On June 12th – June 14th, 2016, a delegation of 11 people representing the State of Oregon’s government and economic spheres visited Toyama Prefecture to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the sister-state relationship. The delegation was led by Chris Harder, the director of Business Oregon, and also included Oregon Metro Council President Tom Hughes, as well as representatives from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Portland General Electric, the City of Beaverton Economic Development Division, and South Coast Development Council, Inc. The delegation’s visit included regional tours and meetings, with one of the highlights being a Sunday visit of Toyama’s famous Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, where deep fields of snow remain well into summer.

On Monday, June 13th, the delegation had a full day of meetings with Toyama businesses and government officials. In the morning, I accompanied the delegation on the way to business meetings, along with Ms. Sanno from the Toyama Prefecture International Affairs Division. The first item on the agenda was to visit Hokusei Products, a Takaoka City based company which deals in aluminum and other metals, and produces pharmaceutical packages and lifestyle products. Delegation members listened intently to a presentation on the company’s latest activities, the most exciting of which include the IMG_0377recent founding of Hokusei North America, which has been partnering with Business Oregon and the State of Oregon Japan Representative Office as they work to promote Oregon products in Japan and Toyama’s local products in Oregon and across the US. President & CEO Shotaro Tomita and Hokusei staff members gave an informative and well-prepared presentation in English, and also showed their local pride by playing a video promoting the city of Takaoka.

From Hokusei, the delegation went to Nousaku to check out their famous tin products and tour the workshop. While inspecting the facilities, delegation members were able to see how craftsmen and women work meticulously to create Nousaku’s fine caste metal wares. The back room, with its thousands of unique molds was a sight to be seen, and almost everyone left with something to take home from the showroom. The delegation also had a chance to meet with Mr. Nousaku himself, and hear a bit about how the company has innovated on traditional metal casting techniques to create modern, artful wind chimes and uniquely artistic baskets that have made it to markets in New York and Paris.

After a delicious lunch of Toyama Bay Sushi, the delegation visited Toyama City Hall, and then came to the Prefectural Office in order to make a courtesy call to Vice-Governor Satoshi Terabayashi. During the meeting, the vice-governor welcomed the delegation, and expressed his excitement that Toyama Prefecture and the State of Oregon had reached an important milestone of 25 years of friendship.

Later that evening, a reception was held in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Toyama-Oregon friendship. The delegation joined local representatives of Toyama’s business sector, along with Toyama government officials and JET Program assistant language teachers working in local schools who hail from Oregon for delicious food and good conversation. Toyama’s Public Enterprise Administrator, Mr. Hidetoshi Sunuma began the evening by speaking about his recent trip to Oregon this past April. There was also an address by Mr. Hisayashi Ono, president of the prefectural assembly, who mentioned Toyama’s recent role in hosting the G7 Environmental Ministers’ Meeting, and called for IMG_2699further partnership between Toyama and Oregon share as leaders in environmentally-conscious policy. Afterwards, Chris Harder introduced the Oregon delegation, and Metro
Council President Tom Hughes gave a toast. It was a lovely evening, which included delicious local food and sake, as well as lively discussion and a performance of a traditional performance, the Owara Kaze-no-Bon folk dance.

After a full day and a lovely evening that brought Toyama and Oregon even closer, the delegation went back to Tokyo the next morning on the new Hokuriku Shinkansen to continue their activities. As was mentioned during the celebration, Toyama-Oregon relations have seen 25 years of fruitful exchange; we here in Toyama are looking forward to 25 years more!





