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The Japan Foundation Asia Center - People Becoming Bridges between Asia and Japan: Japanese Language Partners -

Mr. Yuki Hamada, Senior Officer, Japanese Language Program Section, Communications and Outreach Section, Asia Center, the Japan Foundation

Mr. Yuki Hamada, Senior Officer,
Japanese Language Program Section,
Communications and Outreach Section,
Asia Center, the Japan Foundation

February’s Close Up introduces the “NIHONGO Partners” dispatch program run by the Japan Foundation’s Asia Center. “NIHONGO Partners” are individuals who are sent from Japan to nations throughout the ASEAN Region. Their role is to act as partners in assisting both Japanese language teachers and students of Japanese. In addition to obviously conveying the attraction of Japan’s language and culture, through learning local languages, cultures and customs, the “NIHONGO Partners” also play a role in realizing mutual exchanges with people in various countries. This program is a very recent development, having commenced in 2014. On this occasion we spoke about it with Mr. Yuki Hamada, an Asia Center Senior Officer.

Q.Tell us what led to the establishment of the Japan Foundation’s Asia Center.

© The Japan Foundation

© The Japan Foundation

A. At the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting held in December 2013, an announcement was made concerning the "WA Project" ~Toward Interactive Asia through "Fusion and Harmony". This project represents a new Japanese government policy for Cultural Exchanges in Asia. In preparing for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Asia Center was newly-established in April 2014 within the Japan Foundation. Centering on ASEAN Region countries, our job is to execute the WA Project by focusing on cultural exchange programs. Our mission is to strengthen ties within Asia. By having the region’s citizens develop respect and mutual understanding of one another through exchanges and common projects; we aim to foster feelings of empathy and harmonious coexistence among Asia’s neighbors. “Arts and Cultural Exchanges” and “Supporting Japanese Language Education” represent the WA Project’s two pillars. It was under the latter that the “NIHONGO Partners” dispatch program was established.

Q.What does the “NIHONGO Partners” dispatch program hope to achieve?

A. In ASEAN countries, the “NIHONGO Partners” are mainly dispatched to institutions of secondary learning, etc. The Japanese equivalent of such institutions would be the senior high school. Some 1.13 million people are studying Japanese throughout Southeast Asia. However, many such students haven’t visited Japan. Moreover, they have few opportunities to speak in person with Japanese nationals. Accordingly, the reality is that they cannot hear Japanese spoken live. In light of this, as native speakers of Japanese, the “NIHONGO Partners” are dispatched to schools to support local Japanese language teachers. Also, through students receiving an opportunity to come into contact with the living Japanese language, an aim of “NIHONGO Partners” is to heighten student motivation. Moreover, the role of “Nihongo Partners” is not just unidirectional in that they “teach”. Rather, another aim is for program participants to learn local languages and experience local cultures, and to bring such experiences back with them when they return to Japan.

Q.I found the “NIHONGO Partners” name to be rather unique.

A. At the end of the day, the key persons in the teaching of Japanese language in these countries are the local teachers. The role of the “NIHONGO Partners” is to be somebody who supports such Thai and Indonesian teachers. This idea is one distinctive feature of the program. By introducing a native Japanese speaker into the classroom, students will also enjoy their education, and it is hoped that their desire to learn will increase accordingly. Furthermore, the program is more than just about language. We hope that the “NIHONGO Partners” will also introduce a diverse range of Japanese culture to the schools and communities to which they are dispatched. By 2020, over a seven-year period we hope to send more than 3,000 “NIHONGO Partners” overseas.

© The Japan Foundation

© The Japan Foundation

Q.What sort of people apply to join the program?

