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Japanese Language Education Amid Fast Growth of Foreign Workers in Japan
-Views Based on Experiences of the 'NIHONGO (Japanese) Partners' Program
Since 2014, the Japan Foundation Asia Center has been operating a program to dispatch "NIHONGO (Japanese) Partners (NPs)" to support Japanese language education in Asia, the majority of which are located in ASEAN countries. NPs serve as educational partners to assist teachers and students in and outside Japanese language classes mainly at junior and senior high schools. The center held a special event in June and July in Tokyo, "Asia in Resonance 2019" to make its cultural exchange activities known to the public. The event was coupled with a symposium in Tokyo to discuss the center's achievements of the NP program during the past five years as well as its future prospects.
Address by the organizer,
Hiroyasu Ando, President of the Japan Foundation
Circles of Friendship Expand Even After NPs Return to Japan
The Japan Foundation Asia Center was established in April 2014 to promote the WA Project – Toward Interactive Asia through "Fusion and Harmony" – for the seven years to 2020, a foreign policy initiative for cultural exchanges in Asia announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting in December 2013. The Japanese word "Wa" bears various meanings, including peace or harmony, loop or rim, ring or circle.
The center has been engaged in two main areas of activity for cultural exchanges under the initiative – the NP program and a range of programs to promote interactive exchanges in art and culture. In May this year, the center held a symposium on the NP program in Jakarta jointly with Indonesia's Ministry of Education and Culture. Discussions at the symposium confirmed that NPs have continued to expand the scope of their ties and interactions with local people even after their stints ended.
The NP program is slated to end in 2020. But the Japan Foundation is planning to explore possibilities for continuing the fruitful program in and after 2021.
Address by Guest Speaker, Koichi Hagiuda,
Member of the House of Representatives and Executive Acting Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party
NP Program Should be Continued to Help Create a Multicultural, Diversity-friendly Society
NPs have created a lot of goodwill toward Japan among people in the host countries through dedicated efforts to make Japanese culture better understood and appreciated.
In November last year, a ceremony was held in Tokyo to present letters of gratitude to NPs who had returned home during the past year after finishing their terms of service. During the ceremony, I heard many NPs talk about how they still enjoyed friendly relationships with local people in the countries or in the region in which they had served. Some of them also talked about how participation in the program had affected them, how their experiences as NPs had changed their lives and helped them find the career paths they wanted to pursue.
I hope NPs will take advantage of the spirit of mutual understanding they have cultivated through their service in Asia to contribute to multicultural understanding in Japan and building a society where people with different cultural backgrounds can live in harmony. As the cheerleader for the NP program, I hereby promise afresh to devote my efforts to ensuring that the program will continue.
Address by Guest Speaker Dr. Supriano, M.Ed., Director General of Teachers and Educational Personnel, Ministry of Education and Culture, Indonesia (reading the message of Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture, Prof. Dr. Muhadjir Effendy)
NPs can Contribute to Building the Character of Children in Asia through Cultural Exchanges
Representing the Republic of Indonesia, I thank the Japanese government and the Japan Foundation for their great contribution to improving the quality of Japanese language education in Indonesia. Activities of NPs help build networks of human relations involving people of both Japan and Indonesia, which promote valuable cultural interactions between the two countries.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo places as much importance on soft infrastructure as on hard infrastructure because of the belief that culture gives dignity to the nation. We are eager to see the NP program continue and expand the scope of activities from just teaching students about Japanese language and culture to helping Indonesian students cultivate character so that they can play important roles both at home and abroad. I also hope this symposium will contribute to promoting mutual understanding beyond cultural differences and to world peace.
Message from a Student
Sophomore at Nanzan University's Department of Policy Studies
NP Program Provides Incentive to Study at Japanese Universities and Work for Japanese Companies
In my childhood, I read many Japanese manga and became interested in learning about Japanese culture and language. To pursue my interest in Japan, I took a Japanese language course at my high school in Thailand. When I was a third-year student, Ms. Kana came to our school as an NP. She was the first Japanese teacher at our school. Ms. Kana helped us with our training for a Japanese speech contest and to prepare for a Japanese proficiency test. She also introduced various aspects of Japanese culture to Thai students and teachers at our school through cultural events like the Tanabata star festival.
If more NPs are dispatched to high schools outside Japan, foreign students will be able to study Japanese more actively and efficiently and receive a stronger incentive to seek to study at Japanese universities and work for Japanese companies.
Discussion Session 1
Valuable Human Bonds and Mutual Understanding Grow Out of Interactive Exchanges
Program Should Be More Focused on Active Efforts to Promote Bonds, Mutual Understanding
Sakoda: Can you talk about the roles of NPs and their counterpart teachers (CPs) at local schools?
Watanabe: I was sent to a high school in Indonesia to assist teachers in Japanese language classes and introduce Japanese culture to students through experience learning. In Japanese language classes, I demonstrated how to pronounce Japanese words for students and served as a partner in Japanese conversation to give students opportunities to experience communicating in Japanese with a native Japanese speaker. For introducing Japanese culture to students, I organized events to allow students to experience making onigiri rice balls, doing shodo calligraphy and wearing yukata casual kimono.
Rahmawitri: At our school, 315 of the 1,071 students are learning Japanese. Participants in weekly Japanese language club activities can experience elements of Japanese culture, such as cuisine, dance and calligraphy. There is strong motivation on both sides to communicate with each other. While NPs are working hard to master Indonesian, our CPs and students are learning Japanese with greater enthusiasm than before.
