The deafening beats of taiko drums filled the Tanner building auditorium on Saturday as Utah high school students kicked off the state’s first-ever high school Japan Bowl.
Students from high schools across Utah, including Timpview, American Fork, Lone Peak, Murray and Spanish Fork joined in teams to test their knowledge on various aspects of Japanese culture, grammar, vocabulary and history.
Masakazu Watabe, a Japanese professor who has been teaching at BYU for 34 years, said he hopes this competition will bring more Japanese-speaking students to BYU and help the high school language programs improve.
“The immediate benefit is it gives a little more motivation to rub shoulders with the other students who are studying Japanese,” he said. “We would love other students who are studying Japanese at BYU.”
He said he encourages students to study foreign languages in college, because as the market gets more competitive, he said they need to go beyond the technical skills in their field of study.
“Our products, students, are not only good in their special field, but also with high integrity,” he said. “And then the third one is cultural fluency that they will have. This is really the value-added product.”
Natalie VanWagoner, a junior at Lone Peak High School, said she began studying Japanese by chance.
“I decided to work out all my other classes first and see which (language) was available, and turns out it was Japanese,” she said.
She said she decided to participate in the competition because she knew it would look good on her college application.
Laura Kneilling, a German foreign exchange student at Lone Peak High school, came to America to learn English and ended up taking Japanese as well.
“I just wanted to learn another language,” she said. “And how they write, it looks really pretty.” Japanese will be her fifth language, after Italian, Latin, German and English.
In addition to the competition, the students had the opportunity to see a local Japanese drumming group perform and eat traditional Japanese food.
Matt Paskett, a member of the Utah Japanese Teachers Association and a Japanese teacher at Lone Peak High School, said there were a few reasons for starting up this yearly competition.
“To test their knowledge, to get to know other schools, to get to know other kids,” he said. “And just to enjoy the Japanese language and culture.”