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Chief Sealth Hosts JASSW Japanese Language Festival

Chief Sealth Hosts JASSW Japanese Language Festival

By Michiko Yoshino
NAP Contributor

On March 16, the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington (JASSW) held its fourth annual Japanese Language Festival (JLF) at Chief Sealth International High School, Seattle. With support from various organizations including Gobo Enterprises, Japan Foundation Los Angeles, Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington (JCCCW), Temple University Japan Campus, and Washington Association of Teachers of Japanese (WATJ), it was able to welcome about 70 students and volunteers from across the Puget Sound to enjoy a full day of Japanese cultural exploration and language immersion.

Students conversing in afternoon conversation practices

JLF was started in 2020 to celebrate the Society’s 25th anniversary of its Japan In the Schools (JIS) education program. Originally planned as an in-person festival, it quickly transitioned into a virtual event due to the pandemic; JLF had been an online exchange event welcoming people of all ages across the state and Japan. It transitioned exclusively to students last year.

For the festival’s fourth year, the Society made it an in-person event dedicated to Washington high school students learning Japanese. The idea was to give them an opportunity to achieve two things: (1) to discover cultural aspects of Japan and (2) to practice Japanese in real-world settings. The programming was inspired partially by Japanese immersion camps held in the past and by the Society’s JIS program.

A student drawing a kuji from the lottery box

In the morning sessions, students divided into groups to explore various aspects of Japanese culture: tea-tasting with four basic teas from Sugimoto Tea Company; basic taiko drumming with The School of Taiko and a scavenger hunt involving learning how to say everyday objects in Japanese. After rotating through the various sessions, the students ate lunch with okazu pan (fried bread stuffed with savory fillings) donated by Umami Kushi and rice balls from Onigiri Sanzan. Lunch was topped off with a sampling of hojicha oat-milk latte and matcha oat-milk latte, also from Sugimoto Tea.

Similar to past festival years, the event also hosted the Annual Washington State Japanese Speech Contest finalists, now in its 41st year. This year, the speech contest was organized solely by WATJ. After lunch, festival participants and volunteers listened with rapt attention to the four finalists of each division in the spacious Chief Sealth auditorium.

Mark Sidlinskiy’s “ウクライナからの引っ越し”(Moving from Ukraine; level 1), Jayda Fountain’s 2222 (My First Trip to Japan, level 3), and Joshua Buhay’s “日本語の勉強方法”(Japanese Learning Methods, level 4). The first three finalists are from Curtis High School (University Place). Alice Fuentes “日本語 アメリカでの高校生活” (My U.S. High School Experience; Heritage level, Woodinville High School) completed the speeches. All winners received gift certificates and plaques Buhay also received a round-trip ticket to Japan!

With newfound motivation and fresh ears from listening to Japanese from their peers, the students started the afternoon language immersion session by dividing into groups by skill level (Beginner to Heritage) to practice and challenge their Japanese. Each group had a range of activities and games to help students use their Japanese.

From left to right Tobi McCann JASSW Olivier Prock Katherine Carlson Ryota Takahashi Koichi Kobayashi Eileen Roco

The last activity of the day was a kuji (prize lottery). Students had the opportunity to accumulate blue tickets through the various sessions, trivia questions, and bingo. Sets of the tickets could then be exchanged for a kuji ticket. Inside of each kuji, there was a letter indicating a specific prize level that students could receive. The highest level was the A-level prize which included a reversible leather tiger jacket made by Yoshi Yoshitani, a Kindle Paperwhite, and a three-month subscription to a Japanese snack subscription box by Tokyo Treats. Other prizes included a Fujifilm Instax Camera, All Nippon Airways (ANA) stationary goods, Yoshi Yoshitani apparel and pins, Japanese snacks, latte mixes, and manga.

When the students first arrived in the morning, many were shy and nervous, unsure of what to expect throughout the event. However, over the course of the day’s activities, and by the end of the event (especially thanks to the encouragement of teachers, and volunteers and the kuji prizes), the anxious energy had dissipated room buzzed with sounds of students excitedly opening their kujis, sharing prizes and their stories with their friends and Japanese teachers.

For all, it was a successful foray into an in-person Japanese language-focused event. Some students even said they would love to come again next year. With such resounding success, the festival will most likely expand to accommodate more groups. It is important to keep foreign language studies a part of the education curriculum.

The following contributors helped bring the event alive: All Nippon Airways (ANA), an anonymous donor, Gobo Enterprises, Japan Foundation Los Angeles, JCCCW, Onigiri Sanzan, School of Taiko, Temple University Japan Campus, Sugimoto Tea Company, Umami Kushi, WATJ, and Yoshi Yoshitani. A special shout out to Joshua Hansell, the Japanese language teacher at Chief Sealth International High School was given!