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JASH Japan Wizards Competition Sends 2020-2022 Winning Teams to Japan in 2023

After a prolonged period of travel restrictions due to the pandemic, the winning teams of the 2020-2022 Japan Wizards Competitions finally had the opportunity to travel to Japan this past year. These students had been eagerly awaiting the chance to experience the rich culture, vibrant traditions, and natural landscapes of Japan. Their memorable, long-awaited adventures exploring Japan’s exciting cities and peaceful countryside impacted their lives in more ways than one. Click on the school below to read about their travels.

Hanalani 2021 team having fun in Tokyo

Hanalani School 2020 Level B and 2021 Level A teams traveled together from June 5-17, 2023. Only one member from their 2020 team was able to travel on their award trip, due to their busy college schedules. For nearly two weeks, the teams traveled from Kanto to Kansai with stops in Tokyo, Nagano, Ishikawa, Toyama, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. First in Tokyo, they visited Shinjuku, Mitaka, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ginza, and Asakusa. Next, they made their way to Kiso Fukushima in Nagano Prefecture and experienced homestays, interacted with local high school students, and explored the historic town. Then, they traveled to Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, where they ate delicious seafood at Omicho Market and viewed some interesting artworks at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. From there, they left for Gokayama in Toyama Prefecture to tour the historical village of gassho-style houses. The team then traveled down to Kansai, where they stayed at a traditional ryokan in Kyoto. While there, they took a day trip to Nara to see the deers, then to Osaka for okonomiyaki. The team experienced both city and countryside lifestyles in Japan. Student Ciara Oka commented on their trip, “...throughout the futuristic architecture and busy cities, I found temples and shrines, traditional wear, and festivals celebrating ancient traditions. That allowed me to realize how we balance preservation and progress in Hawaii and how it can also contribute to other countries’ unique identities and traditions.”

HBA 2021 team viewing the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo

Hawaii Baptist Academy 2021 Level B team traveled from July 11-19, 2023. The team spent their week-long trip mainly in Tokyo and Nikko. On their first day, they had a fun time at Tokyo DisneySea. Then, they went on to explore various areas in Tokyo, including Asakusa, Ginza, Harajuku, Shibuya, and Odaiba. Some highlights include walking through Sensoji Temple while wearing yukata and trying all kinds of food at Tsukiji Market. The team then took a two hour train ride up to Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. There, they were able to explore Japan’s natural scenery through visiting Nikko Toshogu, relaxing at an onsen, and riding on the Lake Chuzenji Sightseeing Boat. They also had the chance to see some monkeys at Osaru no Yama. On their last day, they returned to Tokyo and had some time to visit Tokyo Skytree. Student Sarah Ushigome reflected on how the trip exposed her to more of her heritage, “As I was experiencing this trip, I felt more connected to Japan because I fell in love with experiencing the culture and learning about Japan’s history. Now that I have thought about my future, I want to be a bridge that can help Hawaii people and Japanese people connect.”

HBA 2022 team visiting Temple University

Hawaii Baptist Academy 2022 Level A team traveled from June 9-17, 2023, to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Tokyo. After landing in Kansai, the team headed straight to Kyoto, where they enjoyed the views at Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkakuji, and Nishiki Market. Then, they went to Osaka to shop and try their hands at making fake food samples. They also stopped by Hiroshima to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum, which left a lasting impression. From there, they hopped on a shinkansen up to Tokyo. The team had a few days to explore many areas of the city, including Shibuya, Harajuku, Tsukiji, Odaiba, and Asakusa. They particularly enjoyed the view from Tokyo Skytree, as they could see all of Tokyo from the top. They also had the opportunity to have an educational visit at JASH partner organization, Temple University, and learned more about their programs and campus. Student Jadynn Wong commented on the visit, “The thing I’m most grateful for is going to Temple University. Thanks to that visit, I’m now considering studying in Japan and applying to Temple.”

