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NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives ~Continuing to Be There for Both Students and Teachers of Japanese ~

© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

Members and affiliate members of the NIHONGO NO KAI. Director Shukuya is shown seated on the right.

July’s Close Up introduces the NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives. Located in Shimokitazawa in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, in addition to offering its Japanese language lessons for the benefit of foreign nationals, the NIHONGO NO KAI undertakes a number of other activities including the holding of seminars on the teaching of the Japanese language. It is also engaged in the development of language teaching resources, etc. Moreover, concerning women whose lives have become home-focused due to matters such as marriage, childbirth and child-rearing, etc., the NIHONGO NO KAI seeks to play a role in offering them an avenue by which they may once again become active in wider society. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak with the co-operatives’ Director Ms. Kazuko Shukuya, both about what distinguishes NIHONGO NO KAI activities and about their plans for the future.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of the NIHONGO NO KAI?

A. The NIHONGO NO KAI is a group of Japanese language teachers. The group grew out of a gathering that took place in 1984 among some Ochanomizu University graduates. As to why we were established, focusing on the exchange students that were here in Japan at that time etc., there was a dramatic increase in the number of foreign nationals who wished to study the Japanese language and have interactions with Japanese people. Back then, among our group of teachers we felt that it was necessary to provide as good a Japanese language education as we could. Moreover, this idea was linked to the desire to provide housewives engaged in child-rearing with motivating opportunities. Accordingly, what was established was the NIHONGO NO KAI, which we viewed as an avenue by which such women could once again become socially active through their participation in the field of Japanese language education. With our motto of wanting to learn by ourselves while concurrently giving back what we had learnt to society, while we continued as a group in our study of the Japanese language, through responding to requests, at some point we started to teach the Japanese language to foreign nationals. Again, when we started out, we were a voluntary group. However, in 1988 we became incorporated as a co-operative, and that is how we have stayed. The NIHONGO NO KAI membership is currently comprised of those members who have paid in capital and work with us. We also have affiliate members who support our activities on the side. In total, we have roughly 40 people involved.

Q. Please tell me about the main activities that you currently undertake.

A. Speaking broadly, the content of our activities is split into three categories. Firstly, there are the Japanese language lessons for foreign nationals. Secondly, we offer courses and seminars about how Japanese is best taught to Japanese people who are learning to teach the language. Thirdly, as other activities we offer “common room” events where students who are learning Japanese are able to come in and have a conversation with a native-speaking volunteer, and we also hold study meetings on a variety of themes along with engaging in the development of language teaching resources, etc. While our Japanese language lessons are held in rather confined spaces at our offices, we nevertheless try to leverage such constraints to our advantage in that we promote an atmosphere that has very much an “at home” feel about it. Furthermore, because all of our teaching staff are women, one of the distinctive features of NIHONGO NO KAI Japanese classes is that we make use of the perspective of trying to conduct lessons that are better able to help ordinary citizens. Moreover, the courses that we conduct on teaching the Japanese language are held in the same confined spaces. As such, we take great care to create a harmonious environment where both teaching and learning can take place.

© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives © NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

“Converse in Japanese in the common room!” is an event that is held each Friday at Kitazawa Town Hall

Q. Please tell me about your development of language teaching resources.

A. We first tried our hand at a resource called “The Informative Japanese Dictionary,” which was developed to benefit foreign students learning Japanese. It features a wealth of examples as to how certain aspects of the Japanese language may be used, and the sample sentences it contains are annotated with furigana, etc. Concerning this dictionary that we developed thoroughly so that it would be easily used by foreign students, it has become a long seller since it was initially published in 1995. Furthermore, in response to the increasing number of regional Japanese language classes which have resulted from more and more foreign nationals coming to Japan, we changed the focus of the aforementioned dictionary and published two books entitled “Japanese for People Living in Japan” (Parts Ⅰ and Ⅱ). Those two volumes have a focus on that language that is important for ordinary citizens to understand. Going even further, we then narrowed the content of “Japanese for People Living in Japan” into two additional volumes called Ippo Nihongo Sanpo Kurashi no Nihongo Kyoshitsu (Beginners Level 1 and 2). Concerning this third pair of texts, I am happy to report that they have been very well received, and not just by people learning the language. Rather, we have also received positive feedback as to the texts being easy to use from volunteers who teach Japanese. I am also happy to report that we receive requests to hold courses and seminars for volunteers who are supporting Japanese language classes at the regional level and who are using these teaching resources. We also receive requests from local municipalities, international associations and volunteer groups, etc.

© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

“The Informative Japanese Dictionary” has become a long seller and is also published overseas. The other texts were developed while adopting the stance of bringing together the students and supporters of regional Japanese language classes.
© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

Q. I’ve also heard that through requests received from business and various institutions, your group has been made responsible for the carrying out of Japanese language education?

A. In the early days, even if we approached business, it was difficult to get much traction for what we were doing. However, little-by-little we built up a track record, and we began to be considered for such work. The longest project we have been involved in is teaching Japanese to foreign trainees on the Technical Intern Training Program, we’ve been doing that for close to 20 years. Furthermore, we have also been responsible for teaching Japanese to Indonesian candidates from the caregivers’ program who come to Japan in accordance with the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) concluded with that country. For the purpose of passing the caregivers’ national examination, we have supported these Indonesian candidates with their Japanese studies while they also gain some three years of hands-on experience at retirement homes for the elderly.

© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives © NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

Indonesian trainees on the Technical Intern Training Program (L)
and a group photo from the final day of “Japanese classes” held by Setagaya Ward. (R)
© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

Q. In that you have been involved in the teaching of Japanese for many years, are you conscious of any changes that have occurred among those who seek to learn the language?

A. I sense that there is now a greater diversity in the nationalities, the backgrounds and the reasons for which people seek to learn Japanese. While on one hand we see people come to Japan for a short period of one or two months, and who try and pick up a bit of the language while they are here, there are also others who decide to settle in Japan permanently and thoroughly develop their language skills. Moreover, whereby it used to be the case that the core of the student population was comprised of working people and those who had come to Japan as exchange students, these days there seem to be more and more foreign nationals arriving in Japan because they are parties to an international marriage. What is more, and it might be something just unique to Shimokitazawa as a locality, we’ve even had unique students who came to Japan because they wanted “to learn the art of making buckwheat noodles.” In that in teaching such people the instructor requires some flexibility in their teaching style, things can be also rather difficult for the teacher.

Q. And what about the NIHONGO NO KAI, is there anything that you currently feel represents an issue?

A. The big issue for us at the moment is finding people who are willing to follow in our footsteps. Those of our members who have been active for many years are now getting quite old. Thus, I would like to get some much younger people to join us. As to the conditions that would need to be met in order to join our group, one qualification I would raise would be having a sufficient knowledge of Japanese language education, such which might have been gained by successfully completing the 420-hour Japanese Language Teaching Course. That being said, however, when it comes to actual teaching, it is not necessarily the case that just having such theoretical knowledge is sufficient. Through a range of experiences gained in actual teaching, we would like to have candidates who are willing to become professionals in their teaching of others. Moreover, at the current time in particular, given the increasing number of requests that we receive for the holding of courses aimed at the volunteers who are supporting regional Japanese language classes, whatever the case, I believe we would like to develop a lot more human resources who could teach such courses.

Q. What areas would you like to focus on in the future through your activities?

© NIHONGO NO KAI Business Co-operatives

A. Going forward, I would like to see us get more involved in the Japanese language education associated with the expected increased demand for foreign caregivers. Concerning the difficulties that have been experienced in providing support to the candidates from the caregiver’s program who have come to Japan in accordance with the EPA concluded with Indonesia, I believe that the Japanese that these students are forced to learn is perhaps too difficult. To put the argument differently, the complexity of the technical terms used by caregivers would probably confuse most Japanese. As such, expecting foreign nationals to learn such language places a very heavy burden on their shoulders. Moreover, with respect to the foreign nationals who do work on the front lines in the providing of care here in Japan, it has to be remembered that the users of these services are all elderly, their work colleagues, the families of the users, the contractors entering and exiting the facility, volunteers and local residents are all Japanese. As such, the foreign caregivers are forced to communicate with all these stakeholders using Japanese. That in itself is an issue because, with respect to the Japanese language support that these foreign nationals who work in caregiving receive, for those doing the instructing there is more required than simply the knowledge and know-how of teaching Japanese. Rather, we also need to appreciate what actually takes place on the front lines of caregiving, and the language that is expected to be used there. This is an issue that represents a major challenge for the NIHONGO NO KAI. Thus, as a group of professional Japanese instructors, I would like to see us get proactively involved in Japanese language education as it applies to the field of caregiving.