6月13日(月)は、県内企業視察や県政府への表敬訪問など、多くの行事が盛り込まれていました。県国際課の参納さんと私が訪問団に同行し、高岡市にあるアルミ製品・各種パッケージ・デザイン製品を扱うホクセイプロダクツ株式会社を訪問しました。訪問団は、Hokusei North Americaがオレゴン州政府駐日代表部と協力し、オレゴン州の商品を日本に輸入することや、富山の工芸品などをオレゴン州と米国でマーケット開拓を行う取り組みなど、ホクセイのアメリカでのビジネス展開についての発表を興味深く聞き入りました。代表取締役の冨田昇太郎氏やスタッフの英語での素晴らしいプレゼンテーションとともに、高岡市のPR動画も流し、地域に対する誇りを伝えました。







This past April 23 – 28, a delegation led by Mr. Hidetoshi Sunuma, Toyama Prefecture Public Enterprise Administrator, visited Oregon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of sister-state relations. Among the visits made by the delegation were local companies such as Columbia Sportswear, Kokusai Semiconductor Equipment Co., and Ajinomoto Windsor, as well as the Portland Japanese Garden and vineyards at Rex Hill and Domaine Serene. During the delegation’s visit, several exchange projects and ceremonial events were held successfully; here is a brief report on some of the major events during the visit.

Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest
The delegation’s first order business was attending the 20th Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest, held on Sunday, April 24th at the World Trade Center in Portland. The speech contest is a program sponsored by Toyama Prefecture and organized with the cooperation of the Japan-America Society of Oregon. The contest encourages college and university students in their Japanese studies by providing an opportunity for students to hone their language ability and public speaking skills. Representing the Toyama delegation, Public Enterprise Administrator Mr. Sunuma and prefectural assembly member Mr. Seikichi Hienae joined the panel of judges.

IMG_1075Across two different divisions, 16 contestants shared their inspirational and thought inspiring experiences concerning themes of personal challenges, identity, future plans, and more. Toyama delegation members were deeply impressed by the language ability and quality of preparation of each participant. After the judge’s deliberation period, participants were recognized and selected contestants were awarded prizes for their excellent performances. This year’s winners included:

Level 1 (lower division):
1st: Lance Crafton, Willamette University
2nd: Graham Smith, Portland State University
3rd. Kateryne Velazco, Lewis and Clark College

Level 2 (higher division):
1st: Michaela Duffey, Linfield College
2nd: Peilin Linda Miao, University of Oregon
3rd: Alexandra Griffis, University of Oregon

The grand prize winner for this year was Michaela Duffey of Linfield College, who will be receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to Toyama!


After the winners were announced, a small reception was organized for participants, former participants, JASO members and related parties. In attendance was Consul General Kojiro Uchiyama of the Consular Office of Japan in Portland, who congratulated the participants and praised the Toyama-Oregon relationship for remaining active over 25 years.

25th Anniversary Celebration of Toyama-Oregon Friendship

On April 26th, an evening reception was held in the Wells Fargo Center in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of friendship between Toyama Prefecture and the State of Oregon. The event brought together former exchange employees, members of local IMG_1276organizations such as JASO and the Shokookai of Portland, and other friends of Toyama. Starting off the evening, an address was given by Consul General Uchiyama, followed by delegation leader Mr. Sunuma. Representing the state of Oregon was Ms. Kristen Leonard, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, who gave a wonderful toast, followed by a Mr. Hienae, who finished the formalities with a kanpai.
Guests enjoyed music played on the koto while sampling the delicious food, a fusion made with ingredients local to Toyama and Oregon. Toyama favorites such as trout sushi, firefly squid and white shrimp were also available, and Toyama’s locally-brewed sake was available alongside Oregon beer and wine.
It was a very pleasant evening with new meetings and reunions of old friends; long-time Toyama supporters brought out photo albums, and old stories were told, and plenty of laughter was shared. At the end of the evening, Toyama delegation members were left impressed by how the sister-state relationship has touched the lives of so many people. It was an honor and a pleasure for our delegation to play a role in continuing this wonderful friendship!

Donations of the “Toyama Manga Collection”

In celebration of the educational exchange occurring between Toyama and Oregon, Toyama Prefecture donated collections of Toyama manga and books to two educational institutions that partnered with Toyama institutions for exchange programs, the International School of Beaverton, and Portland State University. Each collections contains nearly 200 volumes of manga and books whose authors are from Toyama, or are set in Toyama.

