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Japan Center Essay Competition

Heart of japan The aim of the JCSB Essay Competition is to promote awareness and understanding of Japan in the United States and to help young Americans broaden their international horizons. Contestants should write, in English, one or more aspects of Japan including art, culture, tradition, values, philosophy, history, society, politics, business, and technology in relation to their personal views, experiences, and/or future goals. (Contestants do not need to have any experience in visiting Japan or studying Japanese.) 

13th Competition (2017-2018) 

Winners

13th group photo

More photos

High School Division Best Essay Award

   1st Place Best Essay Award and Consul General of Japan Special Award

      “Hatsukoi” by Liz Lee (Stuyvesant High School)                                                    

    2nd Place Best Essay Award

       “Silence: The Art of Communication” by Ogochukwu Chukwuma (Valley Stream Central High School)

   3rd Place Best Essay Award

       “The Unrevealed Story of Hiroshima” by Mia Glass (Ranney School)

College Division Best Essay Award

      None

Uchida Memorial Award

    “The Secret of the Sakura” by Alaha Nasari (Hicksville High School)                      

Special Award

    “Japan the Beautiful” by Yee Aung (Ward Melville High School)

    “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon” by Ayla Karakas (Stony Brook University)

    “Pink Wings Over Rice Paddies” by Hannah Mirando (East Hampton High School)

(Alphabetically ordered by the author’s family name)

Finalists

Janice Im (Adelphi University)

ZeJun Li (Staten Island Technical High School)

Amy Liu (Manhasset High School)

Ella Paritsky (Bard High School Early College Manhattan)

Emily Tan (Townsend Harris High School) 

(Alphabetically ordered by the author’s family name)

Semifinalists

Ben Amsterdam (Mepham HS)

Camilla Bianchi (Bard High School Early College)

Lamia Bushra (Stuyvesant High School)

Alison Chan (Stony Brook University)

Ethan Chuang (Stuyvesant High School)

Katelyn Contreras (Central High School)

Grace Cuenca (Stuyvesant High School)

William Das Hunter (College High School)

Caryl Anne Francia (Francis Lewis High School)

Vincent Gerardi (American Sign Language High School)

Irene Lam Stuyvesant High School

Jiyoon Lee (University of Pennsylvania)

Darren Liang (Stuyvesant High School)

Nathan Moelis (Lynbrook senior high school)

Daniel Mori (High School of American Studies)

Max Robins (Huntington High School)

Stina Trollbäck (Fiorello H LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts)

Milton Willacey (Valley Stream Central)

Brianna Williams (Valley Stream Central High School)

Christina Woodard (Lynbrook High School)

Rachel Zheng (Townsend Harris High School)

 (Alphabetically ordered by the author’s family name)

Selected Essays

“Hatsukoi” by Liz Lee (Stuyvesant High School)

| I |

If you ask me if I believe in love, I’ll show you the lines of my palms and tell you to press your finger down my lifeline until you feel the bumpiness of a bike-ride across the train-tracks at Sangubashi. I’ll take your hand and place it against my slow, beating heart, until you understand that that’s not the heart of a girl, but of a thousand feverish lives coming to a standstill while practicing zazen.

The freckles dotted across my face are not mutations. The love you wonder about is not a person. It is Summer in Tokyo, in Hokkaido, in Chiba. It’s a bustling salaryman crossing a green-light at Shinjuku and a woman at a shrine, bowing her head in prayer. It’s a cicada opening its wings for the first time in 17 years, stretching its legs and unfolding its antennae. It’s an empty shell left behind on an opened window ledge, rustling in the humid breeze. I promise you, if you close your eyes and put your ear close to my heart, you’ll hear it: an orchestrated chaos. You’ll hear Summer overlap an incessant chattering, and explode into a colorful brilliance. You’ll hear taiko drums. You’ll hear laughter. If you breathe deeply, you’ll taste it, too - fresh, cold suika in the chubby hands of an eager child.

| II |

New York is always bustling. When I go to school in the morning, the trains are often dirty and delayed. People laugh loudly, eat $1 pizzas, and put their bags next to them. Snack-wrappers, crushed soda cans, and rats litter the crumbling platforms. When I step out into the light, I’m greeted by loud honking at a traffic jam. I hear pattering footsteps, muted conversations, and angry drivers. I can’t stop moving, not even for a second, or I’ll be left behind in the city’s current. New York is full of vibrations. It follows a million different rhythms at once, as a crashing cacophony of sounds and lives. At times, New York is beautiful. It’s a vibrant place, where people learn to be intimate as strangers. But, it has been my home for 17 years, and still I feel misplaced. I do not belong here.

