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Foreigners' Speech Contest Sanctioned by Questionable Verdict

By: Angelina Esparza

Date Posted: 2000-03-17

With what evidently looked like a scantily decorated stage and a monotonous ceremonial atmosphere, the "The 17th Japanese Speech Contest for Foreigners" promised to be a drawn-out program of unattractive quality. The loosely packed auditorium proved that most people’s response to the invitation was not quite a manifestation of enthusiasm. But, like mom's homemade pie, the plain exterior never does justice to the enjoyment that is actually offered when it is finally tasted.

The admission-free event was held in the Okinawa Women's Comprehensive Center Hall on Sunday, March 12th. The Okinawa Prefectural Government and established companies like Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Television Broadcasting Co. were the major sponsors.

15 individuals, representing 14 different countries, prepared to recite their unique views in a language that they had yet to master. This was an opportunity to discover thought-provoking insights that otherwise could not have been confronted. The contestants were selected from a total of 36 applicants, all of whom are foreign residents and whose native language is not Japanese. They were required to write a 7-minute speech in Japanese along the lines of "international exchange, friendship, mutual understanding and the Japanese culture."

The evaluation was based on content and presentation, both worth 50 points. The nationalities of the participants ranged from Indonesian to Armenian. Japan Update’s very own Jennifer Maddalino, who discussed Okinawa’s role in the upcoming Summit, was the lone representative of the American standpoint. The judge’s bench included the President of Okinawa International University, the Head of the Japanese Speech Division and 5 other members of Okinawa’s elite community.

First place was given to Wariya Wangrattanasopon, who is a Thai citizen studying at the Ryukyu University. She received a round trip ticket to Tokyo, and more significantly, an opportunity to participate in the national speech contest held in mainland Japan. Her well-presented speech promoted the preservation of Japanese customs and the importance of history in a school curriculum. Wariya lightheartedly mentioned her first experience bathing in Japan, as the opening anecdote, and carried on the speech in a safe tone.

On the other hand, the second place contestant Go Kie, a Taiwanese studying at the Okinawa Christian Junior College, recited a more dynamic speech, and introduced some refined and thought provoking insights. She proposed a theory that countered language as being the key to improving international relations by stating, “Language alone is ineffective… the willingness to understand must be present in both cultures.” This willingness is, perhaps, even more important then the skill of language itself. In representing her approach, Kie identified some flaws of the Japanese society, which may have caused the judges to be hesitant to send her as the representative of Okinawa in the national contest.

It may be far-fetched to assume that a political agenda had played a role in the outcome. Yet, the final verdict, between Wariya’s safe content and Go’s rather controversial content, seemed rather questionable. Nonetheless, the 17th Japanese Speech Contest for Foreigners was a success in acknowledging Okinawa’s effort in better understanding its international residents. OTV (channel 8) will be airing the event on Monday, March 27th.

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