On April 26th, the delegation visited Portland State University, where the donation ceremony was held. Dean Cliff Allen and many faculty members and students of the School of Business Administration greeted the delegation warmly, and after introductions, the presentation ceremony of the Toyama Manga Collection was held. Afterwards, delegation leader Mr. Sunuma gave a short presentation on Toyama and overview of the prefecture’s activities to about 30 graduate students in the program. Students were particularly interested in the prefecture’s system of transferring employees between departments, which is somewhat different from the style seen in the US.
IMG_1228After fielding questions and thanking the students for their attention, we walked through the beautiful campus to the library, built around a venerable old tree. We toured the library and saw the stacks where the Toyama Manga Collection would soon be available for students to peruse. The group was very impressed at the comfortable and functional study areas, the library’s excellent resources, and its overall popularity with students.
Exchange between Portland State University and Toyama picked up last year, when a large group of students from Toyama Prefectural University participated in a short-term study abroad program. English is an important communication tool for Toyama students, and what better place to learn than Oregon, Toyama’s sister state? As some of the business administration students of PSU already know, Japanese language ability may prove to be a very valuable skill as well; as such, the delegation hopes to see continued partnership in education moving forward.

The following day, the delegation paid a visit to the International School of Beaverton, for the donation of the Toyama Manga Collection and a look at how Japanese language education forms part of the school’s culture. The International School of Beaverton officially formed a sister-school relationship with Toyama’s Kosugi High School in 2013, and this year short exchange trips have been held for small groups of students from both schools to visit each other.
IMG_1297Upon arriving at the school, the delegation was greeted by Principal O’Neill, and treated to a welcome performance by the school’s chorus. Afterwards, the official presentation of the manga collection was made, and a reception with tasty cookies was held. Many students of Japanese came to speak with our delegation members, who were happy to have the chance to speak to the students directly. As well, since the school has Spanish and Chinese programs, and a student body with many students from diverse backgrounds, the delegation enjoyed meeting many students and hearing about their experiences.
After the reception, the delegation was able to take a tour of the school, and was even allowed to sit in on the first part of Ms. Mikako West’s Japanese class. We were all very impressed by the student’s abilities and positive, relaxed attitudes toward learning. Later on during the tour, we were shown the library, where manga and books from Toyama will soon be color-coded and stacked alongside books in English, Spanish and Chinese. Some of the students were kind enough to explain their research projects to us, and show us what they were working on. As we left the school to continue with the day’s schedule, we felt inspired by the energy of the kids at the International School of Beaverton. Surely, the books donated by Toyama will be put to good use as the students continue their Japanese studies, and their interactions with their sister school here in Toyama.



2016年4月23日―28日、富山県の須沼公営企業管理者を団長とする訪問団がオレゴン州に派遣され、様々な行事で友好提携25周年を祝いました。コロンビア・スポーツウェア本社やKokusai Semiconductor Equipment Co., 味の素ウィンザー社などの企業見学とともに、ポートランド日本庭園やワイナリーのRex HillとDomaine Sereneも視察しました。様々な会議と記念交流プロジェクトが行われた中から、主なイベントをここで報告します。



レベル1 (学習歴が短い方)
1位 Lance Crafton, Willamette University
2位Graham Smith, Portland State University
3位Kateryne Velazco, Lewis and Clark College

レベル2 (学習歴が長い方)
1位Michaela Duffey, Linfield College
2位Peilin Linda Miao, University of Oregon
3位Alexandra Griffis, University of Oregon

今回の最優秀賞、そして富山県への研修旅行を勝ち取ったのは、Michaela Duffey (Linfield College)さんでした。おめでとうございます!







IMG_1680This blog entry forms part of the “Toyama-Oregon Friendship Project”, in conjunction with the series of outreach lectures conducted by Abram Leon, Coordinator for International Relations with the International Affairs Division of Toyama Prefecture. The primary goal of the lectures is to raise awareness about the Toyama-Oregon sister state relationship by introducing information about Oregon and the history of exchange to students of Toyama Prefecture.

