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Association for Arakawa International Communications. Connecting Arakawa citizens and foreign residents together.

This month’s Close UP features the Association for Arakawa International Communications, which was established in October 1993 with a goal to realize a community where local citizens and over 15,000 foreign residents share each other’s diverse cultural backgrounds. The association’s projects include international exchange programs, support for foreign residents in Arakawa City, promotion of communications between local citizens and foreign residents, and many more. For this interview, we visited a Japanese language class for foreigners, which is the center of the association's foreign residents support project. We talked to Hironori Urata, an office staff member of the association, Ms. Umemoto, a Japanese instructor, and volunteer members who support the class.

Hironori Urata
Culture and Exchange Promotion Section, Civic Life Affairs Division, Arakawa City

Please tell us about the Japanese language class that the association offers for foreign residents.

A. ■Mr. Urata:This class aims to help foreign people who are new to the life in Japan and is designed to teach them basic Japanese language that should be helpful for them to get used to their new home and community. On a one teacher-to-one student basis, we teach phrases necessary for daily living in such situations as taking a train, shopping at a store, disposing trash, and so on. This class also serves as a social salon where those newcomer residents see our volunteer instructors who are also residents of Arakawa and get local information from them such as which supermarket is having a sale. We also organize seasonal events four times a year to provide them an opportunity to experience Japanese culture. We decorate a bamboo tree with tanzaku (wish notes on strips of paper) for tanabata star festival in July. We let them try calligraphy and tea ceremony at our fall culture festival. In December, the event focuses on Japanese traditional customs for yearend and new year celebrations. In March, we enjoy making chirashizushi for hinamatsuri (doll festival) together. These are the ways our Japanese class helps to introduce our participants to Japanese culture and customs.

Japanese language class for foreigners

Students make chirashizushi and various other dishes from their home country

How can one become a volunteer instructor for the Japanese language class?

A. ■Mr. Urata: We ask volunteer applicants to first participate in our Japanese language volunteer training. The training consists of 12 lessons, in which future instructors learn necessary skills for teaching Japanese and also how they should interact with students as a volunteer instructor. We ask our volunteers to view their students as partners who live together in the same community. We use regular textbooks for the classes, but the volunteer instructors occasionally prepare additional teaching materials when needed. Each instructor is very creative, using supermarket flyers and such. It is important that the instructors stay flexible to the learner’s needs rather than teaching one-sidedly.

We understand that you also offer cultural classes such as of tea ceremony and flower arrangement.

A. ■Mr. Urata: We hold a tea ceremony class for foreign people twice a month throughout the year. We had a participant who was first introduced to the tea ceremony at our class and later became serious and finally received a certificate. She is now a big helper for our tea ceremony events as an assistant to the instructor. As for the flower arrangement class, we just started it last year after receiving requests from tea ceremony students who also wanted to learn flower arrangement. We have scheduled four classes this year. In July, we also have a yukata class to teach how to dress in yukata so that people can enjoy wearing it to summer festivals and fireworks. We hope these cultural classes serve as a place where foreign people get connected to local people including our volunteers while enjoying these cultural events.

Tea ceremony class for foreigners

How would you describe the role of the association?

A. ■Mr. Urata: Our role is to promote “matching” between local citizens who want to find foreign friends and foreign residents who want to find Japanese friends. For example, we were once asked by a Japanese language school in the city to help find an opportunity where their exchange students could get in touch with a local community. So we took the students to a local festival, and everybody including the students and people of the community really enjoyed meeting each other. It is one of the association’s roles to create and provide opportunities where Japanese locals and foreign residents share the moment to better understand each other. It is our pleasure if we can make the foreign residents feel that Arakawa is a good and safe city to live.

We visited the association on the day when its Japanese language class for the month of April just started. Ikuko Usuba, who guided us through the class, said that although the number of students taking a class is less than usual because of the recent major earthquake, the class is providing an ideal environment for students as more than one volunteer attend to one student.
After the class, we talked to Ms. Umemoto, a Japanese instructor who is in charge of the association’s Japanese language class and language volunteer training.

The Japanese language classes are held at the Arakawa City Lifelong Learning Center, whose building was formerly used as an elementary school

(Left) Ikuko Usuba, Culture and Exchange Promotion Section, Civic Life Affairs Division, Arakawa City
(Right) Ms. Umemoto, a Japanese instructor

What aspects most receive your attention when running the volunteer training?

A. ■Ms. Umemoto: It is difficult to teach many things in a limited time. Among essential skills needed in teaching Japanese as a foreign language, I focus on the basics of terms and verbal groups that are unique to Japanese language education, such as i-adjective and na-adjective. As for the skills of our volunteers as they interact with students, we ask them to establish a relationship between residents living in the same community of Arakawa City, not a relationship between an instructor and a student. Each of our students is an adult who has had life experiences, only they are not able to speak Japanese. I ask our volunteer instructors to always respect their students.

In what moment do you find it rewarding to work as a Japanese instructor?

A. ■Ms. Umemoto: : It always makes me feel rewarded when I see people trying to get through a tough time in their new life in Japan by working hard at the class. Some people stop coming to the class once they become able to speak a bit, but the biggest reason for our students to stop coming is that they have found a part-time job and got busy. We feel glad that our students are able to find a job and start becoming part of the community because of their language skills they obtained at our classes. It is also my pleasure to see our volunteer instructors each being unique and creative in helping the students to learn Japanese. I believe a community that is comfortable for foreign residents is also a community that is comfortable for Japanese residents. It is my ideal that Japanese and foreign residents share the community as a good neighbor to each other.

We have also collected comments from Japanese language volunteer instructors to finish our interview.

 I became a volunteer because I wanted to make a contribution to our community. I enjoy being a volunteer because my work makes someone feel good and also makes myself feel good. I am glad that I have made many friends.
 I became a volunteer to show my appreciation for all the help my son received in the United States. I am always grateful that I learn a lot from our students.

 I myself lived overseas and know how hard it can be to live in a foreign country, so I wanted to help people in the same situation. My students are all easy going and are fun to teach.
 Many of our students enjoy coming to the class for making friends rather than studying Japanese. I have found that the class is important for many participants as it serves as a place where they come to see each other and chat to relieve themselves from stress.

 It is difficult to teach Japanese, but I thought I could become a good neighbor for foreign residents. I want to be helpful for them so that they have as few problems as possible in their lives in Japan.
 I try to make the class interesting for beginners as to motivate them to continue their study. For serious learners who have mastered our class, I recommend them to challenge the Japanese Language Proficiency Test as a goal.

 When I became sick and couldn’t teach the class for a while, I received a letter from my former student telling me that she was motivated to study Japanese more seriously because of my class and decided to start going to a Japanese language school. It was especially encouraging as I was feeling down. It was written in her best Japanese, and that made me really happy.