ESU Japan Tour 2010 Report Between September 26th and October 4th 2010 four university students (selected from more than one hundred who applied) and Jason Vit, Head of Speech and Debate were fortunate enough to be a member of the 2010 English Speaking Union’s Japan tour squad. What follows is a brief report of our experiences. Monday 27th September: Tokyo Our first official function of the tour was a meeting with a former ESU-J Debating Tournament winner at the offices of his prestigious Tokyo law firm Nishimura Asahi. Mr Takeshi Ikeda had triumphed in 2001 and his success had encouraged him to attend a law school in the USA and qualify as an attorney at the New York Bar. Mr Ikeda hosted us at his firm’s sleek and imposing offices in the Akasaka district and we had a fascinating discussion about the Japanese work culture and the life of a corporate lawyer in Tokyo. Although Mr Ikeda has not yet qualified as an elite Bengoshi lawyer (incredibly for a country of nearly 120 million, there are only 20,000 of these accredited legal professionals!) he did tell us about the liberalisation of the Japanese legal system. Alex Just, as a current law school student, was particularly intrigued by the recent decision to establish graduate Law Schools in Japan, which it is hoped will increase the Bar pass rate from the current, rather miserable 30%. Later that afternoon we took a short walk across town to the ESU-Japan offices, where we met with members of the ESU-J’s full-time staff and were introduced to the student members of the Debate Committee who would be running the debating competition later in the week. After a briefing on the various educational activities which the ESU-J had been involved in over the past year, our hosts took us for a welcome dinner at a local sushi restaurant. The evening was a true delight, with magnificent melt-in-the-mouth sashimi, exquisite fresh sushi and some unusual deep-sea nautical treats! The meal was rounded off with a number of generous toasts from our Japanese hosts, made in the traditional manner uses small glasses hot and cold saki. Tuesday 28th September: Tochigi Prefecture The next day we took our first shinkansen bullet train north to Utsunomiya Girls’ High School – one of the oldest and most successful girls’ schools in Japan. We were met at the station by a lovely English teacher who was also the school’s debate coach. He told us that his students had been researching and preparing for many weeks in anticipation of our ‘Mixed Debates’ where one ESU squad member would team up with two Utsunomiya debaters. Our first debate of the tour was an ESU only affair, and Alex and Ben thoroughly enjoyed plotting a path to victory proposing the motion: This house believes that Science has truly made people happy. In a passionate and sophisticated debate which pitted co-operative human endeavour versus the state of nature, the crowd of 200 students and teachers seemed to enjoy the analysis of the ennui caused by online social networking, and the Harry Potter references (Alex looks like Harry and Lizzie like Hermione) went down well!
As winners, Ben and Alex were rewarded with the task of running a short workshop with the Utsunomiya Girls’ junior debate squad. Despite having only 40 minutes, everyone left the session with a better grasp of complex English vocabulary regarding nuclear energy and a sense of some ‘nifty’ opposition strategies. The second debate of the evening saw the ESU squad shuffled, and Alex and James proposed the motion that: This house believes that Japan should lower its immigration policy, facing Ben and Lizzie. Once again, the debate provoked an excellent reaction from the large crowd, which this time comprised some 100 students and 20 teachers from 9 neighbouring Secondary Schools. But this merely served as a warm up (no pun intended) for the main event – a much anticipated ‘Mixed Debate’ on the highly topical motion: This house would ban air conditioners (it was an issue discussed as a part of the school science curriculum). Given that Tokyo had just experiences one of its hottest summers on record, the proposition managed to get the audience onside and at the end asked “Can Japan live without air conditioners?” to which the crown replied, “Yes we can!” The team celebrated the end of the day by consuming several plates of fresh Gyozo (a dish which the prefecture was famous for) at the train station before getting the shinkansen train back to our lodgings in Tokyo. Wednesday 29th September: Osaka Invigorated by the previous day’s debating and teaching successes, the next morning we headed to Shinagawa station to catch one of the fastest shinkansen trains in the country to Osaka. The journey south gave us an excellent sense of how the Japanese people have maximized the use of their land. It appeared that not a square foot of land was fallow and as we glided past spectacular mountain scenery it was easy to see why, despite its recent fiscal difficulties, Japan remains a global economic power-house. Two students met us off the train holding up a delightfully decorated “UK Debate Team” sign and escorted us via metro to Osaka Prefecture University, the site of our public debate that evening. On route we passed numerous signs advertising the opening of Uni Qlo’s new global flagship store, but sadly for the squad, the grand opening was not happening until Friday! The debate that evening was on another environmental motion: This house believes that developing countries should not have to limit their green house gas emissions. Alex and Lizzie teamed up and in a lively debate in front of 150 students, teachers and members of the public they narrowly lost after our sushi based analogy was deftly flipped in the dying seconds of the debate by Mr James “Fugu1” “Ashton-Bell. The panel discussion which followed allowed us all to explain to the enthusiastic audience how we initially got involved with debating and what our all-time favourite motion is. That evening our student hosts took us to a nearby izakaya (essentially a Japanese ‘Pub’) where, thanks to the generosity of the Kansai Japanese Parliamentary Debating Union, we were treated to a dinner that comprised lots of small tasty dishes – including raw marinated chicken. We also had the opportunity to taste a variety of local beverages, including umeshu, a sweet and sour plum wine which proved particularly popular. A consensus quickly emerged, that our next stop should be a karaoke bar and after some negotiations we tracked down a central Osaka venue that had Lionel Richie songs available. Our hosts introduced us to the popular J-Pop group Mr Children and we 1
Fugu is the Japanese word for puffer fish and if prepared incorrectly the dish is lethal.