Hilo team visiting Kyoto Tachibana Junior and Senior High School

Hilo High School 2020 Level B team, recipient of the Anonymous Donor Award, traveled to the Kansai region of Japan from June 11-17, 2023. First, they headed to Kyoto to see the endless torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha and view the architectural mastery at Byodo-in Temple. A few of the team members were able to compare and contrast this Byodo-in Temple in Uji to the replica in Kaneohe. Student Wyatt Lorenzo commented, “Although four thousand miles apart, it drove me to realize that Hawaii’s connection with Japan is ever-present.” Then, they took a day trip to Hyogo to see the sights of Himeji Castle and Kobe Harborland. The next day, they visited Kyoto Tachibana Junior and Senior High School, where they conversed with students on various topics, including their views on Hawaii and the U.S. Student Lauren Spencer reflected on their exchange, “Our visit to Kyoto Tachibana was one of the most memorable moments of the trip for me, and it made me not only reflect on the connection between Japan and the United States, but on how that connection manifests itself in the citizens of both nations.” The team spent the rest of their time exploring Osaka, with shopping in Umeda and delicious seafood at Kuromon Market.

Campbell team enjoying a night out at Dotonbori

James Campbell High School 2021 Level B team traveled from June 22-27, 2023 to the Kansai region of Japan. They started off their trip in Osaka, exploring the busy streets of Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi. The next day, they headed to Nara and immediately noticed the difference from being in a big city. The team enjoyed taking their time absorbing the city’s rich history in a calm and quiet environment. They viewed historical artifacts and artwork at Kofukuji National Treasure Hall, saw many deer at Nara Park, and viewed the Daibutsu at Todaiji Temple. Then, they headed to the mountains to get a glimpse of the beautiful hydrangeas at Yatadera Hydrangea Gardens. The last destination to explore was Kyoto. The team tried their hands at making their own chopsticks at Marumasu Nishimuraya, then proceeded to learn more about Japan’s history at Nijo Castle. On their last full day, they continued to visit historical sites including Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, and Kiyomizu-dera. Student Gil Gajardo commented on their trip, “The entire experience was life changing; I had seen, done and eaten so many new things that I will always remember throughout my life.”

Kapolei 2021 team member with a friend riding a train

Kapolei High School 2021 Level A team, recipient of the Dr. Leineweber Award, traveled from June 18-28, 2023. Due to their busy college schedules, only one member could attend their award trip. He traveled alongside their 2023 Level B team, recipient of the Anonymous Donor Award. They spent most of their time around Tokyo and Yokohama. In Tokyo, they explored Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ueno, Akihabara, and Asakusa. They visited various landmarks, including the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, and Ghibli Museum. In Yokohama, they tried some dim sum in Chinatown and picked strawberries at Yokohama Strawberry Park. The teams went on to have their educational visit at Temple University, where they toured the campus and met students from Hawaii currently studying there. After an insightful experience, they headed to Ikejiri Inari Shrine to participate in Japanese cultural activities, which included wearing yukata and participating in a tea ceremony. They continued on to visit teamLab Planets and Diver City Mall in Odaiba. Before returning home, they indulged in a delicious meal at a kaiseki restaurant. Student Gerric Abe reflected on his trip, “From these various experiences over the course of my trip, I’ve realized how much Japan values respect. From shopping experiences to riding the subway, to being hosted by others, respect is found everywhere and is ingrained in Japanese culture.”

King Kekaulike teams in yukata at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

King Kekaulike High School 2020, 2021 (Anonymous Donor Award), and 2022 Level B teams all traveled together from June 19-30, 2023 to Tokyo, Kurashiki, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka. After landing in Tokyo, the teams explored Ueno, Asakusa, Akihabara, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Odaiba. As this was their first time in Japan, the students were surprised by the fast-paced and convenient lifestyle of Tokyo. Student Sean McCormick commented, “Upon arriving in Tokyo, the first thing I noticed was how developed everything was.” The teams then traveled to Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture. There, they visited Bikan Historical Quarters where they learned about rickshaws and traditional style buildings. The teams continued on to Hiroshima and were deeply affected by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Student Radharani Singh commented, “Although the stain in history will never be wiped away, the results of both countries striving to restore their connection can be witnessed through many gestures.” They also stayed at a traditional Japanese ryokan on Miyajima Island. From there, they headed to Kyoto and enjoyed visiting the International Manga Museum, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kiyomizu-dera, Gion district, and Arashiayama. Student Taite Taniguchi commented on wearing yukata, “This was the first time I got to wear one and let’s just say they were all beautiful and unique in their own way…Being able to try on these traditional pieces of clothing got me thinking more about Hawaii and how we are connected to Japan.” The teams finished their trip in Osaka with visits to Osaka Castle, Kaiyukan Aquarium, Dotonbori shopping street, and a thrilling day at Universal Studios Japan.

