The Japan Bowl® is a Japanese language competition created by the Japan-America Society of Washington DC in 1992. The Japan Bowl tests the achievements of Japanese learners throughout the US and other countries. The Japan Bowl in the United States focuses on high school students.

What makes the Japan Bowl unique is that it goes beyond language and asks students about their knowledge of Japanese culture, society, daily life, history, geography, and current events. Participants compete as members of 3-person teams, based on how many years they have studied Japanese.

The Japan Bowl is not an exam; it uses a “quiz bowl” format. Students hear – and don’t read — the questions. They are given a timeframe, usually 30 seconds, within which to respond. The questions are asked in both Japanese and English and answered in a variety of ways.

Participants put in many hours of individual and group study to prepare for the Japan Bowl. Teachers say that the team approach creates a cooperative spirit among the students, and the disciplined effort that team members put into researching each year’s topics benefits them in other academic areas as well.

The Japan Bowl was first held as a local competition for high schools in the Washington DC area. Within a few years, high schools from other parts of the nation joined the competition in Washington, and it became the “National Japan Bowl.”

In addition to the National Japan Bowl in Washington DC, there are Japan quiz bowl competitions throughout the United States. The newest official Japan Bowl competitions are in Illinois, Wisconsin, Utah, and California. There are now Japan Bowls in other counties such as the UK, Mexico, and Poland.

The Japan Bowl seeks to motivate students to higher levels of academic achievement. It strives to impart the kind of real-world communications skills and cultural knowledge that will help students in their high school years and beyond. Most Japan Bowl participants say they plan to continue to study Japanese during their college years, and almost all hope to study abroad in Japan.

Japan Bowl participants say they hope to have a “Japan connection” in their adult lives, whether in business, academia, the arts, or public service. No matter which profession they choose, the knowledge and skills they acquired as Japan Bowl competitors will help them become future leaders in the US relationship with Japan.


Ambassador John Malott, the former president of the Japan-America Society of Washington DC, is writing an in-depth history of the Japan Bowl in three parts. Find part one here!