2007-2008 The Third JCSB-Canon Essay Competition

The Third Japan Center - Canon Essay Competition at Stony Brook University was completed. The theme of this year’s essay competition was “The Spirit of Japan.” The Japan Center received 116 essays (105 in the High School Division and 11 in the College Division) by the December 31, 2007 deadline, and they were carefully evaluated in two stages by a panel of judges composed of the faculty members of Stony Brook University. Three best essays were selected in the High School Division and one best essay was selected in the College Division. Each of the first, second, and third place Best Essay Award Winners in the High School Division received $1,500, and the Best Essay Award Winner in the College Division received $2,000. The First Place Best Essay Award Winner in the High School Division also received a special certificate with Japanese Ambassador's signature from the Consulate General of Japan in New York. The Best Essay Award winners, Honorable Mention recipients, and Semi-Finalists were as follows: 

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High School Division
Best Essay Awards: 
1st Place: “His Greatest Wish” by Samantha Ivy Dupler (South Side High School)
2nd Place: “Initiation with a Washcloth” by Mari Iwahara (The Dalton School)
3rd Place: “Hidemi-san” by Elizabeth Morgan (Bronx High School of Science)

Honorable Mentions: 
“The Spirit of Japan in Me” by Caresse Rose Correa (Longwood Senior High School)
“Matsuri no Uta” by Matthew Auster (Columbia Prep School)
“ "Tasting" Japan” by Omena Tega Ejekpokpo (Aquinas High School)

William Fechter (Longwood Senior High School)
Samantha Palmer (Longwood Senior High School)
Caitlin Rae Etri (Huntington High School)
Michael Behan (Bronx High School of Science)
Iris Yu (Shoreham-Wading River High School)
Ashleigh McDougall (Longwood Senior High School)
Ashley Thompson (Queens Gateway to the Health Sciences Secondary School)

College Division
Best Essay Award:
“Becoming the Universe: Zen in Japanese Culture” by Lauren Phillips (Stony Brook University)

Honorable Mention:
“The Coexistence of Order and Spontaneity” by Lisa Kawamoto (Columbia University, Columbia College)

Allison Kade (Columbia University)
Tracy Soto (Stony Brook University)
George Robert Hull III (Hunter College)

Award Winning Essays
1st Place in the High School Division
"His Greatest Wish" by Samantha Ivy Dupler (South Side High School)
The colors and sounds were everywhere, vermillion archways stretching over speckled pavement, the foreign shouts of vendors over the music of street performers, paper lanterns hanging from above merchants’ huts. This, in a nutshell, was the street of Nakamise-dori on a certain spring day. 
It was my fourth day in Tokyo of a two week trip to Japan, and so far, I had found the entire country’s culture juxtaposed within itself, a fascinating and sometimes dizzying blend of old meets new, a mix of kimono-clad women and gelled-hair business men, both types different, yet the same, in the sense that they could all call Japan their home.
With these heavy thoughts resting on my mind, I made my way through the crowded shopping street, past the doll shops and fan stalls, through the crowds of bargain hungry shoppers. At last, I found myself at the end of the street, standing before a statue of Buddha, smooth and glowing bronze from where thousands of hands had rubbed it for luck. The air here was quiet, the people possessed a serene disposition, and the loudest sound was that of the rustling of paper scraps, each scrawled with a wish tied to a small tree, in hopes that they may come true.
I stood before the statue, taking it all in, when I noticed a small table nearby, where an old Japanese man sat folding paper. I wandered over to the table. It looked like a type of cultural station, designed for visitors to indulge in the Japanese art of origami. On the table, there were stacks and strips of brightly colored paper, and laminated, yet
battered, instruction sheets in both English and Japanese on how to create paper cranes. So I sat down at the table and tried to make one of my own.
The cranes were much harder to make than they appeared, and in a matter of minutes, I had accidentally decimated at least six sheets of paper. The old man at the table noticed my arduous attempts, and came over to me with a smile. “No, no,” he said gently in English. “Like this.” He picked up the paper and folded it with ease, and soon held a small red crane in his wrinkled hands. The old man set the crane on the table and looked proudly at it. “Thank you,” I said with a smile. 
His smile stretched farther when he heard my voice, and he gathered up more paper. “Ah, American?” he asked excitedly. “Yes,” I said. “I’m from New York.” I studied the crane on the table as the old man continued to fold more. Picking the bird off the table, I turned it over in my hands, admiring the delicate folds. “Like this,” said the old man, taking the crane back. He pulled the tail gently, and the wings elongated gracefully, the crane’s paper neck extending just so. He then set the crane back down on the table, waiting for my reaction.
I leaned over across the table, to where a rainbow of paper strips lay stacked. I then smoothed the strip out and began folding it over and around itself, forming a little pentagon. The old man watching with amazement, I pinched the corners of the shape, puffing out its sides to form a tiny star. “For you,” I said, and placed the star on the table.
The old man’s smile became so large, it almost seemed to split his face in two. “A star!” he exclaimed. “An American star!” He got up and began showing my star to each and every person at the table. In the distance, the wish trees whispered. I smiled at the old man, and began to get up from the table, but he came back to my seat with a few parting words. “Tell your American friends; visit Japan, visit here,” he said, hope etched into the lines on his face and buried deep in the soul of his voice. “Spread my culture,” he said, holding my crumpled star. “For I fear it is fading fast.”¬
I nodded, and picked up the crane off the table, cradling it in my fingers. He nodded back to me quickly, and then walked back over to the other side of the table, to help others with their cranes.
I turned away from the table, and made my way back to Nakamise-dori, the paper wish trees swishing like a thousand matches striking, each lighting a fire of hope and passion.
© The Japan Center at Stony Brook

