Success Story: Takamado English Speech Contest reform their “Japanese Only”, er, “Non-English Speakers Only” rules


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Hi Blog. While doing some research yesterday, I found out this interesting development: (via The Community) originally reported about a decade ago that the Takamado English speech contest, for junior-highschooler English speaking ability name-sponsored by a member of the Japanese royalty, was refusing foreign children enrolled in Japanese schools entry. This might seem reasonable, since native English speakers competing with Japanese L2 students would indeed have an unfair advantage.

However, Takamado’s rules excluded ALL foreigners, including those from countries that are not native English-speaking countries (such as Chinese or Mongolians). Moreover, the rules also excluded ALL Japanese who had foreign blood, as far back as grandparents.  Archive:

When the dubious practice of assuming that any foreigner had a linguistic advantage in English was raised with the organizers, they decided to keep the rules as is.  So I wrote about it for the Japan Times, dated January 6, 2004:


Freedom of speech
‘Tainted blood’ sees ‘foreign’ students barred from English contests

… A prestigious event, name-sponsored by the late Prince Takamado, its goal is: “To create an internationally rich youth culture, both proficient in English and widely popular (sic), which aims to develop Japanese culture and contribute to international relations.”

Yet its disqualifiers are oddly xenophobic: Rule 3: “If any of your parents or grandparents are foreigners (including naturalized Japanese) in principle you are excluded.” Rule 2a: “If you are born in a foreign country and have stayed abroad past your 5th birthday,” and; 2b: “If after your 5th birthday you have lived in a foreign country for over a total of one year, or if you have lived in a foreign country over a continuous six-month period,” you may not enter the contest.

The organizers seemed to have forgotten that not all foreigners speak English…


So now back to the present.  I checked the rules for Takamado yesterday, and here’s how they’ve been revised:


  1. Students recommended by their school principal and attending a Middle School in Japan (excluding International and American Schools).
  2. Students who fall into any of the following categories are not eligible to participate in the contest:
  3. Those who were born and raised in English speaking countries/regions* beyond the age of five.
  4. Those who lived in English speaking countries/regions or studied in International and American Schools beyond the age of five for a total of one year or six months continuously.
  5. Those whose parent or grandparent with nationalities of English Speaking countries or naturalized Japanese, having lived in Japan for less than 30 years.
  6. Those who won 1st to 3rd places in any previous contests.
  7. Those that violate the above clauses and enter the Contest will be disqualified.

*Below are the definitions of the English speaking countries. (Defined by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Republic of Singapore, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Republic of the Philippines, Negara Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Commonwealth of Australia, Republic of Kiribati, Independent State of Samoa, Solomon Island, Tuvalu, Kingdom of Tonga, Republic of Nauru, New Zealand, Republic of Palau , Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Vanuatu, Independent State of Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Fiji Islands, Republic of the Marshall Islands, United States of America, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Republic of Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, Republic of Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Commonwealth of Dominica, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Republic of Uganda, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Republic of Ghana, Republic of Cameroon, Republic of The Gambia, Republic of Kenya, Republic of Zambia, Republic of Sierra Leone, Republic of Zimbabwe, Republic of the Sudan, Kingdom of Swaziland, Republic of Seychelles, Somalia, United Republic of Tanzania, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Republic of Namibia, Republic of Botswana, Republic of Malawi, Republic of South Africa, Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Liberia, Republic of Rwanda, Kingdom of Lesotho, Republic of Cyprus, Lebanese Republic, Ireland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Republic of Malta, Cook Islands, Niue, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, India, Islamic Republic of Pakistan


Now that’s more like it.  Took some time, but it looks like they added some sophistication to deeming who has a linguistic advantage.  No longer is it a blanket system of “a foreigner is a foreigner is a foreigner”, and the attitude is less that any foreigner is a blanket tainter of Japanese student blood.  Okay, better. Pays to say something.  Especially in print.  Arudou Debito on holiday

15 comments on “Success Story: Takamado English Speech Contest reform their “Japanese Only”, er, “Non-English Speakers Only” rules

  • Good to see that they changed the rules. The original rules are obviously part of the nihonjinron view that Japanese people are at an inherent disadvantage to learn any foreign language and foreigners can easily learn any language (except Japanese).

    I remember a Japanese woman in Canada boasting about how her son had won a Japanese speech contest. In this case, both parents were Japanese born and raised in Japan…

  • Toastmasters is an international organization which focuses on speech making in English. Every year they hold an English language speech contest with competitors from all over the world. In Japan, Toastmasters have both English and Japanese speech contests. Any member can participate in the speech contests, regardless of nationality or linguistic upbringing. In my part of Japan, a Japanese person from our local club won first place in a district which included all of Kyushu and part of Western Honshu, beating out several native speakers in the process.

    In the all-Japan contest, first place went to a American native speaker and second place to a Japanese. Why should a speech contest be handicapped by excluding some of the potentially best speakers. Is this some sort of Special Olympics where we admit that the contestants can’t really compete? If you start with the presumption that real Japanese cannot master English, you are only reinforcing a destructive myth.

