British Debate Squad Japan Tour 2005 Report by Jonathan Bailey For eleven days in October 2005 I was one of four members of the British Debate Squad who travelled to Japan accompanied by James Probert, the head of the ESU’s Centre for Speech and Debate. We took part in a series of show debates and debating workshops for groups of Japanese university students, high school children and businesspeople. While this took up a large proportion of our time, the trip was also an opportunity to represent the English Speaking Union abroad and to get to know a different culture and society. Throughout our time in Japan we were looked after by a number of people both from ESU Japan and from local universities. In many ways it was the time we spent with these people that I will remember most of all; both because of how kind and welcoming they were and because of the way they tried to show us what it was like to live in Japan rather than simply seeing it through the eyes of a tourist. For instance, when students from Osaka Prefecture University took us on a tour of into the mountains above Kyoto to visit some of Japan’s finest Buddhist temples we were not there just to learn about Japan’s past and take photographs of the temples set against the beautiful scenery, rather we were able to discuss the role religion played in the lives of the average young Japanese person and hence its significance in Japanese society.
The Squad explores Kyoto accompanied by Japanese hosts
We were also treated to some very unique moments; whether it was dining on incredible Japanese in a private members club that overlooked the Tokyo skyline, eating our way through Japanese ‘lunch boxes’ (very different to the traditional British cucumber sandwich!) as we sped between Osaka and Tokyo on the ‘bullet train’ or learning to sing Japanese pop songs on a trip to one of Tokyo’s many karaoke bars. In terms of the debating, we were all very impressed with both the quality of the spoken English and the debating skills of the students that we met. We had the privilege of judging the final of the ESU Japan’s national university debating tournament and we were honestly able to say that the standard of debate was as strong as that in many British debating competitions. Some of the debaters whom we met have already competed in the World Universities Debating Championships, but on the basis of the debating that we saw on display I am certain that many more will do so, and with great success. Even within the high schools that we visited, it was clear that debating is being incorporated into school curricula and enthusiastically supported by teaching staff in a manner which will ensure that it goes from strength to strength. Debating in English serves two purposes; firstly there are all the skills inherent to debating (logic, rhetoric etc.) and secondly it gives those who take part the opportunity to practice spoken English on important topics. In a society which places a premium on English language skills and which is increasingly open to an opinionated form of discussion it is easy to see why debating has become popular. This popularity was not limited to those in education; in fact some of the most enthusiastic recipients of our workshops were a group of businesspeople who had little or no debating experience. For them, increasing the confidence and skill with which they speak in public was a real attraction.
Bilal, one of the Squad members, gives debating tips to a student
Throughout our time in Japan we had the opportunity to explore the country more informally, often accompanied by local students. It was during these moments that we toured the entertainment areas of Tokyo and were dazzled by lights that seemed brighter than in any other capital, re-enacted ‘Lost in Translation’ in the Tokyo bar where the motion picture was filmed and ate the most amazing sushi (made from that day’s catch as it came off the fishing boats). The whole experience was one of immersion, appreciation and enjoyment. I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible; both in Japan and the United Kingdom and particularly to the ESU and ESUJ for their dedication and vision.