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Road to IBO2020: The Japan Biology Olympiad



With IBO2020 a little less than a year from now, the selection process for Japan’s student representatives is well underway. In August, over 80 students gathered at Nagasaki International University (NIU) in Sasebo, Nagasaki to complete three practical exams in an effort to be one of fifteen students selected to go to the next round. Anticipation for IBO2020 is high, with more Japanese students than ever applying to compete in the preliminary rounds of the Japan Biology Olympiad (JBO).


If Nagasaki International University sounds familiar, that’s because it will also serve as the venue for IBO2020. “It’s a very modern and spacey university with huge, well equipped lab facilities,” says Taiga Araki, who serves as the Deputy Director of the IBO2020 Secretariat Office. Surrounded by mountains, rice fields, and a nearby harbor, the university also has facilities dedicated to Japanese cultural traditions, such a tea ceremony house. NIU is unique among Japanese universities in that among its required courses is a tea ceremony class. Such courses, according to Araki, “nurture one’s sense of self and promote discipline and conscientiousness in one’s actions.”


Nearby NIU, there are plenty of examples of the beauty of the Japanese countryside.

Students attend an event inside NIU's ceremonial teahouse.

Like many of the international competitors who will come to Sasebo in 2020, many of the 80 students who came from all across Japan had never been to Nagasaki before. “Nagasaki is very different than a place like Tokyo,” Araki says. “A lot more relaxing, and very different.” During last month’s competition, students had a chance to have new cultural experiences related to Nagasaki’s distinct nature, culture, and food. A favorite among students was sampling a dish famous across Japan that has connections to the city’s current and historical relationship to the US military: the Sasebo burger. (More on these to come!)


Monticola solitarius, a Blue Rock Thrush, seen on campus. Known as イソヒヨドリ (Iso-hiyodori) in Japanese.

Somebody found a crab! Not as easy to find one of these in Tokyo...

Other than being held in Nagasaki, this year’s JBO competition was unique for another reason as well: a typhoon. A regular occurrence during this time of year, a typhoon made landfall in Nagasaki just prior to the event. As this disrupted the travel schedules of many JBO participants and organizers, the event’s schedule was slightly shortened to accommodate those who would be arriving later. However, the staff was prepared with fun events and activities for students who arrived before the storm to participate in while they waited.


College volunteers greeting student arrivals.

So, what’s next for the fifteen students selected at the event? Over this winter, they’ll get to go to camps where they can attend lectures from biology professors and experience biochemistry experiments they usually don’t have the opportunity to participate in at home or in school. Then in March, they’ll have a final exam where the four representatives from Japan will be selected, in addition to two substitutes. After that? They’ll get to go to universities in their local areas and have access to lab facilities, where they can practice their lab techniques and learn about the research being conducted at that university.


Students on route to their exams!

In all, student excitement for this year’s JBO competition mirrored the excitement for next year’s international competition. “The students are very excited IBO2020 will be in Japan,” Araki says. “Even the college students are really eager to volunteer for the event. All of the professors are working very hard to get ready for the event to give students the best experience possible.” The same is true for the university and others in the community. “NIU and the people of Sasebo are very enthusiastic about getting to introduce the rich culture of Nagasaki, a culture which many visitors to Japan often don’t get to experience.”



The President of JBO and IBO2020, Dr. Makoto Asashima and college volunteers.



Photos: Kentaroh Honda and JBO2019 Promotional Staff