The blog entries aim to encourage students and members of the community in Toyama and Oregon to become more personally involved in the relationship. After each school visit, I will write an entry and encourage students and other readers to leave their questions and thoughts in the comment section, as well as respond to the questions and comments of others. In this way, I hope to get a new generation interested in cross-cultural communication and the wonderful friendship between Toyama and Oregon.

Visit to Mizuhashi High School

On Tuesday, December 8th, I made the short trip over to Mizuhashi High School to speak with 1st and 2nd year students about Oregon and the sister-state relationship. It was a beautiful day, and during the 25-minute drive from Toyama City, I enjoyed some stunningly clear views of the mountains. The previous month, Mr. Goto, one of my co-workers in the International Affairs Division of Toyama Prefecture, had told me that Mizuhashi was his alma mater. I had learned that Mizuhashi was well known for its strong sports programs, and many students come to pursue athletics in addition to academics. Mr. Goto had also been part of the sports course, on the baseball team. Talking about the school on our drive over, my supervisor and I decided to ask the teachers if they remembered him!

IMG_1675My class was scheduled to start at 3 p.m., after the school day had finished. We arrived a couple of minutes early, and I was greeted by Ms. Nakasai, the teacher I had been in contact with regarding the class. We proceeded on to the computer lab, so that I could hook up my laptop and make sure that everything was working correctly. I arrived to find the students ready and waiting, their faces partially hidden behind the computer monitors at each seat on the table. As I prepared, some students moved their seats out from behind the tables, and came right up to the front so they could see. I was in a playful mood, so I walked around and shook everyone’s hand before starting, and tried to get everyone involved right away, asking questions and encouraging them to react. I switched back and forth between using Japanese and English as I introduced information about the sister-state relationship and Oregon’s geography, people and food. During a quiz section, I asked students to answer multiple choice questions about the year that Oregon became a U.S. state, and Oregon’s area and population. Some students responded that they didn’t know, and I jokingly told them that it cannot hurt to guess; there is no penalty for a wrong answer! I got the feeling that some students were not accustomed the interactive style, so I explained that there is no problem with not knowing, but that the lecture would be more interesting if they tried to participate. Later on, I saw that the students became more interested as I showed pictures of Oregon food. Everyone seemed to get involved when I put up pictures of Voodoo Doughnuts and Blue Star Donuts, and asked them which one they would rather try. Food is a powerful motivator!!

IMG_1671By the end of the class, I felt that students had opened up more. I certainly have a lot of respect for them, considering that they stayed after school to listen to my class as an extra activity. I hope that by using this lecture as a chance to interact with me and each other, they could have fun with the learning process. Thank you to everyone for listening! I hope that all of you will be able to go and experience Oregon for yourselves!



IMG_1683このブログは、富山県国際課の国際交流員アブラム・リオンによる出前講座とともに、「富山オレゴンFriendship Project」の一部となります。講座の目的は主に、富山県とオレゴン州の友好関係についての認知度を上げるため、オレゴン州の情報や友好関係の歴史、交流に貢献している人たちを紹介することです。








This blog entry forms part of the “Toyama-Oregon Friendship Project”, in conjunction with the series of outreach lectures conducted by Abram Leon, Coordinator for International Relations with the International Affairs Division of Toyama Prefecture. The primary goal of the lectures is to raise awareness about the Toyama-Oregon sister state relationship by introducing information about Oregon and the history of exchange to students of Toyama Prefecture.

The blog entries aim to encourage students and members of the community in Toyama and Oregon to become more personally involved in the relationship. After each school visit, I will write an entry and encourage students and other readers to leave their questions and thoughts in the comment section, as well as respond to the questions and comments of others. In this way, I hope to get a new generation interested in communication across cultures and the wonderful friendship between Toyama and Oregon.

