Boonsboro High students test Japanese skills in national event

April 29, 2010|By JANET HEIM

BOONSBORO -- While tourists were flocking to Washington, D.C., for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, five Boonsboro High School students headed to the nation's capital for a different forum on Japanese culture - the National Japan Bowl.

Japanese teacher Ayako Shiga, who is originally from Tokyo, has been teaching Japanese at Boonsboro High for four years. Each year, she has taken a group of students to the competition, which was started by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., in 1992.

This year, Boonsboro was one of 33 teams from across the country and one of two teams from Maryland to participate.

"It is a prestigious competition. Some regions have a qualifying round to decide who will go," Shiga said.

She added that Japanese is offered in many high schools in Virginia. Boonsboro is the only high school to offer Japanese in Washington County, Shiga said.


The students - Johnathan Harding II, Lycourgos Manolopoulos, Shelley McRorie, Daniel Schnackenberg and Megan Thomas - are completing their fourth semester of Japanese. That's the highest level offered at this time.

At the competition, students had the option of competing at their level or one level higher, with the level being determined by how long they have studied Japanese. The boys competed at Level 2 and the girls chose to compete a level higher, at Level 3.

All of the students but Shelley, who already completed her world language requirement in Spanish, are sophomores. It was the first time any of them had been to the Japan Bowl, and they agree they'd all like to travel to Japan.

The group was in Washington, D.C., for three days and got to experience a Japanese Street Festival and other cultural performances. They spent time interacting with other high school students taking Japanese and got to practice their language skills playing cards and air hockey.

"It showed us that we're not the only ones taking Japanese," Dan said.

The National Japan Bowl tested their knowledge of the Japanese language, history and culture in a quiz show format similar to "It's Academic."

Shiga said the students had to have an in-depth knowledge of the culture to compete. This year's topic was World War II and the United States' occupation of Japan.

The Boonsboro High team doesn't know where they finished in the competition, only that they weren't in the top five. Shiga said the Japan Bowl was more about putting students' skills to the test and learning from the experience, rather than where they finished.

"It was fun. We took the time and studied. We got there and put the whole effort in. It helped us bond more, like a family," Lycourgos said.

Megan Thomas said her interest in Japanese goes hand-in-hand with her interest in studying video game design. A lot of video games come from Japan.

"In fact, I've been infatuated with the Japanese culture a long time," dating to sixth grade, Megan said.

Besides an interest in the culture, the students were drawn to Japanese because it was unique and complicated.

"It just make us see the differences. The way we live here -- Japan is very different. It opens your eyes," Lycourgos said.

For more information on the Japan Bowl, go to

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