Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
～ Offering international students enrolled in Japanese language schools opportunities to experience Japan ～
In Close Up this month we introduce Edogawa Aris. Edogawa Aris is a volunteer organization based in Edogawa City which has about 33,500 foreign residents, the second highest concentration among Tokyo’s 23 wards. Since its inception in 2005 by interested members of the International Community Development Division of Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku(College of Life), an institution dedicated to lifelong learning in Edogawa City, the organization has been providing various social and support activities to international students enrolled in a major Japanese language school in the city. The name of the organization “Aris” is an acronym for its desire: “To be Every International Student’s Helper (Arayuru Ryugakusei-no Suketto)”. On this occasion we visited the Activity Room of the Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku and spoke with representative Mr. Tatsuo Nagasaka, deputy representative Ms. Sachiyo Hihara, and public relations officer Ms. Masako Shinada.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of Edogawa Aris.
I am one of the founding members of Edogawa Aris, an organization established by the inaugural students of the International Community Division of Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku. The Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku is a learning institution initiated by Edogawa City to support people who wish to contribute their accumulated knowledge and experience to the community. Second year students at the institution must undertake some form of community service as part of the curriculum. As members of the inaugural class of the International Community Division, in 2005, we sought to dedicate ourselves to community service with an “international” aspect. What gave us the idea at that time was a comment made by an international student who was delivering a newspaper to the house of our colleague, the first representative of our organization; “I have no contact with Japanese people”. In this comment we saw our calling to focus on activities to serve international students and we began to exchange letters with students at one of the major Japanese language schools in Edogawa City. This is how we began to socialize with students from Japanese language schools, and the members participating in this activity founded Edogawa Aris. The current representative, Mr. Nagasaka, was a member of the second class of Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku, and Ms. Hihara, the deputy representative, the fourth class.
An international student in her first attempt to learn rituals of the tea ceremony while sitting on her legs bent beneath her.
International Students introduced to the koto (Japanese zither) not only feel the instrument but play it too.
What are the principal activities?
We socialize and undertake support activities with international students learning Japanese at the Toho International College located in Kasai, Edogawa City. In addition to “Introduction to Japanese Culture”, “Gathering in Japanese”, and “Christmas Party”, we engage in “local socialization” activities. For example, we take international students to disaster drills offered to foreign residents and persons with disabilities, and we accompany them to see movies at the local film festival. Most popular among international students is the “Introduction to Japanese Culture” held in the Genshin-an hermitage in Gyosen Park. In this outing, international students experience the tea ceremony, koto (Japanese zither) and Nankin Tamasudare (a type of Japanese street performance) as they marvel at the authentic Japanese architecture and garden. The “Introduction to Japanese Culture” is part of the student graduation events of Toho International College, and in the 2018 academic year we organized 6 events between January and February to accommodate all 186 graduates. Each year about five Edogawa Aris members attend the graduation ceremony of the college, and I, as representative of the organization, give a congratulatory speech. I believe this indicates the confidence and appreciation the college has for the activities we have realized with them over several years.
Students learn how to operate fire extinguishers during the disaster drill held at
the Edogawa Fire Station.
Experiencing Japanese culture.
Attempting to use Nankin Tamasudare.
How involved are the international students attending the events?
In the “Gathering in Japanese” event held at the beginning of the year, during classes at Toho International College we introduce and play Japanese New Year games, such as fukuwarai (similar to pin the tail on the donkey), sugoroku (a traditional Japanese board game) and bozu-mekuri (a card game), which are now almost forgotten in Japanese society. Teachers at the college are impressed, commenting that they have never seen the students so animated and happy. For the Christmas Party held in December, we offer bingo, and that too gets very animated.
All international students attending our events comment how much fun they had. Seeing them, I realize that they are not just flattering us, and it gives us much pleasure to see the wide smiles that they don't show much of during the regular classes.
International students with sparkling smiles.
Truly enjoying the event.
What are your impressions of the experiences you've shared with students after spending so much time with them?
I feel that international students are increasing their level of Japanese fluency every year. It used to be that some students dedicated themselves more to part time work than to learning the language, but I now have the impression that all students are eager to improve themselves. Well, actually, students now won't be admitted to college if they don’t meet minimum language requirements. Conversing with them often makes me recall when I was young and had been working desperately on whatever, and it makes me want to support them even more. Edogawa Aris members want to be Japanese mothers and fathers to the international students, but as many members are now of advanced years, it is more like Japanese grandmothers and grandfathers (laughing).
What is the secret to continuing the volunteer activities over the long run?
The motto of Edogawa Aris is, “Do what you can when you can, with pleasure and in good faith”. The best motivator to continue with volunteer activities is to participate joyfully at one's own pace, and not feel stressful obligation. It is OK for a member to participate only one or two times per year in the activities, if this is his or her rhythm. As for me, I enjoy talking with young international students who treat me with sincerity in spite of our age difference, and this motivates me to continue.
Edogawa Aris currently has 16 members. It is difficult to fill all scheduled activities with this small number of people, therefore we sometimes ask for help from other organizations, just as we sometimes help with their events. It is a collaboration, that is, mutual support between organizations which makes it possible to continue offering our activities without major problems.
If there are any, can you tell us about any difficulties with the activities?
With the average age of current members at over 70, it is a headache that we can't recruit new members. I worry sometimes that the strong bonds between existing members impedes people from joining the organization. Now that we have established a friendly and trusting relationship with our counterpart, Toho International College, I consequently hope to gain more members who can take our place to continue offering friendly social activities to the international students of the college.
In addition to inviting Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku members to join in our activities, we showcased our activities at a booth in the Edogawa City Volunteer Festival. Among current members are not only those who completed a course at Edogawa Sogo-Jinsei-Daigaku, but also working people, and I would kindly ask those interested to get in touch with us.