Visit to Oyabe Kanda Junior High School


The cloudy morning of November 19th saw my supervisor Ms. Sanno and me heading out to Oyabe Kanda JHS to do the Toyama-Oregon outreach lecture with a group of 3rd year students. We had left the office with little time to spare, and navigating the country roads proved to be a little bit slower than expected, so I called ahead and let the school office know that we would be arriving just as the lecture was scheduled to start. The school sat upon a hill, overlooking the surrounding area; Ms. Sanno commented that it must be tough for the students to get to school, since most kids walk or go by bicycle.

IMG_1456After arriving, we were quickly led up to the lecture room by Kitano sensei. Walking up the stairs she apologized while explaining that she had subconsciously assumed I was a woman, because my last name is Leon and there is a girl in her class called Rion (the names are pronounced the same way in Japanese). She said that she realized at the last moment after looking at my profile, but had told the students earlier that I was a woman. I laughed it off – these sort of misunderstandings are common when dealing with unfamiliar names! After reaching the lecture room where the students were already seated on the floor waiting, I quickly prepared my laptop, and was able to get started just on time.

My initial impression was that the group of 38 students was a bit quieter than the group of 1st year junior high students I had seen earlier in the month. I wondered to myself if students are more self-conscious about speaking out in front of their peers by 3rd year. Since I had 80 minutes for the lecture this time, I was able to incorporate more discussion activities, and I noticed that students began to open up more as the class went on. By the end, I saw that students were much more comfortable asking questions and expressing their opinions. I was surprised and happy that when the class ended, a group of students approached me and began asking questions about Oregon, U.S. culture, and my life in Japan. I could tell that they were genuinely interested, and also excited to use English. I even met Rion, the girl who shares my name! We talked for about 10 minutes, discussing their interests, reasons for wanting to study abroad. It was the first time that students approached me in such a friendly way after giving a lecture, and I felt energized afterwards, thinking that my presentation left an impression on them. I want to say thank you to those students for taking an interest and speaking with me!



このブログは、富山県国際課の国際交流員アブラム・リオンによる出前講座とともに、「富山オレゴンFriendship Project」の一部となります。講座の目的は主に、富山県とオレゴン州の友好関係についての認知度を上げるため、オレゴン州の情報や友好関係の歴史、交流に貢献している人たちを紹介することです。







IMG_1350This blog entry forms part of the “Toyama-Oregon Friendship Project”, in conjunction with the series of outreach lectures conducted by Abram Leon, Coordinator for International Relations with the International Affairs Division of Toyama Prefecture. The primary goal of the lectures is to raise awareness about the Toyama-Oregon sister state relationship by introducing information about Oregon and the history of exchange to students of Toyama Prefecture.

The blog entries aim to encourage students and members of the community in Toyama and Oregon to become more personally involved in the relationship. After each school visit, I will write an entry and encourage students and other readers to leave their questions and thoughts in the comment section, as well as respond to the questions and comments of others. In this way, I hope to get a new generation interested in communication across cultures and the wonderful friendship between Toyama and Oregon.


Visit to Oyabe Otani Junior High School

On Tuesday, November 10th, I spoke about Oregon and the Toyama-Oregon sister state relationship in front of a group of 83 Oyabe Otani JHS 1st year students. While my supervisor Ms. Sanno and I drove out to Oyabe, I revised my presentation again on my laptop. Thinking about how to communicate with my youngest audience yet, I decided to try to make the slides less wordy and focus more on the interactive sections of the lecture. As we approached the school, I was surprised by its unique architecture: my first impression was that the school looked like something out of a European fairy tale. The huge gate and clock tower stood out against the surrounding fields, sharply contrasting with the Japanese-style farm houses nearby. Ms. Sanno explained that the entire area is actually famous for this architecture, and in fact, Oyabe is nicknamed the “Märchen town”, referring to the German word for fairy tale!

We entered the school to find a quite normal interior design, and were quickly greeted by the school principal and Ms. Matsuda, the teacher in charge of the organizing the lecture. As we walked through the school, and I was impressed by how outgoing the students were, greeting me as I walked past their classrooms. When we reached the lecture hall, I was surprised to find that it was a completely empty room with no place to sit, but Matsuda sensei informed me that students would be bringing their own chairs. As I waited for the kids to arrive, I put on some music and spoke a bit with Matsuda sensei about the kids and my ideas for the blog entries. I was also able to speak to ALT Tim Chakaodza, who had nothing but good things to say about the kids and the community. Motivated by his enthusiasm, I felt ready to get started!