            Instead, while walking to school, I fall into pockets of tranquility, where I return to someplace that feels more like home to me. I start to hear the ceaseless cicadas, and feel the rich earth of the Fushimi-Inari Mountain under my feet. I’m overlooking a glittering metropolitan from the top of a mountain. I’m marveling at the gentle sunsets, the glorious splashes of color dolloped across the sky. I’m back home, somewhere 6000 miles away.

As I pass by the garbage-ridden streets of Times Square, I imagine I’m holding candy-wrappers in my clammy hands as I cross curb after curb of Shinjuku’s spotless streets with no garbage can in sight. When the cashier from the bodega throws my change onto the table, I remember how deeply embedded the smallest nuances of culture are in Japan - how differently the woman with the warm smile at the conbini had returned the change, with both hands, on a small tray.

In Japan, the trains always come on time. When I fish around for money to buy a sandwich, I’m fumbling in my coin purse to purchase train-tickets from Yoyogi to Akihabara. I’m stumbling as I apologize to people I’ve held up while accidentally standing on the right side of the escalators, and struggling to keep to the left. This is where I face challenges of assimilation and culture shock, but this is also where I learn to be flexible, understanding, and appreciative of the cultural differences, so that I can carry these experiences with me wherever I go.

Being in Japan forced out of my comfort zone. It taught me that the rest of the world is bigger than I could ever know, and reading about them in textbooks just isn’t enough. I need to be submerged in the environment so I can grab onto these vivacious memories, and hold them close to my heart.

After all, the lines of my palms still read like Tokyo’s roadmaps. My steady heartbeat is still aligned with the rest of the city’s complexities. And if you ask me if I believe in love, I will still tell you that I lost my heart to the culture of Japan, that my heart is hidden in the lees of Japan’s mountains, and tucked into the corners of its thick forests.

“Silence: The Art of Communication” by Ogochukwu Chukwuma (Valley Stream Central High School)        

Never receive or give anything with your left hand.

Lower your eyes when speaking with an elder.

When being offered food on a plate, support the plate before accepting the food.

Never raise your voice when engaged in an argument.

Don’t verbally challenge an elder, obey and settle the issue at a later time.

As a sign of respect, bow before speaking when meeting an elder.

Growing up in a traditional Onitsha – Nigerian household, these are just a few of the unspoken rules that play out in my everyday life. I remember in elementary school, I was so afraid of getting in trouble. I tried my best to avoid confrontation with teachers because I could never hold eye contact. They would always say, “Look at me in the eyes when I’m speaking to you!” and I would find myself at crossroads. How was I supposed to look my teacher, my elder/respected figure in the eye when I was raised to lower my eyes?

            Misunderstandings, such as the ones above are the result of different cultural norms. It is often said that the best way to truly understand a culture is to understand the language and practices associated with it. In many cases, language is even considered the verbal expression of culture. However, even more important than verbal expressions, are the nonverbal ways we are able to express ourselves.

            “ Ichi ieba ju wo shiru” is the Japanese phrase that says “Hear one, understand ten” This best explains the Japanese approach to communication. The idea is that there is a certain level of shared knowledge between two people that enables them to speak laconically while conveying large volumes of information. This type of communication relies heavily on nonverbal cues such as gestures, intonations, and facial expressions that are universally accepted in that particular culture. In many ways this parallels the Nigerian approach to language. At home, I speak a language of idioms. The Igbo language is one in which direct translations will often leave the listener confused. It requires a level of familiarity that can only come with an understanding of cultural references and norms.

