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Students Win Free Trip to Japan
Christina Yasutomi

High school juniors Sara Ushigome, top left, Kaitlyn Hasegawa, top right, and Amanda Warren, bottom right, will be traveling to Japan with Japanese language teacher Elena Yoo, bottom left, after winning the Japan Wizards Statewide Academic Team Competition.

Three high school juniors are taking a free trip to Japan after winning the top prize at the Japan Wizards Statewide Academic Team Competition. They are: 

  • Katilyn Hasegawa (team captain); 
  • Sarah Ushigome; 
  • and Amanda Warren.

“We are super excited that we won! I'm really looking forward to going to Japan with some of my best friends, and visiting sites that I learned about for the competition,” said Kaitlyn Hasegawa. 

The competition, now in its 18th year, tests students on their knowledge of various Japanese-related topics, including art, culture, traditions, food, geography, history, sports and language. More than 60 students from 14 high schools participated in this year’s event, which was held virtually due to COVID-19. Elena Yoo, who is the World Languages Department Chair and also teaches Japanese, said she had no plans to send a team to this year’s competition due to the extra demands of online teaching. It was the students who convinced Yoo to allow them to compete. 

“It worked out well because they were close friends so they kept in touch to practice together. They also practiced at every lunch break, after school and on the weekends,” said Yoo. 

To help the girls prepare, Yoo created an entire new set of practice materials, covering a wide range of topics, including environmental issues, the history of Japan during the Edo period and popular anime shows. All were posted to a special Google Classroom so the girls could practice on their own.

“Yoo sensei always encouraged us to get better and provided us with more facts about Japan. We would not have won if it wasn't for her help and guidance. She is the best advisor we could ask for,” said Hasegawa.

Yoo says they hope to travel this winter or next spring as safety measures continue to improve. 

The annual competition is hosted by the Japan-America Society of Hawaii. The last time HBA took first place was in 2018 with Kieran Dela Cruz ‘20, Victoria Nago ‘20  and Lindsay Sasaki ‘20. Prior to that, alumnae Erin Fukushima '09, Stacie Nomura '09 and Jessica Shimada '09 won first place in 2009.