When the kids came in carrying their chairs and smiling, I could tell that they were an energetic and fun group. They lined up their chairs in tight rows towards the front, their faces shining with excitement and expectation. As I went into my talk, I was happy to find that they were happy to participate, raising their hands, answering questions and even laughing at my jokes! I used English in certain parts, but also explained in Japanese in difficult sections – the students were very active and friendly, even helping to finish my sentences when I forgot words in Japanese. Near the end of class, when I asked them to work together and think of questions for people living in Oregon, they asked some of the most interesting questions of any group yet. Although I tried to answer a couple of their questions, I told them to actually ask people in Oregon. They responded with puzzled looks… “How can we talk to people in Oregon?” At that point I told them about the Toyama Hot News blog, and encouraged them to use resources like Facebook and online videos to search for information they are interested in.



このブログは、富山県国際課の国際交流員アブラム・リオンによる出前講座とともに、「富山オレゴンFriendship Project」の一部となります。講座の目的は主に、富山県とオレゴン州の友好関係についての認知度を上げるため、オレゴン州の情報や友好関係の歴史、交流に貢献している人たちを紹介することです。







IMG_1234This blog entry forms part of the “Toyama-Oregon Friendship Project”, in conjunction with the series of outreach lectures conducted by Abram Leon, Coordinator for International Relations with the International Affairs Division of Toyama Prefecture. The primary goal of the lectures is to raise awareness about the Toyama-Oregon sister state relationship by introducing information about Oregon and the history of exchange to students of Toyama Prefecture.

The blog entries aim to encourage students and members of the community in Toyama and Oregon to become more personally involved in the relationship. After each school visit, I will write an entry and encourage students and other readers to leave their questions and thoughts in the comment section, as well as respond to the questions and comments of others. In this way, I hope to get a new generation interested in communication across cultures and the wonderful friendship between Toyama and Oregon.

Visit to Nyuzen High School

On Wednesday, October 21st, I had the chance to visit Nyuzen High School for my ongoing Toyama Oregon Friendship class. I was scheduled to speak in front of 118 second-year students, the largest group I have had thus far, and as such I was a little bit nervous. It was my first time making the journey out to the town of Nyuzen, and I admired the beautiful vistas of the mountains, which seem to grow taller the farther east you travel along the bay. Ms. Hirose, the current JET program supervisor drove me out to the school, and on the way she mentioned that she had taught English in Nyuzen High School for 8 years prior to being transferred to her current job. Excited about returning to her former workplace, she was greeted warmly by the staff as we entered the school, and laughed and chatted with teachers as we were shown into the principal’s office for tea.

We spoke with Principal Satoshi Kanda about the relationship between Nyuzen and Forest Grove, and about the exchange visits which are held annually between the areas. I was already aware of the delegation which had visited this past July, including Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax, but I was happy to hear that every year a few students from Nyuzen also participate in the visits. I learned that two students from Nyuzen High School and eight junior high students were chosen to visit Oregon from October 29th to November 6th, with a group led by Nyuzen’s Mayor Haruhito Sasajima. I firmly believe that these are the sort of experiences that awaken interest across cultures and help us to grow as people.

When the class began, I was faced with a large room full of high schoolers, some bright eyed and excited, some looking quite sleepy after lunch. Doing my best to keep the energy up, I explained about Oregon’s weather, landscape, food, and schools. Students seemed to enjoy participating through quizzes about Oregon facts, and were also very interested when showed a video about the Japanese immersion program at Richmond Elementary School. I did find that students seemed hesitant to speak when I asked for their opinions; the larger the group, the more that students seem to feel embarrassed speaking out. Near the end of the class, I asked the students: “Who is more responsible for learning, the student or teacher?” After having them think about it for a bit, I told them my point of view, that whether one is learning a language or any other subject, in the end it is up to the individual to do the learning. No one else can do it for you! With that in mind, I encouraged students to take responsibility for their own learning, and not rely on their teachers too much. With so many resources available today via the internet, investigating things that interest you is easier than ever! I hope that this blog will also be a way for students to put their English or Japanese skills into practice, and learn more about Toyama and Oregon.