  • This is good news and much more reasonable, though I’m not sure how having a grandparent from an English-speaking country should disqualify a kid. And how is ‘English-speaking’ defined? Lebanon is most definitely not English-speaking. Somalia? Suriname? This is definitely a step in the right direction, but I’m afraid that someone might run into problems if their definition of ‘English-speaking’ is that broad.

  • “Republic of Mauritius”

    That’s kind of amusing. While English is the official language, my brother and his family have basically had to learn French to deal with the local population. On the plus side my toddler niece singing “alouette” is absolutely adorable.

  • In Ontario, Canada there is an annual Japanese speech contest, which is broken up into three contests based on level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), plus a fourth one (open). In the beginner, intermediate and advanced contests, neither parent can be a native Japanese speaker, and there are also restrictions on those who have lived in Japan for more than 3, 6, or 36 months, respectively.

    See Guidelines:

    However, in the “open” contest, there is no restriction on mother tongue of either parent, length of stay in Japan, or length of study of Japanese. This provides the opportunity for any Japanese to participate in the contest. It would be nice to have something like this for the Takamadonomiya Contest

    In response to Steve, you’re not really “handicapping” the people who can deliver the best speech, but rather evening the playing field. If you make it open to anyone, including native English speakers, then a native Japanese person with a weaker English ability may simply choose not to participate in the first place – which is, I think, even worse.

    Unlike Toastmasters, the speech contest Debito was talking about isn’t about just “I want to hear some of the best speeches in the world”, but rather to encourage and promote the study of English. It’s a high-school speech contest. Don’t compare it to Toastmasters.

  • If they want to get really technical about it, they should handicap for the degree to which the entrant’s mother tongue is similar to English. For example, a Chinese speaker has to learn many new grammatical structures and concepts to speak English correctly; the task is much easier for a French, German, or Spanish speaker. Not to mention the prevalence of cognates in those languages.

    And then they should add an “open” category like Anon says, where anything goes.

  • I’m sorry, Anon, I don’t understand. What is the difference between “handicapping” and “evening the playing field” My Oxford Dictionary describes the first as “a disadvantage placed on a superior competitor … in order to make the chances more equal.” “A level playing field” is “a situation in which everyone has a fair and equal chance of succeeding.” Handicapping is an activity which levels the playing field.

    However defined, as the only native speaker in the Minami Kyushu Toastmasters Club, I don’t think I discourage participation or the willingness to compete. People who want to make speeches in English seem to appreciate the participation of native speakers. Perhaps participants in the Takamadonomiya Contest have some other objective than learning English or speechmaking.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Steve. Precisely. Takamadonomiya is not about English. It is about thinnly veiled nationalism. Talk to anyone involved from the teaching end who has had to put up with idiotic judging, the exclusionism and the encouragement of broad generalizations and stereotyping in speech content to promote nihonjinron,and you’ve basically got it. The content is also rerally dumbed down, as if junior high school students couldn’t possibly have an intellectual thought.

  • I still think the rule about parents or grandparents is awful… yes, having someone who can teach you English at home is an advantage. But not all kids who have a native English speaker for a parent speak English fluently themselves, and a single grandparent who (at least by the time they’re old enough to have become a grandparent) probably either lives in a different country or speaks Japanese isn’t the same as a parent who lives with the child. What about a stepparent or a nanny or a private tutor? Those are advantages that other kids might not have (and probably very rare cases, but you can’t exclude everyone who has ANY kind of advantage). It’s better, yes. But penalizing a child because of an ability that their parent (or grandparent, even more ridiculous) may or may not even HAVE… still pretty sad. Any improvement is good news, though. Way to go!

  • Debito, I went to the nationals with my 3rd year student last year and she was Brazilian. We had know problems entering. In fact there were at least 3 Brazilian students in our group.

  • sounds like the same exclusionary rules as before, just a little more refined. Teaching the kids to exclude those who MIGHT have an advantage in an area is not a good thing.. No matter how they word it.

  • is this good?
    rule 5 seems very strange
    “Those whose parent or grandparent with nationalities of English Speaking countries or naturalized Japanese, having lived in Japan for less than 30 years.”

    as i read this ,anyone who has a naturalized japanese parent or grandparent cannot take part unless that parent has been in japan for 30yrs.nationality of relative seems irrelevant.this has not changed-
    also if you have an english speaking parent or grandparent living outside japan then you cant take part.
    this seems very odd,as they would have very little contact with the child at school in japan.

    it still seems to be racially based.

  • As a footnote to my comment #3, last Saturday my local Toastmasters club had a humorous speech contest in which I was a contestant. I came in dead last. My wife (Japanese) placed in the top two and she will be going on to an Area contest to be held next month. I don’t know if it was my lousy sense of humor, unintelligible pronunciation, or a poor presentation which did me in. It’s a mild embarrassment.

  • Late catching up on this one but last year I got sucked into being a judge for the prefecture’s round of the Prince Takamado competition and one of the winners was a very bright girl of Austrian and Japanese parents. There was no mention made of any problems due to her nationality. Since I have agreed to participate once again in October (under pressure from my school for volunteer activities to embellish their paperwork for external evaluation; guess union activities don’t count) I will investigate further when I meet the organizers in person.


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