This year marks the 30th Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest in Washington State. In 1983 when we began planning for the first Japanese language speech contest it was a time when there were still few high school Japanese language programs in Washington State. College level Japanese studies were beginning to grow as well as community wide interest in Japan because of the culmination of Japan’s post-war economic success story and resulting trade tensions, a high-level dialogue between Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and President Ronald Reagan as well as state level exchanges between Washington’s Governor John Spellman and Hyogo Governor Tokitada Sakai, and programs such as the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington’s Congressional Goodwill Educational Mission to Japan held in August 1983. The Society wanted to encourage Japanese studies and I was eager to support this because of my participation as a college student in the Japanese Speaking Society of America’s (Beikoku Nichigo Kyokai) Japanese Language Speech Contest held in San Francisco in 1976. See https://mockford.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/japanese-speech-contest-sfo-1976-001.jpg At that time there was no Japanese Language Speech contest held in Oregon or Washington so when I became Executive Director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington in 1981 it became my goal to help establish a Japanese speech contest in the Pacific Northwest so that students in Washington State or Oregon did not have to go all the way to California like I did as a college student to compete in a Japanese speech contest. The Consulate General of Japan – Seattle and the University of Washington Department of Asian Languages and Literature agreed to co-sponsor the event.
During 1983 the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington approved the project and while visiting Tokyo in the spring of 1983 I received the support of the Japan Foundation and a grant from them to establish the Japanese Speech Contest in Seattle. We set the date for May 19, 1984 for the “First Pacific Northwest Japanese Language Speech Contest” to be held at Gowan Hall, University of Washington. The Japan Foundation Grant allowed us to present as grand prize an Epson Portable Computer with Katakana Keyboard (The Epson HC / HX-20 is now regarded as the first true laptop computer, the first notebook and handheld computer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epson_HX-20). The Japan Foundation grant also provided Japan-English Character Dictionaries as secondary prizes. The event was the beginning of an annual Washington State Japanese Speech Contest that was to continue thanks to the offer by Takeo Terahata, Executive Director of the Hyogo Cultural Center to take on the organization of the contest with other community organizations such as the Motoda Foundation and various sponsors over the years. The addition of a skit contest made the program even more fun for high school Japanese language students whose numbers have grown tremendously over the past 30 years. Although we invited Oregon students to come to Seattle to join our contest the Japanese Consulate in Oregon worked to establish a Japanese language speech contest in Portland that is now in its 25th Year. Congratulations to both state’s on their continued support for Japanese language studies by sponsoring the Japanese language speech contests! For information on the 30th contest visit http://www.hyogobcc.org/speechandskit/?p=575