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PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network ~Aiming to Create a Community Friendly to Everyone, Irrespective of Nationality or Background~

©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network width=

The annual PINAT Japanese Class Christmas party (shown are members of the Wednesday Class).
©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

August's Close Up introduces “PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network.” PINAT commenced its activities in January of 1992, its original base of operations being the Hachinoko Kindergarten in Mitaka City. With its initial aims being to offer support in response to the previous year’s major eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines and to engage in exchanges with victims of that disaster, later the group commenced support of foreign residents living within the local community, and it also began to offer classes on international understanding. In May of this year the group changed its name from the "Musashino Network for Pinatubo Rehabilitation" to "PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network." In Mitaka and Musashino, the group is working to create a local community that is friendly to everyone, irrespective of their nationality or background. On this occasion, we visited "Space Hachinoko" where PINAT conducts its activities. At that location, we had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Midori Nii, the PINAT Japanese Class for KIDS Coordinator; and Ms. Michiko Minami, the PINAT Japanese Class Coordinator.

Q. Please tell me about the initial years of the group, up until when the name change took place.

A. Ms. Minami What initially led to the establishment of the "Musashino Network for Pinatubo Rehabilitation" in response to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption was the presence of a Filipino among the mothers of children who were attending the Hachinoko Kindergarten at that time. As the next step in our group’s development, once our initial Pinatubo support activities had eased, in 1995 we launched our PINAT Japanese classes due to a desire to also interact with foreign nationals living in the community around us. After this, in response to requests to "teach Japanese language to children who had arrived in Japan," in 2005 we commenced Japanese language and study support classes for kids. Next, we looked to respond to an increasing number of requests that went along the lines of "I would like to learn Japanese at PINAT, however, would it be possible to also bring along my baby." Thus, in 2012, we commenced social gatherings that allow foreign mothers with babies to come along and chat. Through such endeavors, we have grown the scope of the group’s activities through allowing people to meet one another. In recognition of the major shift in our activities towards the supporting of local foreign residents, this year, we changed the group’s name to "PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network".

Q. Please tell me about the PINAT Japanese Class.

A. Ms. Minami We have classroom-style lessons on Monday evenings; and man-to-man style lessons on Wednesday mornings. In these classes, we have a wide range of volunteer instructors, there are people with formal Japanese language teaching qualifications, housewives who are raising children, and also students, etc. Concerning our students, in the evening classes many are people who are working in Japan or who are here as exchange students. On the other hand, many participants in our morning classes are foreign mothers married to Japanese husbands. In the morning classes, many of the volunteer instructors are housewives, and everyone acts as friends in that they sometimes exchange concerns regarding child-rearing issues, etc. Indeed, more than just simply a case of learning Japanese, some people come to class and talk with each other as friends. For example, some bring along newsletters from schools which are then read together with a Japanese friend, and through such interactions, there are instances of people being able to resolve any concerns they might have.

©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network ©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

These pictures show a Wednesday morning class. Students and volunteer instructors form a pair,
and lessons proceed in accordance with the needs of each individual.
©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

Q. Can I also ask you about the PINAT Japanese Class for KIDS and the study support classes?

A. Ms. Nii When we started supporting children ten years ago, the target was “children who had been born and raised overseas, and who were unable to speak Japanese.” These days, however, the children attending these classes tend to have been “born and raised in Japan, and they have Japanese as their native language.” However, in that many of them have been born to Japanese fathers and foreign mothers, while they are only able to use Japanese as the language with which they are taught, in that the native tongue of their mother is not Japanese, compared to children born in households where both parents are Japanese, some children can display lower levels of confidence in what is also supposedly their native language. For example, while such children might easily understand mushi as the word for insect, they might have difficulty with the more complex konchu (also insect). Another example is the simple mathematics of “1+1=2.” While being able to understand this simple mathematical equation, some children might have trouble when presented with a Japanese sentence such as “how many pieces of fruit would I have if I had one apple and one mandarin?” As such, in that there are differences in basic interpersonal communication languages and languages that are acquired through study, because a lack of confidence in a child’s native language can lead to difficulties in the development of conceptual learning, there are more than a few cases of slowness in school learning being misunderstood as representing learning disabilities.
A. Ms. Minami With respect to such children, hearing them speak its seems they can converse in daily conversational Japanese without any problems, and whereby their father is Japanese, in many cases they carry a Japanese name, and this also makes it difficult to understand the importance of offering support to those who possess links with foreign countries.

©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network ©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

A scene from the children’s study support classes (L). During the summer holidays, intensive classes are also held.
The children shown here are passionately playing shogi during a break from study. (R)
©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

Q. So there are also children for whom support is necessary whose native language happens to be Japanese?

A. Ms. Nii From the year before last, PINAT began to accept children whose mothers were Japanese and whose fathers were foreign nationals. Whereby children have a Japanese mother there tends to be both an understanding of school culture, and children are less inclined to display problems with their Japanese language skills, etc., however, there can still be issues of self-identity. When confronted with these, if children have somewhere to go like PINAT classes where they can find children in similar circumstances, they might well enjoy the experience. Thus, as a location that allows children to find their own identity, we have made PINAT available to any child who possesses links with a foreign country.

Q. Please tell me about the exchanges that are conducted for foreign mothers with babies?

A. Ms. Nii In conjunction with an organization called International Mothers Group (IMG), PINAT created somewhere that foreign mothers could go. Currently, an event is held once a month in Mitaka where mothers can meet up and chat. What led us to start supporting foreign mothers with small children was what we had witnessed at our study support classes. Namely, what is required to fundamentally resolve those issues we witnessed was realizing that waiting until children entered elementary school was too late. At our exchange meetings, foreign mothers with babies and Japanese mothers married to foreign nationals have an opportunity to discuss topics such as “what language to use when raising children” and “how to get on with in-laws, etc.” They also have the opportunity to enjoy songs and dances with their children.

©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network ©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

Chatting at an exchange held between foreign mothers and Japanese mothers regarding child-rearing, etc.,
and enjoying games and songs with children.
©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

Q. What would you describe as PINAT’s distinctive features?

©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

Volunteer members of staff
©PINAT-The Foreign Nationals Friend Support Network

A. Ms. Nii A distinctive feature of PINAT is that it engages in activities in Mitaka and Mushashino, and, through the gathering together of people, it is possible to understand the relationships that exist between them. With respect to “Space Hachinoko,” which is the focus of our activities, it is shared by a number of other groups such as a kindergarten and childcare facilities, etc., and the staff and mothers of these different groups are also available to give consultations. The activities that PINAT undertakes are made possible through this network. Furthermore, in that there is a cafê “Hachinoko-ikotto” on the 1st floor that anybody can enter, there are people who have become aware of our activities and then started to participate. I believe this is one of the features of our group.

Q. Please tell me how the group hopes to develop in the future?

A. Ms. Minami PINAT is not a group that acts based on an established mission or upon the raising of particular aims, rather in the course of living locally within our community, when we realize that there is an issue, our style has been to respond accordingly whereby we are able to do so. Although we talk about the “support of foreign nationals”, our activities are more about cooperating and working together with many such people. In the future as well, through leveraging our network of friendships, we hope to continue to act in response to issues, as and when they arise.