In the spring, Harker rising seniors Roslyn Li and Sarah Wang, along with Kevin Wang ’09 earned the top spots at the National Japan Bowl in Washington, D.C., in the Level IV category. For their accomplishment, the team and US Japanese teacher Masako Onakado was awarded a 13-day trip to Japan to see the country and meet Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado.
The group arrived in Japan on July 17 and the next day headed to Kawasaki City, where they visited the Toshiba Science Museum. “Toshiba was one of the sponsors of Japan Bowl, and they gave us a guided tour,” Onakado said. “We were fascinated to see their wide variety of cutting-edge technologies such as superconductivity, robotic technology and digital image processing.”
For the next few days, the group was given free time to explore Tokyo and its many wards. On July 21, they visited the historic town of Takayama, famous for its old houses and streets reminiscent of Japan’s Edo period. They also trekked to the Hida Folk Village, a window to the past marked by several buildings hundreds of years old.
After their stay at a traditional-style inn, it was off to Hiroshima on July 22 to visit the city’s government offices. “We visited the Hiroshima Prefectural Government Office and were greeted by Mr. Hashimoto, the division director of international affairs,” Onakado said. “He and his staff explained to us the general overview of Hiroshima as well as its communications with other states and provinces abroad.” One of the staff members was an American who studied Japanese in the U.S. and then traveled to Japan in the Japan Exchange and Teaching program.
“Since we tend to immediately associate Hiroshima with the atomic bomb, it was informative and interesting to learn about different sides of Hiroshima,” Onakado recalled.
Later, the students went to a small island known as Naoshima. Onakado made sure to visit this island because it was one of the subjects the students studied when practicing for the Japan Bowl. One side of the island contains two museums, while on the other side sits a village with several art displays. The group received a guided tour of the various art sites and “learned how beautifully their art, architecture, history and nature merge together,” Onakado said.
The next day the group went to Kyoto to meet a teacher and four students from Kobe’s Canadian Academy. “Canadian Academy is a school known as the best international college-prep school in the Osaka/Kobe area,” noted Onakado. The Harker and Canadian Academy students visited a series of UNESCO World Heritage sites and shared information about each other’s schools.
Next on the agenda was a visit to Tsushima, located just outside the major city of Nagoya. “The town is known for its summer festival, which is one of the three biggest river festivals and that has been held annually over the last 500 years,” Onakado said. They stayed at the house of a taiko drum maker and were treated to the festival, which lasted from the evening until the next morning. “The festival included floating boats decorated with hundreds of paper lanterns, traditional flute and taiko music, dynamic fireworks, a procession of feudal lords and Shinto rituals,” the teacher said. “At the festival, we enjoyed the fantastic scenes in the river as well as the traditional music and attires of warriors from the Edo period.” They concluded their stay in Tsushima with performance by a famous taiko performer.
With their trip almost over, the final two days were spent in Tokyo, where they visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and met the director of the General Public Diplomacy Department, who explained how Japan is promoting its culture to young overseas audiences. They then visited Mita High School, one of Tokyo’s most prestigious public college-prep schools, and attended a tea ceremony. The Harker students also wore yukatas (a summer kimono) and socialized with their new friends at Mita.
Soon after, it was time for the students to meet Princess Takamodo at the Imperial Palace. “We were very nervous about going to meet with an imperial family, but she was very friendly to us, spending almost two hours, sharing her episodes about her daily life and her three daughters who are currently college students,” recalled Onakado.
Onakado said the trip gave the students the “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to experience first-hand the things they had studied when preparing for the Japan Bowl. “It was also very valuable that we met with so many people who treated the students as ‘little ambassadors’ and gave them encouragement and advice for continuing to study Japanese.”
After their visit, Tokyo Embassy Deputy Chief Mission James P. Zumwalt wrote a blog entry about the students’ visit to the embassy, saying he found them to be “extremely impressive.” An error in the blog entry states that Wang will be attending Princeton in the fall. Wang will in fact be studying at Dartmouth.