King Kekaulike team at Meiji Shrine in Harajuku

King Kekaulike High School 2022 Level A team, recipient of the Dr. Leineweber Award was the first and only group to travel to Japan in the spring from March 8-18, 2023. They had a busy 10 days traveling to Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. After landing in Tokyo, they explored Ueno, Asakusa, Odaiba, Harajuku, and Shibuya. They made a brief stop in Nagoya to learn about the famous Tokugawa clan before reaching Fukuoka. A major highlight of the trip was their spontaneous bike riding at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, where they made lasting memories. The next day, they paid a visit to the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka, where they had the chance to talk with some government officials regarding ties between Japan and the U.S. Then, they continued on to Hiroshima and had an eye opening experience at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. The team spent their last few days in Kansai, with cultural experiences in Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. Student Keona Long reflected on her first time traveling outside North America, “I always thought that everyone all around the world did things the same way as we do in America. Now that I have broken out of that bubble, I feel the need to travel all around the world to experience new things.”

Konawaena team at Ghibli Park in Aichi

Konawaena High School 2020 Level A team traveled from June 6-14, 2023, to Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka and Nagoya. After landing in Tokyo, they met up with their third team member who is currently studying in Japan and explored some spots in Kanagawa, including Enoshima, Kamakura, and Yokohama’s Chinatown and Ramen Museum. From there, they caught a shinkansen to Osaka where they enjoyed delicious street food at Dotonbori, saw the beautiful sights of Osaka Castle, and had fun at Universal Studios Japan. Then, they went to Nagoya and took plenty of photos with their favorite Ghibli characters at the Ghibli Park. The team headed back to Tokyo and enjoyed a few art exhibits, including the Art Aquarium in Ginza and the teamLab Planets in Odaiba. In Ginza, the team met with the chairman of Mi Cafeto, Mr. José Kawashima. There, they were able to try his company’s take on the Greenwell Farms Kona coffee. Since the team members used to work at Greenwell Farms, it felt extra special knowing that the local coffee made its way to Japan. Student Lacey Young commented on her experience, “To me, this shows that there are connections to Hawaii in so many different ways. Whether that be from Hawaii-influenced restaurants, relationships with sister schools, or imported coffee, Hawaii and Japan have various ways of influencing one another.”

Mililani 2020 team at Daibutsu in Kamakura

Mililani High School 2020 Level B team, recipient of the Anonymous Donor Award, traveled from June 26-July 5, 2023. Due to their busy college schedules, only two members were able to attend their award trip. They spent most of their time in Tokyo, with day trips to Kamakura, Yokohama, and Kawagoe. While in Tokyo, the team members mentioned how different it felt being in the big city compared to their hometown in Mililani. Student Justin Bundalian commented, “...I personally was able to experience the more urban development of Tokyo, with its sprawling colossal buildings, many winding paths, and the hustle and bustle of many individuals.” They also enjoyed exploring the Japanese countryside, especially in Kamakura and Kawagoe. They were able to view picturesque scenery and feel the rich history in older towns. Student Mia Murasaki noticed how Japan adapts to cultural influences and commented, “Growing up in Hawaii’s melting pot, I always found it interesting to pick apart the different components that made up local culture. Doing so in Japan proved to be incredibly fascinating, especially looking at architecture.” This trip was a culturally significant experience for the team as they made many comparisons to their own culture while gaining a better understanding of Japan.