            Both these cultures can be classified as “High-Context” since they rely heavily on nonverbal communication, using elements such as the strength of relationships, strict social hierarchies and deep cultural knowledge to convey meaning. In many cases, what is heard is only the tip of the iceberg. The delivery, intonation, and facial expressions give clue to the true meaning behind the words.

            The Japanese value the needs of the group above the individual’s, and they place strong emphasis on social harmony. As a result, most interactions are defined by a certain degree of vagueness and ambiguity. The best way to explain this is through examples. In Japanese culture, apparent displays of negative emotions are often considered a burden to others. Therefore, smiling has a wide range of meanings including the expressions of happiness, and the attempt to mask feelings of anger, displeasure or grief.  Another example in Japanese culture (and Nigerian culture as seen above) is avoiding prolonged eye contact as a sign of respect and privacy.

            It has been said that over ninety percent of all human interaction is nonverbal. Therefore, many cultures have been seen to rely on nonverbal cues to indicate meanings especially since there can be many subtle inferences behind words. So I’d say it is safe to say, the common phrase, “actions speak louder than words” in many cases prove itself valid.

Works Cited

NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION IN JAPANESE BUSINESS. (n.d.). Retrieved January 02, 2018, from http://japanintercultural.com/en/news/default.aspx?newsID=256

Posted April 10, 2017 by Rebecca Bernstein/ Business. (2017, October 27). Nonverbal Communication in Japan | Point Park University. Retrieved January 03, 2018, from http://online.pointpark.edu/business/nonverbal-communication-japan/

Posted March 28, 2017 by Rebecca Bernstein/ Business. (2017, March 29). 7 Cultural Differences in Nonverbal Communication. Retrieved January 02, 2018, from http://online.pointpark.edu/business/cultural-differences-in-nonverbal-communication/

© JCSB 2018

“The Unrevealed Story of Hiroshima” by Mia Glass (Ranney School)

It is the morning of August 6th, 1945. Bodies are burning everywhere. People’s skin disintegrates from the harsh rays as they are simultaneously pierced by shards of glass and metal that fall from the smoke filled sky. Townspeople stare helplessly at their crumbling houses and their children who are being incinerated almost instantly. Death is ubiquitous and there is no time or energy to save strangers. Greasy kuroi ame (black rain) begins to drop from the sky, staining people’s clothes and skin. Many people who weren’t scorched directly would start to lose their hair, then die in the following weeks. The Hibakusha, the people who managed to survive this horrific tragedy, still experience side effects to this day.

This is the story of the genbaku, or the atomic bomb, that I learned about in my Saturday Japanese school classes and the one that I saw with my own tear filled eyes when I visited Hiroshima last summer. At the Peace Memorial Museum, I saw countless pictures showing imprints of people’s shadows that were left on walls and steps, manifesting the immense capacity and heat of the explosion. Seared and ripped pieces of clothing were on display everywhere. The story that impacted me most was about a man named Tsutomu Nakazawa. He was lucky enough to get to a hospital right away, where he underwent several surgeries. Unfortunately, however, not all of the glass could be removed from his body, and he says that whenever he feels sharp pains now, he knows that some shards still remain. For Tsutomu, the genbaku is not only an incident in the past, but a harsh reality that he must face both physically and mentally today.

None of this information was taught to me in my American history class last year. Even in an advanced placement curriculum, I only learned about the devastations of Pearl Harbor and how the bomb ended the war, saving many lives. Executive Order 9066, which forced nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps, was represented by a mere few sentences in my history textbook. The aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its effects on the Japanese were simply not discussed. Although the city of Hiroshima is beautiful now, its people had to gradually rebuild their lives from absolutely nothing. As I walked by the genbaku dome, the stark contrast between the ruins and the rest of the city became apparent to me. This structure is the only thing left standing that shows the true destruction of the atomic bomb, yet the average American high schooler does not learn about it.

