By Jonah Nguyen-Conyers

George Washington University held the annual J-Live event which other Japanese Plus classmates and I attended. J-Live is a Japanese language competition for college students, where contestants would make their own presentation on a topic of choice and then share it to an audience all in Japanese. There are also categories for contestants as not all are at the same Japanese proficiency level. This event allowed me to talk and listen to so many people in Japanese and in English, allowing me to be more aware of what opportunities lie ahead if I keep on learning Japanese. Even though there were only a very few things I could understand with the one and a half months of Japanese under my belt, I still had a blast!

This event ingrained hope into the language that I already loved and set more goals that I wish to reach. I have never attended an event like this before, and it was really an eye-opening experience being able to see the connections being made and the fruits of those who are studying Japanese for a while. J-Live allowed me to see a new barrier broken with the wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities present at this event, and really allowed me to know what Japanese can do to connect people and be the bridge to create a more united world.

High School Diplomats

By Theo Greiff

On Thursday, November 8th, my parents came up to me and told me to check the Facebook group as Sally had just posted talking about a summer program involving Japan that they thought I might be interested in. I can’t say I thought much of it. After all, I had multiple other programs that I had had my eyes on for a long time, and though it was sure to be interesting, I didn’t think I could fit it into my schedule. On Wednesday, November 14th, representatives actually visited, and I realized I probably should have looked into this program more.

High School Diplomats U.S is a 10-day program at Princeton University which brings American and Japanese Sophomores and Juniors together for cultural exchange and language studies. It can also be followed by a second program, High School Diplomats Japan, in which students who have taken HSD U.S can apply for a full scholarship to go to Japan the following summer. We were visited by Celine Zapolski, the director of HSD, and two alumnae, Olivia and Ava, who shared their experiences, and it was, in fact, the experiences that truly caught my eye. Though hearing Celine discuss all the information above was interesting, it was when I heard about the relationships formed between American and Japanese students that I began seriously considering the program.

Olivia and Ava described the many friendships they had formed, the challenges and barriers they faced, and the personal impact that resulted from the program. Though they mentioned many things, I thought the most profound to be when they talked about their Japanese roommates who they had managed to relate to and connect with despite the massive linguistic and cultural wall that separated them. I personally believe that language is something meant for use, it exists to expand understanding and range of thought, not just through study, but through interactions with others. From what I heard during this visit, High School Diplomats is a program that can help me achieve such interactions and, as a result, it has become a program that I am very seriously considering doing during the summer.


By Katie Nguyen

Onigiri Action is a program to help needy kids in Africa get free healthy meals by taking pictures of yourself with the onigiri (rice balls) you made and posting them online with the hashtag #OnigiriAction. This was created by a non-profit organization, called Table for Two, that speaks about the issues of hunger and obesity through a “meal sharing” program. Table for Two partners with many organizations such as JCCI NY, Zojirushi America Corporation, Tokyo Central Marukai, MUFG, BentOn, and many more. If you want to read more about this, go to their website https://onigiri-action.com/en/about/ to learn all about it.

During the presentation about Onigiri Action, I was really excited to make onigiri and I bet everybody else was too. At first, when Mayumi Uejima-Carr, the Table for Two director, and the instructor she brought in showed up, I was really nervous since they had come early and most people didn’t arrive yet. Mayumi Uejima-Carr brought in her two kids and they were really cute and fun to be with.

Once they had finished their presentation, we learned how to make onigiri. It looked easy, but it wasn’t. I put too much rice and made a really big onigiri. We had to decorate our onigiri and make it look nice. Everybody had cool and pretty designs. A person made Jack Skellington from The Night Before Christmas, while somebody else made Sailor Moon. It was really fun and was a nice bonding moment with my classmates. It was also really delicious. There were ingredients like tuna with mayo, ketchup, edamame beans, spices, carrots, rice, seaweed, and bear molds to make your rice the shape of a bear. Afterwards we took pictures of everybody’s onigiri and had group pictures. There were also big onigiri cutouts made of cardboard that we could put out heads in so when others wore it they looked cute in the photo.

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On Saturday, November 3rd, our Japanese Plus class was visited by Mr. Yuuki Shinomiya of Septeni Global (formerly of International Student Conferences), Mr. Hiroyuki Takai of Sumitomo Corporation of Americas and the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC, and Mrs. Aoi Takai.

By Asa Marshall

Today we had visitors in class. I was super excited because we heard about their arrival during our Wednesday class. I knew I was going to enjoy whoever came and I made sure to bring my camera to class that day.

Class went normally, and tension rose in me in anticipation for their arrival. When Eshita-sensei announced it was time for us to practice our self-introductions, I felt my heart drop. I knew I could introduce myself, but I felt more nervous that I would make a mistake when it was my turn. I practiced to myself and recited to Katie hoping I wouldn’t stumble over my words. Then when I thought I was super prepared, I saw them come through the door. Everything that I was going to say completely escaped my mind. My focus was on getting my camera out, so I could help Sally take pictures. I took deep breaths as Maria and then Lucca did their self-introductions and soon it was my turn. I stood up and I was frozen. I struggled to remember everything that I planned to say, but then I closed my eyes for a bit and focused. “Hajimemashite Asa desu…” I was able to give my introduction. I sighed a breath of relief when I sat down.

As each of our guests spoke I felt so encouraged to continue to study Japanese, because they all talked a bit about how knowing other languages can help you understand other’s cultures and the way they think. It inspired me, and I felt determination to study harder and continue to do my best, because I want to connect and understand others’ perspectives, especially if I get to visit people in different countries and gain a deeper understanding of myself in the process. As class came to an end, I was happy to be going home to eat, but I hoped they could continue to share their experiences with learning English. I hope they come again. They spoke so well and were fun to listen to and were my favorite out of the guests we had so far!