2nd Place in the High School Division
“Initiation With a Washcloth” by Mari Iwahara (The Dalton School)
“Ittekimasu!” I called back to my mother as I hurried out the doors and into the small streets. I readjusted my white button-up blouse, navy pleated skirt, white socks and Nike sneakers, specifically picked out to imitate the basic Japanese middle school uniforms. This was the first day of my fifth grade taiken-nyuugaku, a two-week school experience at a middle school in Kanazawa, Japan. 
The inside of my matching navy backpack consisted of a notebook, pencil case, tissues, handkerchief, and washcloth. My mother had hand-sewn the washcloth, telling me that I would need it for souji no jikan, “clean-up time”, during school. “Clean-up time” sounded like a preschool activity and I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but since the cloth was clearly listed on the supplies list, I didn’t bother questioning it. The handkerchief and tissues were to be with me at all times for sanitary means. I was also given a pair of brand-new shoes that I was supposed to change into once I got to school. “You need two pairs of shoes,” instructed my mother the night before. “One for indoors and one for outdoors. That keeps the dirt from getting inside the school.” 
Once I got to school and changed into my indoor pair, I saw exactly what she meant. There wasn’t a single piece of trash on the floor or a single spot on the wall, and every child was changing into his or her clean pair of shoes, making sure not to dirty the wooden floors. The whole environment was unbelievably clean, a complete shift from the careless, chaotic school hallways back in New York City. As I walked down the hallways to find my classroom, there were posters on the walls that reminded the students to “keep the school clean”, “clean up after your own mess”, and “respect the environment”. No wonder this place was so clean. There was no graffiti smeared on the posters. Even as I sat through classes and moved from classroom to classroom, the neatness of the school was impressive. “The janitors must be excellent here,” I casually thought.
The surprising truth was that there weren’t any janitors taking care of the place. I learned this the period after lunch, when suddenly, lively music started playing from the intercoms. All at once, as if on cue, the children got up and scattered. Confused at first, it quickly occurred to me that this was souji no jikan. Numerous brooms and mops emerged from the closets, children carried water-filled buckets, desks and chairs were moved around, and trash was taken out with factory-like efficiency. Some girls invited me to clean the hallway with them. “Mari-chan, come help us wipe the floors clean,” they said. “You do have a washcloth with you, right?” I saw that all students had their own washcloths, each hand-sewn by their mothers from old clothes or towels. I had never used a broom, mopped bathroom floors, taken out school trash, or raced down a hallway on all fours while pushing a washcloth with my hands to scrub the floor. I managed to accomplish all of that during these two weeks at school. “Clean-up time” was more like chore-time, but I noticed how nobody objected and everyone did their part. There were set rules, reminders, and jobs, and everybody cooperated. 
Six years later, I realize that this applies not only to schools but to Japanese society in general. Even the busiest city streets, train stations, and parks are spotless because of the country’s successful waste management and recycling systems, enabling the nation to rank as one of the top “green” nations in the world. Sanitation is an important priority in the lives of the Japanese, deriving from the old Japanese ideal of respecting and being a part of nature, preserving it for the people’s enjoyment during all seasons of the year. Another component that creates this success is the cooperation and full commitment of the people who are educated early as students to develop a sense of social responsibility. Those two weeks were the only times that I went to a school in Japan and I have not used a washcloth since, but the importance of souji no jikan still leaves a profound impression on me. Their tradition of cleanliness, sense of cooperation, and respect for nature are exemplary of the spirit of Japan.
© The Japan Center at Stony Brook