Being half Japanese and half American, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to experience both sides of World War II. The museum that I visited in Hiroshima in no way vilifies America, but solely calls for heiwa (peace) and the elimination of nuclear weapons. Americans do not have to agree with Japan’s desire to abolish these armaments, but it is important to study discrete perspectives to fully understand the complexity of history. Teachers and historians should not obscure past events, because learning about distinct viewpoints and even biases is crucial to develop a better appreciation for others’ opinions and cultures. This facilitates communication with people from diverse ethnic and social groups, which is more important than ever in today’s world. I believe my upbringing has allowed me to become more open-minded and taught me to question one-sided accounts. There are likely countless versions of world history, and even present-day conflicts, that have remained unheard of by high school students. I will endeavor to go beyond my American textbooks and news sources in order to teach myself and others to learn about the unrevealed aspects of the world.

When I was in Hiroshima, tsuru (cranes) made out of colorful origami decorated the town in memory of a girl who died from leukemia due to the bomb’s radiation. Being surrounded by so many symbols of hope and peace, each one handmade by people from all around the world, gave me faith in humanity. This sense of moving on without forgetting is truly what makes Japan so special. I hope that everyone, regardless of their origins, will learn to acknowledge different viewpoints to find their own tsuru and heiwa in the world.

© JCSB 2018

“The Secret of the Sakura” by Alaha Nasari (Hicksville High School)

Soft petals floated through the air, glistening as a ray of sunlight illuminated their descent. A gentle wind was blowing, prompting a handful of the paper-thin flowers to flutter past my face as they fell to the ground. It was a tradition for my grandmother and I to attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival that took place yearly at Washington D.C. In her earlier years, my grandmother had been quite the traveler, and had explored countries all over the world. She spoke most fondly of Japan, and expressed a passionate love for the hanami “flower-viewing” celebration, as she had once directly experienced it in the gardens of Kyoto.

            We made our way past the booths, politely greeting the shopkeepers in Japanese, “Ohayō gozaimasu, good morning.” I was completely foreign to the Japanese language but my grandmother’s knowledge of language was incredibly diverse. We settled down by the riverbank, enjoying the peaceful shade of the trees and our view of the growing celebratory crowds. My grandmother reached into her handbag, and pulled out a small, round object. It took me a moment to realize it was a marble. She turned towards me and smiled. “I want you to have this. I’ve had it with me ever since I traveled to Japan.” Flawless strokes of pink had been painted to form a sakura flower on the polished surface of the marble. “Remember, there is more to the sakura than meets the eye.”

***

            It has now been two years since the death of my grandmother. As with the death of any loved one, it was difficult to accept that someone I had admired and cherished so deeply would no longer be there. The year she passed away was the first year I did not attend the annual cherry blossom festival. Thinking of my grandmother reminds me of that day, where it was only the two of us, sitting under the sakura trees. I can remember her words clearly, and it was her passion for the Japanese philosophy behind the sakura that has inspired my similar curiosity for the flower’s hidden spiritual message.

            The sakura tree is truly a euphoric sight to behold, especially when it is in riotous bloom. In Japan, however, the cherry blossom is more than just a lovely flowering tree. In their country, the cherry blossom reminds its audience that life is short lived and delicate, just like the flower that falls from the tree after only a few days. When the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short time in brilliant force, they serve as a visual reminder of how valued and unpredictable life is. The sakura is respected around the world not only for its overpowering beauty, but for its timeless expression of life, death, and rebirth. 

            Wonder and curiosity chase the future. Reflection and contemplation encompass the past. The present, however, is often lost on us. Why do we not treasure our time on earth with eagerness and pleasure? At times, we may fail to appreciate the beauty of life when we know it can end any moment. We must pay attention to the little things going on around us. Our family, friends, a stranger’s smile, a child’s laugh, the warmth of sunshine, or even the scent of the sakura blossoming - I have learned to revel on the small details of life, allowing me to truly understand the meaning behind my grandmother’s words. During a time of despair and loss, I looked to the appearance of these white and pink blossoms to simply remind me that I should live in the moment and value the presence of those around me.

