in biology.