Asian Studies

Speech! Minju Kim wins national contest for her talk on Japan’s relationship with Korea

We talk to the final year student about overcoming her fears to win the top prize in the 19th Japanese Speech Contest.

Minju Kim is a three-time entrant to the annual Japanese Speech Contest for University Students. In her final year as an undergraduate, she has won the main prize - the Speech Category - for a 15-minute presentation in Japanese.

Photo of Minju Kim giving her speech at King's College London
Minju giving her speech at King's College London. Photo courtesy of The Japan Foundation.

Describing the annual contest as “pretty much a major part of my university life”, Minju topped the Individual Presentation Category in 2022 for ‘Another Face Behind the Mask’, a shorter talk for undergraduates in their early years of study. She was runner up in the same category in 2021.

“All three times taught me the thrill of leaving your comfort zone and challenging yourself” she tells us. “During my time as a Japanese Studies student, I’ve found it difficult getting through presentations but have picked up helpful research and presentation skills on my courses. I used to hate presenting, but it’s definitely paid off in the end!”

Dialogue as a theme  

Minju’s prize-winning speech was entitled ‘Japan and South Korea: Building a Stronger Relationship through the Power of Dialogue’. Asked why she chose this as her topic, she told us “Japan - Korea relations have always been rocky and as a Korean who has been to Japan multiple times and have Japanese friends, I wanted to investigate into why that was the case and how the relations between the two countries could be improved”.

While the topic is not directly related to her final year dissertation, which is about Haruka Sakaguchi’s photo-documentary project ‘1945’, Minju says the themes nonetheless overlap in that dialogue plays a major role in Sakaguchi’s work, in this case between the subjects and viewers of her 2017 work on hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors).

Over the course of her degree, Minju has also really enjoyed taking our course on ‘Radical Japan: culture, politics and protest in Japan’s Long 1960s’. She tells us “I was aware that there were student movements and other protests as part of the democratisation process in the second half of the 20th century in Korea, but not Japan. It was interesting to learn something somewhat different; I highly recommend!”

Congratulations to Minju. What a way to top off her four years in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), for which she has served as Undergraduate School Representative this academic year.

LLC at the Japanese Speech Contest

Photo of Minju Kim on the left with Fumiko Narumi-Munro on the right
Minju (l) with her teacher Fumiko Narumi-Munro (r). Photo courtesy of The Japan Foundation.

Now in its 19th year, the Japanese Speech Contest for University Students is a collaboration between the British Association for Teaching Japanese as a foreign language and the Japan Foundation.

In addition to Minju’s success this year, Year 2 students Sam O’Connell and Thomas Merryfield took second place and runner up respectively for their talks in the Individual Presentation Category. Thomas also participated in his first year, again gaining a runner up spot.

In 2023, final year Japanese Studies student Hannah McCormick came second in the Speech Category for ‘Japan and Autism – how can we make a good environment?’. Over the years, speeches by other LLC students have addressed manga and societal prejudice (Callum Sarracino, 2019), and the power of words and translation (Emily Owen, 2020).

As a first year, Francesca Lutje-Wilkes took part in the Group Presentation Category for beginner speakers as a member of The Nessies. In her final year, 2023, she went on to win the University’s book collecting prize for her collection of the historical work of female manga artists.

Read our interview with Francesca about the Year 24 Group

Are you interested in Japanese Studies at Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is the only university in Scotland to offer undergraduate honours degrees in Japanese. Our four-year MA Honours programmes enable you to learn the language in the context of Japan’s history, politics, philosophy and culture, past and present. We specialise in teaching students with little or no prior knowledge of Japanese. You will spend Year 3 in Japan. 

Find out more about studying undergraduate Japanese

Related links

Watch all this year's talks on the Japan Foundation's YouTube channel