Mililani teams enjoying sushi at a kaitenzushi restaurant

Mililani High School 2021 and 2022 Level A teams traveled together to Japan from June 3-14, 2023. The teams traveled to Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo. After landing in Osaka, they quickly made their way to Hiroshima to tour the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Their visit left a lasting impression as they were given more insight on the effects of the atomic bomb. The teams then visited Mililani High School’s sister school in Japan, Fuchu High School where they interacted with local students and learned about school life in Japan. Student Kamryn Lapinid shared her thoughts after visiting Hiroshima, “Visiting Fuchu High School was a reminder that despite living in different countries, we are all human at the end of the day; we can have the same hobbies, we can share the same interests, and we can all laugh at the same joke.” The teams continued on to Kyoto and Nara, where they explored many historical sites including Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kinkakuji, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Nara Park, and Todaiji Temple. The final stop on their trip was Tokyo, and the teams enjoyed seeing how life was like in the big city. They visited various areas, including Asakusa, Akihabara, Ueno, Harajuku, and Odaiba.

St. Joseph team member with a friend at Kiyomizu-dera

St. Joseph School 2022 Level B team traveled from May 31-June 11, 2023. Due to the team’s busy schedules, only one member was able to travel on their award trip. She was instead accompanied by two other friends from her school. They spent most of their time in Tokyo with a few days in Kansai. After arriving in Tokyo, they visited St. Joseph School’s sister school and experienced living with host families in Saitama. Student Zalia Olivera expressed her thoughts about the homestay, “I saw how different the foods in Japan are from here in Hawaii. The breakfast foods were especially surprising to me. The host family introduced me to natto…” Then, they traveled to Kyoto, Himeji, Nara, and Osaka. Some highlights included Kiyomizu-dera, Himeji Castle, and catching the sunset from Fushimi Inari Taisha. They spent their last few days back in Tokyo in various areas including Mount Takao, Ginza, and Akihabara.

Waiakea team at Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa

Waiakea High School 2022 Level B team, recipient of the Anonymous Donor Award, traveled from June 18-28, 2023, to Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo. While staying in Osaka, they took day trips to Kobe and Nara. In Kobe, they visited Nankinmachi or Kobe Chinatown, where they tried Kobe beef for the first time. They also took a nice stroll at Nunobiki Herb Garden and learned about various seasonal plants. In Nara, they fed some deer and were excited to see the giant Buddha at Todaiji Temple. Next, they spent some time in Kyoto and explored the historic Gion district and beautiful Arashiyama. Student Tia Teramoto commented on public transportation, “While in Japan, something that amazed me that could definitely be applied to Hawaii or even the United States is the rail system as it made it so convenient to travel all over Japan. Instead of just going to Tokyo and Osaka we were able to explore multiple prefectures, even traveling to three in one day.” The team made their way up to Tokyo and explored various areas, including Harajuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, and Akihabara. A highlight of the trip was spending a night at a family friend’s monjayaki restaurant, interacting with the locals.

The long-awaited journeys of the JWC 2020-2022 winning teams to Japan this past year have deepened their understanding and appreciation of Japan and its culture. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene temples of Kyoto, the experiences gained and memories created will forever hold a special place in their hearts. Japan has left a lasting mark on each team member, as they all reflected on how they can strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

JASH would like to thank our overall sponsor, Hawaiian Airlines, for coordinating and donating the winning teams’ air transportation, and our other major supporters – Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation; Friends of Hawaii Charities; Freeman Foundation; Halekulani Corporation; Hawaii Hotel Industry Foundation; International Cultural and Friendship Association; JTB Hawaii; Kosasa Foundation; Shidler College of Business; Takuyo Corporation (dba Lighthouse); The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles; Temple University Japan; International Christian University; Ms. Jean Rolles, and our anonymous donor – for continuing to encourage Hawaii’s high school students to study about Japan, its fascinating culture, and the U.S.-Japan relationship. Because of the generous support of our donors and supporters, these students were able to have life-changing experiences and immeasurable opportunities to learn about the country firsthand.

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