Twelve high school students won a summer trip to Japan yesterday after beating more than 100 others in a Japanese trivia contest.
The week long vacation was awarded by the Japan-America Society of Hawaii at its eighth annual Japan Wizards Competition.
"It was amazing," said Jillian Wilkie, a freshman at Kapaa High School, whose team came in third in the beginning Japanese level. She said she gained better study skills while cramming for the "Jeopardy!"-like competition.
Forty-two teams, with three students each, from public and private high schools faced off yesterday at Kapiolani Community College.
In two levels of competition, the winners were the highest scoring public high school team and the highest scoring private high school team. Yesterday’s winners were Aiea High School, Maui’s Baldwin High School and ‘Iolani School, which won both levels of competition.
Ed Hawkins, president of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii, said the competition is one of seven programs the nonprofit created to teach young people the importance of U.S.-Japan relations.
With Hawaii’s dependence on tourism and the Japanese heritage of many Hawaii residents, a relationship with Japan benefits the state economically, culturally and militarily, he said.
"It’s the most important relationship in the Asia-Pacific region," he said. "It enriches us."
Yuta Masuda, a Japanese teacher at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island, said he wanted his students to enter the competition because it enhances his language classes. At mid year, when students begin to lose focus and grow distracted, his teams share what they are learning during their training, which helps elevate student interest.
His team won in 2007, and since then he developed a technique to give his students a good shot at winning again by focusing on the topics from the previous year’s competition.
This year he focused on Japanese geography and history.
Although his team didn’t place, Masuda, who hails from Yokohama, Japan, said he likes the contest because he wants his students to know more about his culture and the customs in other countries.
HPA student Troy Choi, 17, studied for a half-hour every day from the time they got their entry packets in October to prepare for the hourlong competition. In the process, he learned about Japanese culture, history and modern society.
"It’s a good opportunity to learn about a foreign country," Choi said. "It’s hard work because you have to study a lot. It feels like if I go there now, I’m going to appreciate it more."
Ellen Wauters, a sophomore on the winning team from Aiea, said she joined the competition because of her interest in Japanese culture and anime (Japanese animation) and because she wanted to learn more about the country. She studied for enjoyment and never thought she would win.
"I didn’t believe it," she said. "I’m super happy."