The 55th JNSA Trophy All Japan Intercollegiate English Oratorical Contest / Tokai University Sophomore Wins Top Prize

Courtesy of JNSA fund
Erika Oyu, left, receives the trophy from Princess Takamado at the 55th JNSA Trophy Intercollegiate English Oratorical Contest on July 2.

Erika Oyu, a student at Tokai University, has won the top prize at this year’s JNSA (Japan National Student Association) Trophy Intercollegiate English Oratorical Contest, winning for the second consecutive year.

In a speech titled “Age of Ignorance,” sophomore student Oyu addressed her thoughts from her own experience in “an information age.” Her entry was part of the 55th speech contest that was held on July 2 at The Yomiuri Shimbun headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The runners-up, in descending order, were: Ameri Takahashi of Sophia University; Ibuki Hosomi of Waseda University; Toshiya Sato of the University of Tokyo; Yoshino Kawakami of Keio University; Jotaro Sakai of Sophia University; and Hinako Hanafusa of Rikkyo University.

The contest was supported by The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News.

The following is the full text of Oyu’s speech:

Did you know that people who have kissed more than two people are 47% more likely to get pancreatic cancer before 30 than those who haven’t? And if you’re a Japanese male born in the Kanto region, there’s a 37% higher chance you will experience a heart attack in your 20’s. I learned this recently at medical school. You’re probably hearing this for the first time, and it would be reasonable to think about how you can take preventative measures. After all, we are talking about potential death before you’re even approaching the middle of your life. Well, here’s the thing — I made them up.

Had I not admitted to fabricating those supposed “facts,” how many of you would have left this room at the end of this event, met up with your friends, and propagated these “facts” to others around you? How many more people would end up believing this? How much information did you hear from your family, friends, teachers have you questioned? Or did you just accept without question?

Particularly in Japan, the area in which blind acceptance prevails is social norms. A couple of weeks ago, on a stormy day, I took a bus from school to the station. The bus was already packed, and my friend and I managed to squeeze ourselves in. Amidst the chaos, I noticed some empty priority seats in the middle. However, there were people outside, drenched in the cold rain, waiting in line. It seemed only right to make space for them.

I summoned the courage to speak up for them. Leaning toward the people around those seats, I politely requested, “Could somebody please use these seats? This way, we can make some space for those in line outside.” To my surprise, there was complete silence with some “what the hell” side-eyes. It didn’t go as planned. Eventually the bus driver made an announcement, and those who had ignored me, absorbed in their phones like zombies, finally took the seats. Perhaps those standing in those priority seats were doing nothing wrong per se. But it made me question whether we should blindly follow societal norms without considering the circumstances.

We live in an information age where information is ubiquitous. But we can’t continue to be unassuming consumers of information and societal rules without truly comprehending or questioning them. Modern humans have long been groomed to be information zombies. Education is designed to flood us with information that we simply regurgitate in exams. Politics and opinionated news flood us with talking points. Society floods us with arbitrary rules. The internet floods us with narratives. We are being told what to believe, how to live, and who to blame. And for so long, we have been raised to take all that information at face value without questioning its origins, motives, or even rationale. While this has long been a problem, in this age where information is becoming a singularity, it is even more critical that we development a sense of skepticism and freedom to challenge information and norms at face value to find a deeper meaning and appreciation in our ability to choose how we live and what kind of society we form. So I’d like to ask you one simple question at the end, which would you be: zombies or humans?