Students from around the world showcase their art

Japanese and overseas high school students had a rare opportunity of winning awards given by the prime minister, other ministers and the media at a ceremony at the 17th International High School Arts Festival in Tokyo on July 3.

The festival is one of the largest international art exhibitions for high school students. This year, students from Japan and 17 other countries entered 11,856 pieces, including fine art and calligraphy, 399 of which were exhibited at the National Art Center, Tokyo, in Minato Ward’s Roppongi district.

At the awards ceremony in a ballroom of The Ritz Carlton, Tokyo, also in Roppongi, 37 Japanese students and an Israeli student received special awards.

The top Prime Minister Awards went to Misaki Yamaguchi, a senior at Aichi Prefectural Gamagori High School, in the fine arts division and Chiho Kimijima, a senior at Omiya Koryo High School, Saitama Prefecture, won the calligraphy prize.

“I’m truly grateful to have received such an amazing award,” Yamaguchi said. “The fact that I have received this award after learning traditional Japanese painting in high school is truly an honor, and I hope to make use of what I learn from this experience for my future.”

Her painting, titled “Spring Awakening,” uses the image of a crowing rooster to depict the awakening of life in springtime. She also tried to give the painting a vibrant, energetic quality by including the dazzling colors of spring flowers.

“I am truly grateful to have received the prestigious Prime Minister Award this year,” said Kimijima, who wrote the script “Koshigire.” “There are many classic scripts in calligraphy and I enjoy examining them to savor the unique differences in each one.”

Non-Japanese award winners were also invited to the ceremony, with embassy officials and others handing certificates of merit to high school students from Ireland, Britain, Israel, Indonesia, Egypt, Cambodia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, China, Germany, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Russia and Benin.

Israeli Alma Haas of Thelma Yellin High School received a special prize, The Japan Times Award, for her painting, “Linens,” featuring a fabric triptych on different materials.

“I could never have imagined that I would have this chance to come to Japan and meet so many people from across the globe,” she said.

Other prizes included awards from the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, foreign minister, Hokkaido governor, Iwate governor, Chiba governor, Tokyo Metropolitan governor, Hiroshima governor, Fukuoka governor, National High School Calligraphy Association, Japan Association of High School Arts and Crafts Education, and Mainichi Newspapers.

The festival is sponsored by the International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC). It is supported by the Cultural Affairs Agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some prefectural governments, the embassies and friendship associations of the participating countries, and Japanese media companies, including The Japan Times.

IFAC Chairman Haruhisa Handa told the awards ceremony audience that the arts festival, which is admission-free, focuses on its openness to any high school students and the criteria of the awards are the untested potential of youth.

He also said he would like Japanese high school students to have exchanges with high school students from around the world. Every year, the IFAC organizes exchange entertainment programs among the Japanese and overseas high school students it invites to the awards ceremony, one of which is a trip to Hakone to enjoy spending time with their newfound friends.

At the end of the ceremony, Handa, who also runs Misuzu Gakuen, a chain of cram schools that helps high school students prepare for university entrance exams, advised Japanese high school students to “listen to yourself instead of your parents or school counselors.”

“They guide you to a safe path, which may not necessarily be the path you want to take,” he said. “A goal is something you should set assuming you will change it sometimes. How can high school students know what they want for the future?”

The IFAC is a nonprofit organization established to promote social welfare activities through music and arts events. Since its foundation in 1996, the IFAC has enjoyed the support of many people, and has more than 2,000 individual and corporate members. Many corporations and individuals support its objectives, and have contributed to its activities in various ways.

Handa is engaged in various philanthropic activities. He is chairman of the Tokyo Art Foundation, the International Sports Promotion Society and the Worldwide Support for Development.