***

            The streets of Washington D.C had been transformed into a vibrant Japanese neighborhood, featuring authentic street food, craft vendors, art displays, and entertainers preparing for the highly anticipated hanami. I walked down the path slowly, under branch after branch, each thick with fluffy white, pink, and magenta blooms. I look beside me, imagining my grandmother, smiling pleasantly as she strolled underneath the emerging blossoms. Everywhere I looked, I could hear the sounds of laughter, as families and friends gathered in large groups under the feathery canopies of soft pink. As we come together to marvel at the beauty of the spectacle before us, the sakura flowers seem to give us a reason to be excited about life again. More importantly, it reminds us that despite what we may have lost in the past, life goes on and it can still be beautiful.       

© JCSB 2018

“Japan the Beautiful” by Yee Aung (Ward Melville High School)

As someone who grew up on Long Island to an immigrant family from Asia, Japan was as foreign of a country as the one my parents once called home. My parents, after living several years in Japan, opened a Japanese restaurant in East Setauket. From the phrases, irasshaimase to

arigatou gozaimasu, we greeted our guests and the food from tonkostu ramen to tonkatsu, I began to be fed with a desire to learn more of Japan. Though I was working daily in a Japanese restaurant, I realized the irony of a Japanese restaurant in suburbia run by non-Japanese. At best, it was a simulation of what a restaurant in Japan would see, hear and taste like. How could I come to familiarize myself with the island nation that my parents reminisced about, nearly 7000 miles away?

Japan’s reach had in my life longer than I had realized. The Pokemon that I played with as a child, even the cars that my parents drove all came from Japan. Hasn’t an average American already been exposed to Japanese culture already? I concluded that absorbing pop culture alone was incomplete. It was like defining American culture through Tom and Jerry or football.

In my pursuit of a “true” understanding of Japan, I tried immersing myself through countless books, Internet articles and even personal accounts from my parents. Yet reading about the post-war period, the boom of the 1980’s and the bust of the 1990’s, and understanding the various traditions still carried out today seemed out of place and out of context. I attempted to create a fictional world in my imagination. Though it was a beautiful image, I wished for it to complete. It was like me uttering onegaishimasu, or please, in a language I did not fully understand.

By coincidence, around the same time my mother showed me a 1960s Japanese film, An Autumn Afternoon, by Ozu Yasujiro. "In the end we spend our lives alone," an old man states to his childhood friends over countless cups of sake. My mother’s eyes begin to tear up. One of his friends, Hirayama, abruptly leaves, conflicted after having recently wedded away his own daughter. Alone, Hirayama drunkenly makes his way back to his emptier abode. By now my mother cannot control her emotions and cries a healthy sob. Upon watching this scene that had so visibly shook my mother, I found myself contemplating on how it related to our lives.

My mother later explained that this part of the film, of which she had already viewed several times, had not impacted her deeply until now. “As you watch it again and again, the meaning changes,” my mother explained in Burmese. To that effect, I took it upon myself to watch it once more. The perspective of the camera is at eye level of a person seated on an tatami mat. Each scene was muted, whereas lesser directors would’ve took advantage of a melodramatic approach. The film was ripe with the concept of mono no aware, the transient sadness of things, in Ozu’s conveyances of everyday life.

Though the film I watched and began to love was in Japanese, the questions that the characters faced and the emotions they grappled with were not uniquely Japanese but rather, distinctly human. It became apparent that film was as encyclopedic of a medium, complete with sight and sound it seemed to have the potential to fully capture humanity. But I asked myself what this meant to me for Japan.

I had believed myself to be scientifically minded and had summarily taken a systematic approach to understanding Japan. By the end, I was left with only some factual knowledge about Japan and the small glimpse of it from a film produced in the 1960s. Yet, it felt that I was left with so much more than that. It was only after the film’s many meanings began to unravel to me, I realized then that my initial quest to “understand Japan” was impossible from the beginning. Japan as a complete, singular thing was a tenuous construct with Japan, in reality, having near-infinite topics attached to its name.