このブログは、富山県国際課の国際交流員アブラム・リオンによる出前講座とともに、「富山オレゴンFriendship Project」の一部となります。講座の目的は主に、富山県とオレゴン州の友好関係についての認知度を上げるため、オレゴン州の情報や友好関係の歴史、交流に貢献している人たちを紹介することです。



                             Kobayashi Sensei









Every year, in conjunction with the Japan-America Society of Oregon, Toyama Prefecture sponsors a Japanese language speech contest for college and university students in the state of Oregon. The Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest first began in 1996, commemorating the 5th anniversary of the sister-state relationship between Toyama and Oregon. Students who compete will not only improve their Japanese and public speaking abilities, but also stand to win prizes, with the grand-prize winner getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Toyama Prefecture! The winner will spend a week enjoying the beautiful scenery and wonderful food of Toyama, as well as meeting locals and taking part in a variety of hands-on experiences. See JASO’s webpage for more details and information about how to register.

In order to give prospective participants an idea of what to expect, I am sharing the experiences of Lauren Inaba, the 2015 winner below. I hope that this serves as an inspiration and reminder; the next winner could be you!

I was able to tour the Nanto area with Lauren and Anya, the Russian winner of the Vladivostok Japanese Speech Contest, during their stay in Toyama this past September. We had a wonderful time visiting Zuisenji Temple, making our own Japanese paper, seeing the historic villages of Gokayama, and making our own toasted rice crackers! I asked Lauren to send me a review of her experience after her trip… Here it is!

How was the speech contest?

I entered the speech contest for the second time after my study abroad. The first time I had competed in the speech contest it was in a different division and it was more about the experience of doing a speech contest. This time I was more interested in hearing everyone else’s speeches. My speech was about one of my own experiences in Japan; I knew I wanted to speak about an experience that made me laugh, and have fun with the speech – I didn’t want to be serious the entire time if I didn’t have to be. I chose to speak about my first time at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, during the beginning of my study abroad. In short, I made a cultural mistake and got scolded by an older Japanese lady, who had mistaken me for a Japanese girl from Japan. It caused me to wonder about how differently the situation might have turned out if she had instead thought of me as a foreigner, and what it would have been like if I were a male.

First impression of Toyama

IMG_8573My first impression was when I saw the Toyama station on my first day. For some reason I had expected a smaller station and figured Toyama would be more country than city. However, what stuck out most in my trip to Toyama were my interactions with everyone and the conversations we had. Sometimes it was about differences between Vladivostok, Toyama, and Oregon, other times it was about topics such as the pros and cons of having the appearance of a foreigner in Japan compared to having the appearance of a Japanese.

I was aware that Japan is full of historic and beautiful places to see, and Toyama is no exception. Tateyama was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was able to compare the giant cedar trees to the giant redwood trees in Oregon. During my visit to Gokayama, I was impressed by the uniqueness of the gassho-style houses, and that it is the only World Heritage site in Japan that is maintaining not only a historically and culturally significant place but a lifestyle – people still live within the houses in the village and have been maintaining them, changing the thatching every twenty years. I became interested in doing things one could only do in Toyama, so I tried the white shrimp, the masuzushi, and even a bit of Toyama sake.

What was the highlight of the trip?

I have a hard time picking one highlight as I felt that there was a highlight from each day of my trip. I did enjoy spending a day with the students just walking around, talking and relaxing at Kansui Park after shopping in Toyama city. I am very glad I chose to do a home-stay during the trip. I had done a home-stay before, but talking until late into the night with my host mother about anything out of the blue and watching the news in the morning with my host father when I woke up too early were priceless moments to me.