Stuyvesant Triumphs at 2019 Japan Bowl®

Stuyvesant’s three Japan Bowl® team took home two first-place and one second-place prizes from the 27th national Japan Bowl competition in April, besting 63 other teams from the United States and Mexico.

Japan Bowl takes place in Washington, DC each spring, and quizzes teams at three different levels (Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4) in their knowledge of the Japanese language, arts & culture, music, history, geography, modern politics, daily life, and more.

Stuyvesant’s Level 2  and Level 4  teams both placed 1st, while the Level 3 team placed 2nd. This surpassed the already outstanding success from 2018 when the Level 2 and Level 3 teams both placed 2nd, and the Level 4 team placed 3rd.

Stuyvesant's 2019 Japan Bowl teams outside the competition venue.

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Each team consists of two or three members, who cooperate together to learn as much as they can about the different categories covered in the competition. One language question this year asked for the counter for live squid vs. the counter for cooked squid, while another, an especially difficult question, required the Stuyvesant team to name the pieces of Japanese sliding doors.

Other questions related to the name of one of the main awards given for Japanese literature (e.g., the semi-annual Akutagawa Prize), the size of the lower house of the Diet (Japanese legislature), and the Iwakura diplomatic missions of 1871-73 to the United States and Europe.

Stuyvesant has a history of excellence in the competition under the guidance of Japanese Language teacher Chie Helinski going back many years. In the past, various Stuyvesant teams made the top three and never had a year without coming home with a trophy. One year, Stuyvesant swept the whole competition, and there was one team that won every time they participated.

About 10 years ago, the Japanese language program shifted focus from Japan Bowl to “Japandemonium,” an event which took over the school cafeteria for an entire day and mimicked a Japanese undokai (school sports festival). Principal Eric Contreras noticed that in Stuyvesant’s absence, one of its rival high schools was gaining attention and winning top prices at Japan Bowl. He encouraged Helinski-sensei to return to Japan Bowl in 2018, and the team picked up once again with the high standard of excellence that was the legacy from 10 years ago.

2019 Japan Bowl team members

The following students made up Stuyvesant’s 2019 Japan Bowl teams:

  • Level 2: Christin Lin ’21, Tyler Tsang ’21, Dario Cipani ’21;
  • Level 3: Kaitlin Wu ’20, Kerwin Chen ’19, Alisha Wang ’20; and
  • Level 4: Karen Li ’19, Jessica Park ’19, Phoenix Zhang ’19.

Stuyvesant also brought along a student observer to watch the competition. Usually the observer is a student who did not make the team but is interested in being a part of the experience. This year, the observer was Hyun Choi ’19, a good friend of the Level 4 team member who helped with research and served as a manager and team mascot.

The teams put in intense practice, meeting after school to study the topics contestants need to know. Last year, teams started meeting in mid-October, first every other week and then increasing their meetings to once a week in February. The two upper-level teams had the same members as in 2018, so they took initiative and made study guides to share with others, while Ms. Helinski takes care of the kanji compound list. This year she made PowerPoint slides for cultural items such as food and games. Still, the students do the bulk of the work themselves.

Choosing the right students with good dynamics is the hardest task for Chie: “If I want a winning team, I could just pick the top students in the class, but I don’t. The chemistry is important. They have to be able to work together, to cover each other and encourage each other. They have to really be a team. That’s what I look for.”

It worked: team members were highly motivated. As Phoenix Zhang said, “I was supposed to do history. I’m not a history person. It’s always my worst subject. But I started looking at modern history, and the time frame I was supposed to cover, but it was all connected to what my teammates were studying and it made me want to go and learn the materials they were studying.”

The Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association congratulates all members of the Japan Bowl team on their outstanding performances, and wishes the best of luck to the 2020 team!


Costs to Attend

The cost to attend Japan Bowl involves the registration fee (about $1,000 total for the teams and each person going) and the meals at the venue/rooms (about $2,000). The students themselves pay for Amtrak tickets, meals eaten outside the venue, and for ground transportation.

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