3rd Place in the High School Division
“Hidemi-san” by Elizabeth Morgan (Bronx High School of Science)
My connection to Japan is direct. It is visceral and practically umbilical. Once a week since I was five years old, I have sat hip to hip with my piano teacher, Hidemi Kitajima. Hidemi is a mentor to me, and my personal ambassador of Japanese culture. As Commodore Perry exposed Japan to Western Culture, Hidemi has enlightened me with Eastern thought and culture. I have been raised exposed to her Eastern ideals, which value perfection through hard work and practice. 
Hidemi describes herself as upholding old fashion Japanese values. These ideas stem from an ancient tradition of living with a highly structured society that emphasizes respect, honor, and discipline. The code of the samurai, the bushido, stresses the following virtues: rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honor, loyalty, honesty, filial piety, and wisdom. Hidemi is aware of how she behaves in society, and prefers to deal formally with those that she feels deserve respect either because of age, social standing, or accomplishments. Though she has adopted contemporary American fashion, she rejects more informal manners of young Japanese as well as American youths who have no respect for tradition. 
Hidemi’s teaching techniques incorporate the Japanese belief in a resilient mental strength. When I played my first recital at the age of five, Hidemi made a list of things to do to prepare me for the performance. The list included no sugar for one week before the performance, eat plenty of fish, get sufficient sleep, and remain focused from first strike until the last note is played. Steeped in these principles, her Japanese rigor demands focused practice. This technique is similar to the principles of martial arts. This Japanese practice of fitness and self defense encompasses meditation, mental discipline and character development. It also encourages self confidence. By applying Japanese elements of martial arts to my music, I am able to master the complexities of Schubert. 
In middle school, Hidemi wanted to share her culture with me; she took me to lunch at a Japanese restaurant that offers the highest example of Japanese cuisine. The restaurant was decorated with traditional Japanese art and artifacts. She pointed out the rice parchment lamps (washi), and lacquered (urushi) plates, and described the process of how these items are made. Though simple shapes and patterns, these adornments impressed me by their beautiful subtleties and perfect constructs. The fineness and beauty of these crafts are the part of the Japanese culture embodied in Hidemi. She is not of the high-tech Japan which produces complex equipment and leads the world in technological production for cutting edge audio-video equipment, cameras, automobiles, and robotics. 
While discussing Japanese architecture, Hidemi related how she brings tourists to the flashy Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji). Visitors are immediately impressed by the top two stories of this pavilion which are covered in pure gold leaf. But in contrast, Hidemi describes that the spiritual beauty of the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji) is often lost to Western visitors. This Zen Buddhist sanctuary is not constructed of silver, but the elements blend to make a peaceful and harmonious whole, it is a place for rest and solitude, far removed from the hustle and bustle of New York City life. Behind the temple is a magnificent two part garden made of rocks and sand. The temple stresses the importance the Japanese put on peace and harmony. I think Hidemi’s nature is similar in beauty to that of the Silver Pavilion; it is a bit like a Japanese secret. But someday I would like to experience both pavilions in person.
Embodied in Hidemi is the ideal of total health in body, spirit and mind. She is well versed in traditional Japanese exercise and massage. Hidemi has helped my mother with her arthritis by teaching her Tai Kyoku Ken. Her exercises stress slow movements executed in a harmonious way to maintain joint flexibility. If my fingers are cold, she will rub them to increase circulation, focusing on specific pressure points. She has learned these healing techniques from her grandmother and shares them with me.
Hidemi is an international concert pianist. Her piano playing reveals aspects of her Japanese culture as well as what she has adopted of American culture. Japan reminds me of my petite, talented and wonderful piano teacher. Her Japanese spirit fills our home whenever she comes. She is a true blend of traditional Japanese virtues as well as contemporary style. I am fortunate to have had the benefit of her instruction and this special cultural exposure.
© The Japan Center at Stony Brook