Certainly, the film owed much to the setting and the influences to Ozu’s life to Japanese culture, but, as I would later discover, films as replete with human emotion and life have been made in the world’s other corners. In my quest to understand Japan, I was introduced to a new world of film and art. I wish to continue this journey to grasp the many Japans captured in film and art in college and beyond. The beauty I initially saw in Japan will remain and it is what led me to realize my dreams. 

© JCSB 2018

 “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon” by Ayla Karakas (Stony Brook University)

                   In spring, the petals of a cherry blossom tree dance in the air and fall slowly to the ground like fluffy, pastel pink snowflakes. Staring at the scene, I can’t help but be taken aback by the breathtaking softness of the sight. For a moment, I close my eyes—for if I open them again, it will be just like seeing it all for the first time.

Inhaling deeply, I hear the morning birds playing in their melodies around me.  Even if I cover my ears, I cannot escape the beauty this time. A cool breeze swiftly caresses my arm, as if to comfort me in a dark time.

 Indeed it is dark: suddenly, I am alone at night, reflecting on my mistake, and gazing at the moon reflecting off the sea instead of at the rosy branches bending beneath tiny bird feet.

All these words to convey in English what can be expressed in just four Japanese kanji characters: 花鳥風月 ( kachoufuugetsu).  While this phrase literally means “flower, bird, wind, moon,” it is a figurative proverb highlighting the beauties of nature. The implication in this proverb is that, in experiencing nature’s beauty, we learn about ourselves—an idea I can’t reject. Whenever I feel truly lost, I take to the trail in the woods. Amidst my thoughts while wandering in between marked trees and old rocks, I often find my way back to myself. The focus on nature’s beauty and its juxtaposition across all things keeps drawing me back to traditional Japanese art and literature, time and time again. I am addicted to the unique perspective behind Japanese depictions and metaphors inspired by the natural world—their gentle attempt to say the unsayable.

Kachoufuugetsu–an entire landscape painted in a mere five syllables, without getting into the particulars of syllable structure. The brevity of the phrase itself seems to be honoring the transience of nature and its beauty—a concept exemplified in Japanese haiku poems, and in the succinctness of Zen koans (which, like nature, can also help us reveal truth about ourselves). In fact, kachoufuugetsu is only one of many such brief Japanese sayings and untranslatable words.

In studying linguistics, I’m often looking at words from all sorts of languages, and their meanings—every language has words that cannot be exactly translated to your native tongue. Still, my favorite word of all is a Japanese one: 木漏れ日 ( komorebi). This word roughly translates to, “sunshine filtering through leaves of a tree.” In English, I must concoct some complex phrase to describe this, ranging from the one I just used for the translation, to perhaps something more strange, like, “crepuscular rays radiating through tree leaves.” In English, this beautiful concept rapidly degenerates into a clunky miniature poem—and the Japanese language has an elegant word to describe this single experience of our natural world. Words like this enamor me of the Japanese language, and the culture that developed alongside it.

            There is a single word representing the concept that took me around 600 words to get across: 幽玄 ( yuugen) – a word with many translations, depending on context; used to describe the subtle and “profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… Yūgen suggests that beyond what can be said but is not an allusion to another world. It is about this world, this experience.”

When the sun sets, and drenches the sky in watery reds and blues, never to be seen blended in the same exact way again—words are at once too much, and still not enough.

Works Cited:

(Ortolani, 325). Ortolani, Benito. The Japanese Theatre. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1995

© JCSB 2018

  “Pink Wings Over Rice Paddies” by Hannah Mirando (East Hampton High School)

I lift my binoculars to my face one last time, scanning the lush, green rice paddy. The only things that appear in my field of view are the soft stalks of rice plants blowing in the breeze. We pile back into the car, discouraged. Just as we are pulling away and my father has offered a short, “Well, we tried”, two rosy pink birds fly across the paddy. We shout in excitement and a bit of relief. The slender, almost prehistoric looking birds come into sight briefly before vanishing over the horizon. In just a few seconds, they are gone.

