Students Take First and Third Place at State-Wide Japanese Speech Competition
Helen Cecile Nowatka BA ’22 and Armando Montoya Rodriguez BA ’22 both earned awards at this year’s Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest, an annual competition cosponsored by the Toyama Prefectural Government of Japan and the Japan-America Society of Oregon.
The Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Competition is an annual opportunity for Oregon college students to present three- to five-minute-long speeches in Japanese on any topic they choose. Armando Montoya Rodriguez BA ’22 and Erika Hutchinson BA ’22 each competed at the advanced language level, with Rodriguez earning third place. Helen Cecile (HC) Nowatka BA ’22 competed in the level one category, taking home first place. Just two years ago, Ronan Hall BA ’19, an Asian studies major, competed, alongside peers scattered across the state. Hall would go on to compete––and take first place––in the upper division of the competition. In any given year, multiple institutions from Oregon and Washington may be in attendance, and students are able to network with individuals from Toyama Prefecture in Japan, Oregon’s sister state. This year, in the midst of a pandemic, Lewis & Clark students have again demonstrated their interest and commitment to Japanese language, culture, and literature.
Both Rodriguez, a world languages major from Mexico and Dallas, Texas, and Nowatka, an Asian studies major and chemistry minor from Spartanburg, South Carolina, developed a passion for Japanese language and culture early in life, but neither had access to resources outside of self-teaching. For Rodriguez, the strength of the Japanese department and ability to study overseas played a key part in his choice to attend Lewis & Clark. As a senior in high school, he was able to sit in on one of Instructor Atsuko Kurogi’s courses, which inspired him to continue his Japanese-language studies.
Nowatka, who was raised speaking both German and English, was also confident that she wanted to learn Japanese before she began college.
“I grew up bilingual, so I assumed it wouldn’t be that hard,” Nowatka said. “It was a very rude awakening into how much time and effort you really have to put into learning a language. It’s been very humbling, and I’m grateful for the experience.”
Entering the Toyama Cup, students are encouraged to select any topic that interests them for their speech. For Nowatka, an avid rock climber and member of the Climbing Club, exploring the culture of climbing in Japan felt like a natural fit. Rodriguez chose to focus on his personal experience in the Japanese overseas program, and LGBTQ+ life in Osaka.
“Studying abroad allowed me to come out of my shell and actively seek out opportunities that are very meaningful to me and to the people around me,” Rodriguez said.
The Japanese overseas program, temporarily canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was also part of Nowatka’s college plans. Now, she is looking for alternate ways to travel to the country, particularly in ways that relate to her interest in urban sustainable development.
After graduation, Rodriguez is interested in becoming an English-language teaching assistant in Japan before pursuing higher education.
“The speech contest reminded me that Japanese is my passion and what excites me the most,” he said. “I want to give back to Japan. It has had a huge impact on who I am and how I see the world.”
For both students, the mentorship of Lewis & Clark instructors has been critical in their development as students and speakers of Japanese.
“Instructor Yoshiko Reynolds has been so helpful, and she’s always sharing cultural tidbits and video clips,” Nowatka said. “I wouldn’t have even considered doing the speech competition if it wasn’t for my professors.”