THHS earns top honors at third straight Japan Bowl

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Every Friday afternoon, the Japan Bowl team meets in the library, versing themselves in the Japanese language, leaving Queens to immerse themselves in a culture across the world. It has been the first time that the team has been able to meet in-person since the 2019-2020 season, when seniors and veterans Daniel Song, Betty Guo, and Monica Yang first entered the team as sophomores. To cap off this year and return to in-person studying, the team earned top honors at all three competing levels of the Japan Bowl championship.

Continuing its virtual format for its third straight year, the 30th annual Japan Bowl was held on April 21-22. All attending members of the THHS Japan Bowl Team placed in the top three positions, with the level two team of sophomores Malcolm Mallari, Jackie Chen, and Chloe Samuel Szeto finishing second, the level three team of sophomore Sarah Zhao and juniors Rachel Ly and Elaine Hung finishing third, and the level four team of Daniel, Monica, and Betty finishing second. 

The Japan Bowl is an annual global competition that tests students on their knowledge of “Japanese culture, society, daily life, history, geography, and current events” in a quiz bowl format. Hosted by Japan-America Society of Washington DC (JASWDC), teams can compete from levels two to four, with two having the easiest content and four the most difficult. Students must buzz in over zoom to answer the series of questions given by their host, and each correct answer earns points. To reach the championship, each team had to advance past the preliminary round, which consisted of 75 questions over two days. In the championship round, teams competed to earn the most points from twenty toss-up questions that any player on any team could buzz in to answer, and three individual questions. According to Daniel, the level four winners of the tournament also are invited to visit the imperial palace in Japan and her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, which he joked is an added bonus to joining the team.  

The event was attended by teams across the country, from nearby schools such as Stuyvesant High School, who finished high in the rankings alongside THHS, and other schools from California such as Lynbrook high school, who narrowly defeated THHS to claim first place in both the Level Two and Level Three competitions. 

Dr. Mariko Sato-Berger, coach of the Japan Bowl team and Japanese teacher, was quick to point out the growth of the team over the years. “We started out in 20th place and over the years, we have gone up to the top five rankings,” she said. 

On the team’s success, Betty attributed it to their confidence in one another. “We place trust in each other’s abilities and in each other’s knowledge. Because of this trust, we rarely had any conflicts amongst ourselves,” she said.

Daniel also emphasized how the team found strength in unity. To maximize efficiency, he and his teammates all complemented each other by focusing on different categories. “Each of us in the team has our own strengths and that has allowed us to cover lots of ground in the contest! Generally, in our team I am knowledgeable more about current events and history, while Betty is great with Japanese traditions, and Monica is superb at listening to Japanese conversation, which I consider is my greatest weakness,” Daniel said.

He also said, “this year was the greatest I’ve felt in connecting with my teammates, which may have been greatly helped by the fact that this year school was in-person.”

Sarah feared her ability to gel with her level two teammates Rachel and Elainec due to the fact she didn’t share Japanese class with her teammates, but was able to quickly overcome this concern with the help of the team. “For a while when the teams were first finalized, I was worried that maybe I wasn’t good enough or would burden my team, but after working with Rachel and Elaine, I realized that they didn’t judge me and trusted in my abilities,” she said. 

However, despite the unity within the team, there were some challenges. Dr. Sato discussed the strain created by the workload of being in the team. “What is challenging for me as a coach is how to help balance students’ emotional health with the rigor of the work.  It differs significantly from student to student,” Dr. Sato said. But, she also commended the team’s spirit for persevering. “This year’s teams maintained a healthy attitude about this harsh competition and still worked hard all year,” she said.

Daniel acknowledged his fatigue from the high commitment of competing on the team for three years. “To tell the truth, doing the competition on full steam for three years has been very exhausting, yet also enjoyable. In my opinion, our biggest obstacle this year was our own personal struggles with motivation. Not only is our team doing the competition in our third year—but the things we have to memorize and study also increases with each year,” he said.

However, he felt that the reward of being able to persevere for three straight podium finishes, including first place finishes in the previous two years, made the commitment worth it. He also discussed the satisfaction and hope that he gets thinking about the future of the team. ”I am so happy to see that there are more students becoming interested in Japanese culture and language to the extent that they take the step to consider entering Japan Bowl or just join the Japanese language program in general,” Daniel said.

In the championship round, the level four team finished second after being narrowly beaten by a total of three points, the equivalent of about one question. “We eventually lost the first place position to Lynbrook High School by an incredibly small margin, but we are still extremely happy we were able to persevere through three years of Japan Bowl during a pandemic and still do so well,” said Daniel.

In addition, the level two team faced technical difficulties and protracted tiebreakers. Chloe said “it was our first year competing and we also got dragged into a really long tiebreaker. In addition to the internet issues, it was pretty intense.” According to Malcolm, this included a poor connection-related audio problem with the moderator, making it difficult to discern questions, and a lag with the online buzzer system. 

Reflecting on the experience of being on the team, Malcolm described his most memorable experiences, and cheerfully said it was “[l]aughing at weird Japanese words on a small laptop screen and then panicking right before competition day.”

Jackie said, “I think everyone in Japan Bowl older than us are all really friendly. We have a lot of fun laughing on some random topics and eating free food. We have a lot of fun studying together and we can be relaxed around each other.” Looking ahead, he joked about getting back at Lynbrook High School, who defeated them, by reclaiming the team’s first place title in level three next year. 

Sarah said, “everyone in Japan Bowl is super nice and welcoming, there’s no shame at all in making mistakes and there’s always seems to be something fun happening when I’m with the other members. I wasn’t sure about whether to join or not in the beginning, but after the first few in-person meetings this year and getting an idea of the community, that’s when I really made up my mind that I wanted to do this.”

Daniel, Monica and Betty admitted that one thing which they would hope to see is a bigger school culture over events such as Japan Bowl. Nevertheless, they backed the sophomores and juniors of the team to take over the team’s legacy. I am very proud of the hard work, effort, and time that my younger classmen put into studying for this competition. Monica said, “[t]his year was my last year so I felt sad that I had to go. But I trust that my underclassmen will continue doing their best and lead the incoming new members with kindness. I believe that the reason why my team, in particular, is special is that we have great teamwork amongst the three of us.”

Dr. Sato expressed her hope that future competitions could better accommodate students by quizzing them on a greater variety of thinking skills, but emphasized her pride in her team’s effort overall. She said, “I am immensely proud of each one of the competitors this year.  They all worked as best as they could under the circumstances. The National Japan Bowl is highly competitive and many top high schools in the US participate. Therefore, it is no small achievement to have all three teams in the championships.”