This picture I took was probably not the best quality, but I connected with it because when I took it, I thought of a student’s perspective and it seemed inspirational, and I felt it expressed the wonderful environment we are in; where we get to learn and discover new things.

The Power of Language

By Jazmin Angel-Guzman

We’ve had a few visitors so far this Japanese school year, but the visitors that have impacted me the most were from November 3rd. Initially, before their arrival, I was panicking because we needed to introduce ourselves as we always do, now that we know self-introduction. For me it’s always kind of hard, because I practice a lot to the point that I know it, but when it comes to the moment of actually saying the self-introduction I almost forget. My nervousness impedes me from calming down and making me forget a little, although in the end my self-introduction turned out fine, better than what I was hoping for.

One of the visitors was Yuuki Shinomiya, and he’s the director of Strategy and Chief of Staff at Septeni Global. He works in advertising and with the gaming industry. The other visitors were Hiroyuki and Aoi Takai. Mr. Takai is the Head of the Washington D.C. Office of Sumitomo Corporation and also involved in the Japan Commerce Association of Washington. which is an association of Japanese businesses. There he’s in charge of language education here in Washington D.C., which impacts Japanese Plus because we’re the after-school group in D.C. that studies Japanese as a language. Ms. Takai, on the other hand, talked more about language and culture. She talked about how she studied English through the radio, etc., as a second language, and compared the two different cultures. This was important because she talked about how learning a different language also helped her in career and job, and helped me think about how I would use Japanese language in the future.

For me the visitors impacted me because they made me understand what the power of language really does have and how it’s important, especially in today’s globalized world. I’m always motivated to learn new languages that I’m interested in learning, but the visitors from today inspired me with more motivation to learn Japanese, despite its difficulties. They made me embrace that knowing more than one language is essential and actually like a secret weapon to communicate with many people around the world. Learning new languages can provide different perspectives and lenses on how we can view the world. Therefore, they made me also realize that knowing more than one language can be useful in the future, that it’s definitely worth it to learn Japanese. Which I’m enjoying so far, and I can’t wait to learn more Japanese!

Facebook group and learning katakana

By Gabe Mogzec

Ever since the start of the program this year, we have all been a part of the private Facebook group for the class. Since then, it’s been used for many different things. The most useful part of the group is that we can get updates about any upcoming events that are happening, or even just updates about the next class. Another great feature about the group is that anyone can upload to it. Photos, articles, and videos can all be shared by anyone. It does make it feel like a small community sometimes. Every week a couple articles are posted, varying from world events that involve Japan, or just lists of little known facts, both of which are interesting to read.

Lucca has uploaded a custom quizlet that has been a huge factor in helping me, and probably many others study their katakana. Learning katakana has been a very unique experience for me. When I was learning French, we used the Latin alphabet, but now I am learning a new alphabet that I have no previous knowledge of. Not only that, but I will have to learn 3 different alphabets if I want to be fluent in reading and writing. I wouldn’t say katakana is easy, but with enough drive and focus, I have been able to adapt to it. So far, I have really enjoyed being part of Japanese Plus, and I’m very excited to continue it.

Otsukimi at the Arboretum

By Maria Garcia

Have you ever heard of Otsukimi? Don’t worry if you haven’t. In fact, I hadn’t either until a week before the Otsukimi at the National Arboretum. It’s a traditional viewing and appreciation of the Harvest Moon. Ms. Sally (my mentor) asked the class if we had checked Facebook for the event. Although I had not heard about it, I was interested because we were told we could use our Japanese we had been learning. Some other kids were also interested and said that they would come along. So when Saturday came we were all excited and ready for the Otsukimi.

When everyone was at the Otsukimi, dinner was on everyone’s mind. For dinner we had bento boxes which were filled with fish, meat, egg, nori, rice, squash, seaweed, and so much more. Dinner had a neat trick to it though because to eat dinner you needed to know how to use chopsticks.

After dinner we all went for a walk and saw some bonsai trees. The bonsai are super amazing because these trees go through training and many are over a hundred years old. As we walked around, we found the night getting cooler. So we went in and tried the mochi pounding. Mochi pounding was a new concept for me and made me appreciate mochi a lot. This process of mochi required two people – one who wet and turned the mochi and the other who would hit the mochi with a big hammer called a kine. The mochi is placed into the usu and kine are used to form the mochi.

After a short break we went inside to listen to the Koto players. Then after some time the koto players came out and played a song. I enjoyed this because when I went to Japan, the students from the high school performed for us. I remembered how much fun that was, and we ended our night of fun. The koto is played using all ten fingers with these special guitar picks which are put into the fingertips and the strings are plucked. The koto sounds more resembles a sitar but if you have never heard of a sitar, just think of a guitar with a higher pitch.

We had a break time during the night and went for a walk. During this walk we played tag and made our way to the columns. After we ran around for some time, the columns were a great place to walk, and we noticed it was really dark. We kept at least one flashlight on, as we explored the surrounding area. Then we noticed we had gone far and decided it was best to head back. Someone went back alone, and we all decided to stick together instead of separate. We went back the path we came from, but as much as we wanted to continue to explore, we decided it was getting late and that our friends should not travel alone. The walk back was just as fun, as we told stories and wishes for the upcoming year. Our group had so much fun and when we got back we were all tired. The night soon ended and we all went off in our own direction. The best part was knowing that our group was fun to be around with and all cared about one another.

Special thanks to the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC for hosting this special program.