Kachi: I was sent to an integrated junior and senior high school in Thailand. I helped students planning to take part in a national Japanese speech contest. Despite working hard, we failed to qualify for the contest. Although we felt chagrined at the failure, I was impressed by the students' decision to start immediately practicing for next year's contest.
Thananan: We offer three types of Japanese language classes – classes for Japanese major students, elective classes and a Japanese culture and language club. The number of students wishing to learn Japanese has been growing year after year. NPs always communicate with students and teachers with a smile. They have come across as ever-smiling persons. Since NPs started teaching at our school, the students' attitudes have changed considerably. They have acquired the habit of lining up their shoes after taking them off and being on time for classes.
Mishima: I was sent to Da Nang, Vietnam, where I did various activities at a high school and two junior high schools. I put a high priority on exchanges with Japanese schools and arranged for my students to exchange nengajo New Year's greeting cards with students at a junior high school in Nara, where I used to live. In a class on composing haiku poems at a senior high school, despite concerns about the high level of the task, students made some impressive pieces, such as "Seishun no yume kanaeru gambaro" (I will do my best / Work with all my zest / To realize the dream in my youthful chest) and "Kaze ga fuku kumo ga oyogu ya sukoshi samishii" (When the wind blows / And clouds flow / I feel a little low). My CP was quite happy about it.
Phung Thi Trinh: Our school has four Japanese language classes with about 40 students for each. In our classes, students read famous Japanese fairy tales including "Momotaro" and "Tsuru no Ongaeshi." An NP gave us these books in 2017. The NP mainly helps students pronounce Japanese words correctly. The presence of an NP lifts students' motivation to learn Japanese.
Sakoda: What are the advantages of serving as an NP and having an NP at a school?
Watanabe: The biggest benefit is that it helps you grow by learning new things.
Rahmawitri: Family-like encounters and ties. In addition to working together in Japanese language classes, I also ate, went shopping and played with the NP. Even after the NP returned home, we have kept in touch through social media.
Thananan: The NP brought to us a charming smile from Japan. The smile made Japanese language classes enjoyable and lifted our spirits.
Kachi: The NP program gives you opportunities to encounter different cultures and develop a sense of gratitude.
Phung Thi Trinh: NPs serve as a bridge between Asian countries. I hope they will spread circles of friendship among people in Asia.
Mishima: NP activities go beyond the teacher-student relationship and bring about heart-to-heart exchanges between people.
Sakoda: The theme of this session means "valuable bonds and mutual understanding," which naturally grow out of interactive exchanges. From the viewpoint of Japan's future as a multicultural society, it is time for us to focus more on active efforts to create bonds and promote mutual understanding. We should strive toward these aims.
Discussion Session 2
The Importance of the NP Program for the Future of Japan
NPs can Contribute to Understanding Both Common Elements and Differences Between Two Cultures
Nishihara: What is the significance of the NP program?
Doden: When I visit other Asian countries to cover news stories, I feel a growing wave of interest in learning the Japanese language. Learning a foreign language and knowing more about a different culture changes the way you see the world. It would be significant if more students in Asia become keen to learn more about other countries to see the world from a broader perspective. The challenge now for the NP program is to offer next steps for students who have learned about Japan through the program to deepen their knowledge and understanding. The NP program has also caused changes in how NPs see the world. Even after they return to Japan, NPs are creating new exchanges in Japan. Japanese companies and society are still in the process of becoming truly diverse. Interactive exchanges between Japan and other Asian countries through the NP program will be beneficial for Japan's future.
Kitti: In the 1970s, there were fierce anti- Japanese movements in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. As many Japanese companies have expanded into Southeast Asia since the late 1980s and Japanese pop culture was introduced to the region, the public image of Japan in the region improved. Now, the relationship between Japan and Southeast Asia is closer and more interdependent than ever. In terms of culture, however, China, South Korea and Singapore are also gaining popularity in the region, which means Japan is not the only option. Japan will need to accept more foreign workers in the coming years and take steps to become a multicultural society. From this point of view, Japan should continue the NP program while improving it for NP 2.0 and NP 3.0.
Fukino: We are a startup to develop computer programs for industrial robots. Under our work-life integration policy, employees are allowed to bring their children to the workplace, depending on their operational situations. When schools are closed for a holiday, we see many children at the company. Nearly 40% of our employees are foreign nationals. The theme of the series of Asia Center's events, including this symposium, is "Asia in Resonance." In music, resonance means the intensification and enrichment of a musical tone by supplementary vibration. If there is a wall between two sound sources, there can be no resonance. The wall in human interaction is not language, but prejudice.
Nishihara: What then is the most effective way to achieve real diversity?
Fukino: A culture fully open to people with different cultural backgrounds breeds diversity. It doesn't occur naturally. In the case of our company, we are committed to the principle of "simplicity first," which is acceptable to all. It is vital for the entire organization to be committed to common goals and governed by rules accepted by all.
Doden: It is necessary to establish a system capable of embracing the views of minorities as well.
Kitti: People generally have much in common, even if their cultural backgrounds are different. We need to seek common factors while understanding diversity. In pursuing diversity, it is important to stress common factors while understanding differences.
Nishihara: The NP program, which promotes the understanding of both differences and commonalities, should be continued.