The Best Essay in the College Division
“Becoming the Universe: Zen in Japanese Culture” by Lauren Phillips (Stony Brook University)
Japan is a country often characterized in two distinct ways: mythical and seeped with tradition or a high-speed technological powerhouse. It is therefore difficult sometimes to see a common feature between Japan of old and modern day Japan; however, the spirit of Japan is still alive and thriving. This spirit is found within the philosophy of Zen from the Zen Buddhism religion of Japan. While not all the citizens identify themselves as Zen Buddhists, this philosophy is still present throughout their lives.
The spirit of Japan is actually one from a surprising origin. It was not originally from Japan, but was rather introduced to Japan by Chinese Zen Buddhist monks. Even though the philosophy is not purely Japanese bred, the people of Japan have taken the concept and formed it into their own, uniquely Japanese philosophy. Zen is the practice which gives one the discipline to destroy self, or more simply put, to destroy any desires, in order to create empty self. Once a person has reached empty self, he or she is enlightened and becomes a Buddha. In order to reach this state, one must practice sabi and wabi. Sabi essentially means loneliness, though not in the sense of how westerners interpret the word. In this case, loneliness is time by oneself wherein one reflects upon oneself and anything that individual can think of is not the person and therefore must be destroyed in order to reach enlightenment. This refers to thoughts such as fame and the desire for fame must be destroyed; otherwise, the attachment to this goal would prevent one from achieving empty self. Wabi deals with an appreciation of poverty. In this ideal one is not dependent on worldly things and wants for nothing, for anything one could want, one already has. This concept of Zen Buddhism instructs one to appreciate what is around oneself. The concept of Zen may sound a little intangible, and may initially seem that to have no application outside of someone studiously practicing Zen Buddhism; however, this is not at all true. Within Japan, the concept of Zen has infiltrated every part of the culture.
The presence of Zen is most obvious in the arts of Japan. While growing up I would wonder about the Japanese style of art. Since I was thinking in a European influenced mind set, I was unable to truly grasp what the art of Japan was expressing. I knew it was beautiful, but the truth it conveyed always eluded me, and instead settled on the corners of my mind, just out of reach of understanding. When other countries, particularly those of the west, create a piece of pottery they glorify it if it is perfect. The piece must be perfectly glazed, and perfectly crafted with no change in thickness and possessing a uniform shape. In opposition, the great artisans of Japan often will purposely make an imperfection in the pottery, such as inconsistent thickness or a deliberate mistake in shape, for when a piece has rustic unpretentiousness or antiquated imperfections it is said to contain sabi and is therefore a true piece of artwork. 
The concept of art also differs with paintings between western countries and Japan. Unlike the paintings of western countries, which cover the entire canvas in paint, the Japanese employ a one corner style of painting. Only one corner of the canvas actually has paint on it while the rest remains clean. If one discards this empty space when viewing the painting, one misses the entire point of the painting itself. The blank void in this case represents the abyss which encompasses the universe. Though a bird on a branch may be painted in the corner and nothing else is painted, the world still exists beyond that bird. This world beyond the single subject of the painting is the universe itself, making the blank area of canvas just as important as the painted subject. This minimalist style to art is also present in the traditional Japanese poetry of haiku. Many westerners are incapable of understanding the significance of haikus when they are initially introduced to them, and I must admit that I, too, was confused by the style. With only seventeen syllables used, it would seem as though nothing of great importance could possibly be expressed. However, haikus are not saturated with description in order to leave room for the unknown, for without the unknown no art exists, just as with the one corner paintings. In truth, the haikus in their short meter express something of the utmost importance; it is an expression of temporary enlightenment wherein one sees into the life of things. 
While studying haiku this past fall, I was struck with a shocking realization. The moment of temporary enlightenment, the Zen utterance, I had experienced once before. When I was fifteen, my mother would still drive me occasionally to my high school. One day as I walked from the parking lot towards the building, something shimmering caught my attention. It was spring then and as it often does it had rained lightly the night before. As I glanced up to see what was glistening I spotted a spider’s web masterfully created, nestled delicately against the pink new petals of the crab apple tree. As the morning sun shined down on the tree, it made the rain droplets that hung to the spider’s web and that laid on the petals sparkle in an almost ethereal way. In that moment, everything in the world became beautiful to me because the glistening spider’s web was everything. I felt as though nothing outside that single damp spider’s web mattered and nothing existed outside of it, not even myself, because everything that existed was already within that one spider’s web.
The moment was achingly brief, but it was real and even the memory of it, though I am sure the scene I recall is faded in comparison, still has the power to make my heart clench at how insignificant humans are when a common spider’s web can humble us. It was not until years later I understood what had happened in that moment. Without knowledge of it or any training in Buddhism, I had somehow experienced the Zen Buddhism mystery of becoming-being and being-becoming. This mystery exemplifies the Zen Buddhism philosophy that all is one and one is all, wherein the universe is the all and a single entity is the one, and whether that one was the sparkling spider’s web or whether it was me, does not matter at all, for the spider’s web was me and I was the spider’s web in that one moment. This mystery is implied in several places within haikus as well as other Japanese art forms. I don’t know if I will ever feel that sort of sincere peace again, I can only hope that one day something seemingly insignificant will catch my attention once more and become the universe in my eye.
© The Japan Center at Stony Brook


Submission Guidlines Employed

Aim: The aim of the Japan Center - Canon Essay Competition is to promote awareness and understanding of Japan in the United States, and to help young Americans broaden their international horizons.


