Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
Interviews organizations and people about their activities and initiatives in support of foreigners, international exchange and interculturalism.
~ Aiming to create a comfortable and livable Nishitokyo City for everyone, regardless of nationality or generation. ~
Nishitokyo Multicultural and International Center (hereafter referred to as NIMIC) is a non-profit organization that aims to build an “intercultural cohesion society” where both Japanese and foreign residents may live together comfortably and revitalize Nishitokyo City. Their activities range from multilingual consultation services to the planning and operation of international exchange events, and the nuturing of human resources involved in international exchange. As the various activities continued, young students began to participate in NIMIC activities. We interviewed Ms. Mariko Yamabe, chairperson, and Mr. Shunsuke Tanabe, vice chairperson, about the activities of NIMIC, which brings together a wide range of generations.
Nishitokyo City was created in 2001 with the merger of Tanashi City and Hoya City. At the time in that area, there were no organizations like the international exchange associations that were established one after another in the surrounding cities around 1990. So, the city's Living and Cultural Division and volunteers at local Japanese language classes were handling the problems of foreign residents, but they felt that there were limits to their efforts. Around 2004, the idea of establishing an international exchange organization emerged in Nishitokyo City. Professors from universities and local volunteers in the city held a round-table meeting, where they discussed and deliberated for about a year. “While some nearby municipalities had already developed systems and ordinances to accommodate foreign residents, Nishitokyo City had not yet prepared any. At the time, there was little understanding of multicultural coexistence and no budget, but the participants in the roundtable managed to pool their wisdom and create a proposal,” says chairperson, Ms. Yamabe.
And based on that proposal, NIMIC (named “Nishitokyo Multicultural and International Center” at the time of its establishment) was established in 2006. In 2008, NIMIC was certified as a specified nonprofit corporation, and reestablished as an NPO.
NIMIC aims to contribute to world peace by building a “multicultural coexistence society” where people of different cultural backgrounds understand and respect each other's differences in religion, beliefs, and lifestyles, and live together in the local communities without prejudice or discrimination. NIMIC selected the catchphrase “Living together, coexisting together,” in 2020 to reflect its philosophy and aspirations.
Currently, NIMIC is implementing the following types of projects: commissioned by Nishitokyo City, jointly sponsored by Nishitokyo City, and NIMIC's independent projects. These projects are being developed based on the “Three Pillars” outlined in the proposal at the time of NIMIC’s establishment. The first is “support for foreigners living in the community,” including consultation services; the second is “promotion of multicultural understanding and exchange,” to eliminate the “mental barrier” between Japanese and foreigners by holding events; and the third is “revitalization of activities and networking,” by holding Japanese-language volunteer courses and managing volunteer liaison meetings.
Regarding each of these pillars, Ms. Yamabe states the following: “We believe that everything needs to be balanced but, first, there has to be “support”. NIMIC considers “support” to be the job of municipalities. To assist in this gap, (NIIMIC) must promote awareness through “network revitalization” and “exchange activities” to increase the effectiveness of the support provided.
There are approximately 4,800 foreign residents in Nishitokyo City. NIMIC works with the municipal government to support the lives of foreign residents, while at the same time demonstrating its uniqueness and expertise as a non-profit organization.
For example, one of NIMIC's voluntary programs is the “Japanese Class for Kids”. Since NIMIC’s establishment, the class has been conducted based on the belief that Japanese language education for children requires expertise in understanding children's backgrounds and environments, and in supporting their growth. The Japanese Class for Kids started soon after the establishment of NIMIC, because the number of foreign children was increasing in a volunteer Japanese language class in Nishitokyo City, where Ms. Yamabe was involved before the establishment of NIMIC. Ms. Yamabe says that an organization like NIMIC was necessary to create such an environment.
A survey conducted by NIMIC in 2016 found that 87% of foreign residents in the city said they would like to continue living in Nishitokyo City. The reason for this is that there is an environment where people may talk to someone immediately when they are in trouble. NIMIC ensures that foreigners who have moved to the city may obtain a set of materials necessary for daily life at the city office, such as information on volunteer Japanese language classes. In addition, NIMIC coordinates the distribution of activity days and times among the city's twelve Japanese language classes so that foreigners may consult at any time when they need help. An environment is being created where foreign residents may connect with the local community and integrate into it. At the same time, NIMIC also works to educate the host community to promote multicultural understanding among its citizens. “When people from different cultures enter a community, whether citizens see it as ‘vitality’ or ‘a problem’ depends on their awareness. So, NIMIC is working on events and projects that positively affect citizens' awareness,” says Ms. Yamabe.
One such project is the “Foreign Student Home Visit” project, which provides an opportunity and chance for both foreigners and Japanese people to meet each other. The program is a half-day program for Japanese families to receive and interact with foreign students. One family that welcomed a Muslim student by preparing a place in their home where the student could pray said that they could not imagine such a thing taking place in their own home before and that it was a wonderful experience. “I think this is a step toward multicultural coexistence,” says Ms. Yamabe.
“When I walk around town, there are quite a few (foreigners) walking around. But I don't feel strange at all. It is becoming more and more natural to have a foreigner as a neighbor,” says Mr. Tanabe as well.
Since its establishment, NIMIC has incorporated a membership system so that members may share a sense of fellowship as they work together to create activities. Mr. Yamabe explains another reason for setting up a membership system as follows: “We wanted to show the city that we have the support of the citizens. By having the municipality recognize that we are an organization with achievements, we can establish a cooperative relationship with the city as equals.”
As of the end of February 2022, NIMIC had 195 members. Seventy percent of NIMIC members continue to be active in some way, whether as a member of an organizing committee for each event or as a volunteer on the day of each event. Those who are unable to participate also support NIMIC by paying membership fees. In addition, foreign members, who make up about 20% of the total, are also active in the organization, with two serving on the board of directors.
Nishitokyo City Kurashi no Joho (Nishitokyo City Living Information) - providing useful information for foreign residents picked up from the city newsletter and translated into Plain Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean - is produced by the city, on consignment to NIMIC. NIMIC's foreign members play a major role in its publication. Although NIMIC's activities are basically carried out largely on a volunteer basis, they also create opportunities for “social participation” by paying a consideration to the foreigners involved in the translation process. The end results are distributed at Japanese language classes, public halls, and community centers, etc.
“Our strength is to think for ourselves and work for ourselves,” says Ms. Yamabe.
“When ideas are raised among members, some resonate with these ideas and some say, ‘Well, let's give it a try,’ and then the board discusses how to proceed, and concepts and things move right along.”
Under such circumstances, one of the new business plans for 2021 was the “Youth Club,” which consists of young members from high school students to 25 years old. Several NIMIC members developed a concept plan and launched the project, and activities have already begun. Some of the current eleven participants are alumni of NIMIC's Japanese Class for Kids. Ms. Yamabe says, “We are most happy when our alumni return to our activities as volunteers.”
Although supported by three NIMIC board members, the Youth Club members are taking the initiative in planning, publicizing, and operating all Youth Club activities. And, the first event has already been a success.
“We would like to pass on NIMIC's activities to the next generation while remaining flexible and valuing the activities created by the presence of various generations,” Ms. Yamabe and Mr. Tanabe say.
Origins, nationalities, religions, races, ethnicities, generations, genders, disability statuses, and social statuses; diverse people with different cultural backgrounds living together, and coexisting together. NIMIC will continue to work toward the realization of multicultural coexistence in Nishitokyo City, through the creation of a community that is comfortable for everyone to live in.