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On September 29, 2014 (Fri.), the first group of 29
“NIHONGO Partners” bound for Thailand departed.
© The Japan Foundation

A. The program’s age range is rather broad, with persons between 20 and 69 years old being accepted. Despite this, however, we get many applications from students in their 20s, and also from senior applicants who have already retired. Combined, these two groups account for perhaps 60% of all applications. Some student applicants are considering future careers as Japanese language teachers. Meanwhile, some senior applicants have previously lived in Southeast Asia. This latter group can view the program as an opportunity to payback the region for previous kindnesses. Moreover, although we don’t require that applicants have formal Japanese language teaching qualifications and experience, some of our student applicants have nevertheless majored in Japanese language education, while some senior applicants have also previously taught Japanese as volunteers.

Q.What sort of reports do you receive from “NIHONGO Partners” while they are dispatched overseas?

A. One of our “NIHONGO Partners” reported that, at the school to which they were dispatched, the Japanese vocabulary of the local language teacher whom they supported had grown as a result of their interactions with one another. Another told us that more reticent students in classes were now making every attempt to communicate in Japanese. From local language teachers working at schools to which “NIHONGO Partners” have been dispatched, courtesy of Indonesia’s Education Ministry we have received feedback that the motivation of students to learn Japanese has increased. Of course, such developments make us very happy.

© The Japan Foundation © The Japan Foundation

The Asia Center website features local reports from “NIHONGO Partners” dispatched overseas.
The left-hand photo is of a school dance competition in Mindanao.
The photo on the right shows a lesson where students learned the cat’s cradle.
© The Japan Foundation

Q.What sort of lives do “NIHONGO Partners” lead when dispatched overseas?

A. The Asia Center makes arrangements for housing in each country that is of a normal standard. While people might experience some inconvenience with local-style toilets and showers with no hot water, we hope they become accustomed to the local lifestyle. For example, there was a “NIHONGO Partner” dispatched to Indonesia. This person consulted with a local teacher about preventing insect invasions of the home. The teacher’s advice was “take a piece of chalk and draw a white line around the house”. There are also local Japanese coordinators familiar with local languages and customs, and these people support the “NIHONGO Partners”. However, rather than being overly dependent on such coordinators, we prefer that individual “NIHONGO Partners” overcome their difficulties while interacting with local communities. Indeed, if more people have an opportunity to live overseas as “foreigners” in other societies, I believe there be a positive benefit here in Japan as the number of foreign residents living in our own society increases.

© The Japan Foundation © The Japan Foundation

The photo on the left shows a lesson conducted in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand.
The photo on the right shows a classroom in Jakarta, Indonesia
© The Japan Foundation

Q.Please tell me about the training that occurs before participants are dispatched overseas.

© The Japan Foundation

A photo from the one-month training prior to dispatch
© The Japan Foundation

A. There is a one-month training program prior to being dispatched overseas. In addition to language lessons, participants receive thorough instruction regarding topics such as culture, customs, religion and personal safety, etc. Furthermore, if applicants undergo this training program, even if they have no experience at all in teaching the Japanese language, they can develop the skills to act as a ”NIHONGO Partner” while cooperating with the local teachers in the different countries. Furthermore, they can pick up hints regarding how to convey elements of Japanese culture to other people. In addition to traditional cultural pastimes such as origami and calligraphy, we don’t want participants to overthink things, rather they may wish to talk about anything from manga and anime, character-themed lunchboxes, or popular date spots, etc. Furthermore, once participants have arrived at their destination, we set aside approximately one week for local orientation. As such, participants develop the minimum level of skills they require as a “NIHONGO Partners” even before they start working in schools.

Q.Please give us a final message.

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Mr. Hamada, “The program will
continue until 2020.
I would encourage people to
apply when they feel ready.”

A. The concept behind this project is having people from diverse backgrounds convey a broad range of Japanese culture to others. In that participants are not required to have specific knowledge and experience in teaching the Japanese language, people don’t need to be hesitant about getting involved. Speaking of our long-term aims, if through this project more and more people become interested in Japan’s language and culture, at some point in the future a cycle will be created when they decide to visit Japan. Currently in Southeast Asia, more than 1 million people are learning Japanese and they want an opportunity to have contact with native speakers of the language. Thus, I would strongly encourage those people who love a challenge to consider an application to the program.