      • “Best Essay Award” in the High School Division ($1,500, maximum three awards per year)
      • “Best Essay Award” in the College Division ($2,000, one award per year)
      • “Honorable Mention” in both the High School and College Divisions (one in each division)
*Complementary awards (Canon cameras) will be associated.
Essay Theme: The Japan Center - Canon Essay Competition theme is Spirit of Japan. Contestants should describe the “spirit of Japan” in its history, traditional culture, pop culture, art,
philosophy, value, society, family, industry, technology, business, economics, etc. in relation to themselves (e.g., their personal experiences, future goals, life history, personal philosophy, etc.).
Contestants who do not have an experience in visiting Japan or studying Japanese are strongly encouraged to apply. The previous award winning essays can be viewed at the Japan Center’s website: http://www.stonybrook.edu/japancenter (click “JCSB-Canon Essay Competition”).

Entry Qualifications: The Japan Center - Canon Essay Competition is open to students who satisfy all of the following conditions.
  1. They attend high school or college (private, public, or religious) in the Long Island counties of Nassau or Suffolk and the New York City boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Staten Island,Queens or Brooklyn.
  2. They are enrolled in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade or in undergraduate programs during the 2007-2008 school year.
  3. They are US citizens or legal permanent residents of the US.

Conditions and Procedure:

Length: Maximum 750 words excluding title, footnotes, and bibliography for the High School Division. 1,000~1,500 words, excluding title, footnotes, and bibliography for the College

Language: English

Format: Paper size: letter size (8.5” x 11”) Line spacing: 1.5 
Font size: 12 pts. Margin: 1” (top, bottom, left, right)

Use of External Information and Sources: All use of external information or sources must be properly cited in the essay and the sources must be listed in a bibliography. Use of any external
materials without proper citation will be considered plagiarism and grounds for disqualification.
Submission: Send your essay in MS Word or RTF format by e-mail attachment to:Japan_Center_Essay_Contest@notes.cc.sunysb.edu
(Alternatively, save it in a CD and mail it to: The Japan Center at Stony Brook, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5343, along with a hardcopy of the essay and a self-addressed and stamped envelope.)

Submission Deadline: December 31, 2007 (Acknowledgement of receipt will be sent by January 15, 2008)
The organization of your electronic file to be submitted should be as below:

The first page:
    1. Author’s full name
    2. Essay title
    3. Affiliated school and current grade level / academic standing
    4. E-mail address
    5. Mailing address
    6. Telephone number
    7. Legal status (a citizen or a permanent resident of the US)
    8. The name, title, specialty, and contact information of the teacher/faculty member who advised the author, if any
    9. Others (academic major, if any; any experience in studying Japanese or living in Japan)
The second page and after:
    1. Author's initial
    2. Essay title
    3. Division (High School Division or College Division)
    4. Exact word count of the essay
    5. Essay text (no image should be included)
    6. Bibliography, if any

CopyrightNote that submissions cannot be returned, and the JCSB owns the copyright of the award-winning essays.

Judging: Entries in the Japan Center - Canon Essay Competition will be evaluated by the following panel of judges on the basis of their insight, creativity, and originality of expression.

Honorary Judges: Shirley Strum Kenny, President of Stony Brook University, Joe Adachi, President & C.E.O. of Canon U.S.A, Inc.

Judges: Sachiko Murata (Chief Judge, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies), Clifford Huffman (English Department), Janis Mimura (Department of History), Gregory Ruf (Department of Anthropology/Asian and Asian American Studies).

Recognition of Award Recipients: The award recipients and their essays will be posted on the web site of the JCSB (http://www.stonybrook.edu/japancenteron April 1, 2008. The award recipients in the Japan Center - Canon Essay Competition will be formally recognized at the 2008 JCSB Annual Meeting, to be held at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University
on Saturday, April 26, 2008.

Organizing Committee: Eriko Sato (Chair), Mary Diaz, Marlene Dubois, Tatsushi Hirono, Joan Miyazaki, Eva Nagase, Chikako Nakamura, Megs Shea

JCSB Board of Director in Charge: Yoko Ojima 

Canon U.S.A. Representatives in Charge: William Reed, Dawn Shields

The public relations of this essay competition is cosponsored by the Professional Education Program Outreach OfficeStony Brook University. 
The Japan Center at Stony Brook• Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5343 • Phone: 631.632.9477• Fax: 631.632.4098