responded with some memorable and melodic performances of some British classics. The night finished with a rousing rendition of the Oasis classic ‘Wonderwall’ and a trip to a Seven-Eleven for some late-night cheese snacks. Thursday 30th September: Kyoto The next morning we arose in salubrious spirits and were met at our hotel by two students from Osaka University who were to be our guides for a morning of gentle sightseeing in nearby Kyoto. It was a fascinating journey to share with hundreds of commuters moving between two sprawling metropolises. Having arrived at the cathedral-like Kyoto train station we hopped in taxis for the short journey to the Toji Temple complex. After observing the traditional purification and washing rituals before entering the religious compound, we were all amazed at the five storey pagoda that rose up before us. Originally built in the 12th Century and restored in 1640s, the structure is the tallest and most iconic shrines in the Kansai region. Despite the drizzle, we ambled around the beautiful traditional gardens in the complex and then headed back to Kyoto station to catch the shinkansen back to Tokyo. That evening, after checking into our new hotel in the Yotsuya district, we ran a very successful teacher training seminar at the Japan Professional School of Education. Over 30 teachers attended our demonstration debate (on the old-chestnut motion: This house would ban school uniforms) and the small-group workshops which followed provoked some interesting discussions about how pedagogical techniques differed when students were debating in a second language. Friday 1st October: Tokyo As Friday was our only non-teaching day of the tour, we mapped out a fairly intensive sight-seeing itinerary. First stop was a visit to Ueno Park and a trip to see the hundreds of amazing objects housed at the National Museum of Japan. We headed back into central Tokyo and had lunch in an authentic Tempura restaurant not far from the bustling Shinjuku railway station (which according to Lizzie’s guide book has 3 million passengers through its doors every day!). It was clearly a trendy location as we spotted an up and coming Sumo wrestler sitting a few seats down from us at the ‘frying bar’. Rejuvenated by our delicious meal (which was rounded off with Tempura Ice Cream!) we hit the shops of Shinjuku, including some Japanese institutions like Tokyu Hands (a cross between B&Q and Selfridges). We made a quick pit-stop at the Olympic Centre and after checking in, dropping off our purchases and catching up with the ESU-J debate committee we hopped on a downtown metro. As it was a very clear evening, we decided to ride the complimentary high-speed lift up to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building which offered a breathtaking aerial panorama. We walked around the Golden Gai district observing the many groups of final-year undergraduates celebrating their official ‘Welcome Ceremony’ in which their future graduate employers formally initiate them into their corporation. After a rather expensive day we plumped for a wholesome and economical dinner in a central Raman Noodle houses and then went home for an early night.
Saturday 2nd October-Sunday 3rd October: 2010 ESU J Debating Competition The annual ESU-J Debating Competition is always held at the Olympic Centre, which was built for the 1964 Summer Games. It is in an amazing location, nestled on the edge of an ancient forest with great views east of the Shinjuku skyline. All of the rooms in the Centre are complete with authentic 1964 furnishings, including a build-in bed-side radio which must have turned some athletic heads 46 years ago. After Jason Sensai (as he was referred to by some of our Japanese hosts) gave the judges briefing the rest of the team were sent off to judge each of the 4 preliminary debate rounds. The motions were both topical and challenging, taking in issues that included whether Consumption Tax was equitable and the morality of eating meat. Although all of Saturdayâ€™s debates had closed adjudication a very well attended general feedback session was held that evening. Overall, the standard of analysis and rhetorical flair was extremely high and the Japanese debaters were a pleasure to watch. The next morning the teams discovered who had made it through to the Quarter Finals and the squad all finished up preparations for their afternoon lectures which ranged from public speaking to the use of philosophy in debate to team work and strategy. After a quick bite to eat in the Olympic Centre canteen, the squad was divided into teams for the final exhibition debate on the motion: This house would not eat meat (one of the topics from the preliminary rounds is always used for the show debate). Alex and Ben had the task of proposing the motion in front of 300 people â€“ many of whom had already given fantastic speeches on this very topic earlier in the competition and were faced with a staunch opposition from James and Lizzie. The show debate kicked off to rapturous applause and in the end, Ben and Alex repeated their debut performance and won a close debate with a sophisticated team-line that appealed to the crowd not to send us home until we had been given the opportunity to try Shabu Shabu. Our final official duty on the tour was to sit as members of the 13 person judging panel for the Grand Final which was fiercely contested between two universities who had never before reached that stage of the competition. In the end Waseda University triumphed over Tokyo University in a 7-6 decision. We said our goodbyes to the ESU-J committee and many of our new Japanese friends, then walked to a nearby Nepali restaurant for an emotional squad farewell meal. Thanks All the committee members at ESU-Japan for their generosity and support throughout the tour. The students on the ESU-Japan debate committee who ran a fantastic tournament! All our student hosts, particularly the Osaka debaters who introduced us to Mr Children. All the other members of the squad for some excellent show-debate banter.
And finally from Alex to Sakura and Hitomi from Utsunomiya Girlsâ€™ High School for their sterling efforts in the famous air conditioner debate!