            The elusive bird my family and I were seeking that day is known as the Japanese Crested Ibis, also called the Toki. We were vacationing on Sado Island, Japan. It is one of the last places where you can find Japanese Crested Ibises living in the wild. For hundreds of years, the island’s economy has been reliant on fishing and agriculture. Around 1900, Ibis populations began to drop. This was due to a number of reasons including increased pesticide use in rice paddies, which all but eliminated their food source of frogs and insects. Alarmed by the loss of this iconic Japanese bird, a communal effort was made to save it from extinction. Biologists developed a plan in which Ibises from China were bred to diversify the gene pool and pesticide use was banned. Only organic farming methods were allowed on the island. The organic Sado rice increased in value for the farmers, while keeping the environment more in balance. As a result of their efforts, the Japanese Crested Ibis is on its way to reestablishing a wild population, ecotourism has helped the island’s economy, and the habitat is healthier. Their success demonstrates that it is possible for people to make a difference.

            In today’s society, we have lost touch with nature. It is for this reason that I find the recovery of the Japanese Crested Ibis so remarkable. With a few adjustments, the community was able to coexist peacefully with their environment. Japan has a special appreciation and sense of respect for mother earth. The notion that people are insignificant in the great expanse of life is intertwined in their culture. Ancient traditions that celebrate seasonality and powerful natural forces exemplify how deep these concepts are rooted in Japanese society. The country maintains an important relationship with the earth, an idea that is diminishing in other parts of the world.

            I was born with this connection and love of nature. It could simply be a result of the continuous exposure I had to the outdoors as a child. Or possibly because within most people there remains an underlying love for mother earth, a love that originated eons ago, when our reliance on her was much stronger. When the two Japanese Crested Ibis entered my vision that day, it was as if the connection had somehow become tangible. I realized that the people of Sado not only shared my feelings, but cared enough to save the heartbeat of the island. That moment was one of the first times that I felt a sense of purpose and direction in what I wanted to do with my future. There arose in me a mix of desires: to learn as much as I can about this awe-inspiring earth, to preserve whatever parts of it that is possible and most of all, share the complex beauty of our world with others. I have always known that my life would somehow be built around my passion for the outdoors, but only then did my inspiration materialize into a solid force.

            I am excited about the future and what it holds for me. I have carved out a path for myself that is founded on what I love, and I believe this will lead me to happiness. Ultimately, I will always harbor that passion for nature in my heart. However, I now feel another connection. This one links me to the people of Japan, the lush fields of Sado, and the moment when pinks wings flew into my life.

  © JCSB 2018

 

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  Sponsor: Canon U.S.A.     

Supporters Consulate General of Japan in New York
JCSB Board Member in Charge: Yoko Ojima  
Canon U.S.A. Representatives in Charge: Dawn Shields
Organizing Chair:  Eriko Sato
Committee Members:  Roxanne Brockner, Carolyn Brooks, Peg Christoff, Marlene Dubois, Makiko Fukaya, Akie Naito Gearns, MaryAnn Hannon,  Tiara Hess, Patricia Marinaccio, Eva Nagase, Francesca Nakagawa, Chikako Nakamura, Atsuko Oyama, Mitsuko Post, Gerard Senese, and H. Mae Sprouse  

Past Award Winning Essays:

12th Competition; 11th Competition; First ten competitions


flower"Heart of Japan”    was published in 2016. It is   a collection of 70 essays selected from 1,992 essays submitted through 169 local colleges and high schools during the first ten annual essay competitions. This essay competition was launched in 2005 with generous donation from Canon USA.  The aim of this program is to encourage young Americans to think outside the box and find a connection to Japan, a culturally very distinct country. They often reflect on their personal experiences and their future goals and come up with unique and original thoughts, some of which make us in tears and fill us with positive spirit. The essays are screened by the Japan Center’s committee members and a panel of judges that consist of Stony Brook University’s faculty members. The winners are formally recognized at the award ceremony that takes place at the Wang Center in each spring and the top winners have been invited to the Japanese Ambassador’s residence for a formal luncheon with the ambassador, which has been creating once-in-lifetime memories for young writers.

Heart of Japan

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