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Language Volunteer Co-Talk (LVC)~ Acting as a Bridge to Foreign Tourists and Residents by Utilizing Language and Other Skills ~

© LVC

Language Volunteer Co-Talk (LVC)
Executive Vice President Mac Yamazaki (R)
Chairperson of the Interpretation/Translation Committee Yoshie Hutchinson (L)

In this month’s Close Up, we are pleased to introduce the Non-Profit Organization (NPO) Language Volunteer Co-Talk. Based in Tokyo’s Koto City, Language Volunteer Co-Talk (LVC) is a group comprised of foreign language volunteers. It was established for the purpose of being a bridge for both overseas visitors who come to Japan and foreign residents who live in the country. The “Co-Talk” name was coined from “Koto City” and the idea of people being able to “Talk to One Another.” By its providing of interpreter-guides, its undertaking of Japanese cultural experience programs for foreign exchange students, and the English conversation classes that it holds for the benefit of local residents, etc., LVC engages in a wide variety of activities through which it undertakes both international exchanges and interactions with other cultures. On this occasion, we spoke with LVC Executive Vice President Mac Yamazaki and Chairperson of the Interpretation/Translation Committee Yoshie Hutchinson. The topic’s we discussed included details of the group’s activities and how LVC hopes to further develop in the future.

Q. Please tell me about what led to the establishment of LVC.

A. Mr. Yamazaki: LVC commenced in August of 2013. It was established by some individuals who initially approached the Volunteer Center of Koto City and expressed a desire to “make use of their foreign language skills.” However, even though in responding to such requests the Volunteer Center established a group, subsequently, there were no requests for language assistance forthcoming from either the Volunteer Center or Koto City itself. Thus, rather unexpectedly, the group found itself with nothing to do. Not being discouraged, our members decided to take matters into their own hands. Tasks were then assigned and we commenced low-key “sales activities” by approaching a wide variety of people and asking them if they “required volunteers.” The outcome of such efforts was encouraging in that we received positive feedback here and there. In responding to a request from a university here in Koto City, we launched a program that introduces Japanese culture to overseas exchange students. Anyway, by building our activities little-by-little, our network of contacts started to develop, and that led to new opportunities for volunteering. Over time the scope of our activities increased accordingly. In April of last year, in that we decided to expand our activities beyond the borders of Koto City, we took steps to obtain formal recognition as a specified non-profit organization.

© LVC © LVC

The Japanese cultural experience programs for foreign exchange students are also very popular among LVC members.
Here some students are shown trying their hands at wearing yukata and making traditional handicrafts.
© LVC

Q. Please tell me about the main activities that LVC engages in.

A. Mr. Yamazaki: Our major activity is the Japanese cultural experience programs for foreign exchange students that I mentioned just now. They have been running since 2015. Working with Musashino University in Ariake, we help with the extra-curricular activities that they plan for short-term exchange students who come to the university over the summer months. For such programs, numerous LVC members volunteer their language abilities and other skills. Some of them act as organizers and guides, while others lend a hand by accompanying the students as teachers, interpreters and photographers, etc. The students themselves get the opportunity to experience a tea ceremony and to try on a yukata. We also help them gain a deeper understanding of Japan by visiting venues such as the Kiyosumi Gardens and the Fukagawa Edo Museum. In 2015, we had 37 students participate in the program, and that number increased to 45 in 2016. This year, we are planning on welcoming some 70 students. Furthermore, in that there are more and more foreign tourists visiting Fukagawa every year, for the shopkeepers whose businesses are located near the Fukagawa Edo Museum, we have started introductory English conversation classes. By providing them with some exposure to English in a familiar setting, we hope that the shopkeepers will be able to respond to the needs of customers from overseas without feeling overly hesitant. We would be very happy if they could do so.

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In addition to introductory English conversation classes for shopkeepers (L),
LVC also organizes opportunities for people to experience and learn about Japanese culture,
through activities such as participation in tea ceremonies, etc. (R)
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Q. It also seems that your group is very proactive when it comes to responding to requests for help with interpretation and translation?

A. Mr. Yamazaki: Among LVC’s members, as is the case with my colleague, Ms. Hutchinson, we are fortunate in that there are people who have extensive experience living overseas, and who possess the skills to work as simultaneous interpreters and translators. These are individuals who take on a leading role in the interpretation and translation activities that LVC undertakes. Currently, we have members who can respond to English and Chinese language requests. What is more, in addition to acting as volunteer interpreters at events, etc., at both a school for special needs education and at an afterschool care center in Koto City, we have also had opportunities to act as interpreters for the parents of foreign students during interviews.
Ms. Hutchinson: In response to a request that we received from a local newspaper called the Totoyomiuri Shimbun, we were given the opportunity to translate into English a series of articles on sento baths. In Tokyo’s traditional shitamachi downtown area, there are sento that continue to do a brisk trade. Through the series, we could introduce to readers some very interesting stories about episodes that occurred and turning points in the history of Tokyo’s downtown areas. What is more, it made us very happy to be able to help in the transmission of numerous articles to readers around the world. I should point out that the series of articles in Japanese continues to this day. As such, if we were asked once again to translate them into English, that is something that we would really like to do.

Q. Are there any other activities that you would like to highlight?

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A. Ms. Hutchinson: In preparing for the occurrence of events such as a major earthquake directly under the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, etc., I believe that it is very important that we take steps to consider how disaster-preparedness information should be best conveyed to foreign visitors and foreign residents. Looking to the future at LVC, by making use of the Disaster Prevention Experience-Learning Facility located in Ariake (called “SONA AREA TOKYO”), along with foreign nationals, we would like to carry out some disaster-preparedness drills. With that in mind, we are undertaking some simulation exercises. Furthermore, in that we would like to place an even greater emphasis on our tourist guide activities, within LVC we have established a study group. More than 10 of our members have expressed an interest in this initiative, and they are now studying hard to become qualified Tokyo City Guides and Licensed Guides, etc.

Q. What activities would you like to focus on more closely in the future?

A. Mr. Yamazaki: In recent years, a major problem that has arisen is the educational support of foreign children who are being raised here in Japan. For foreign children who have accompanied their parents to Japan for various reasons, the situation is that they are quickly enrolled in Japanese elementary and junior high schools and thus into an environment that is vastly different from that of their home country. What is more, the level of support they receive is insufficient and they end up being unable to keep up in the classroom. This is a problem that I would like us to address. Currently, when a student for whom instruction in Japanese is required is enrolled in school, the situation is that a board of education will dispatch a Japanese language instructor to teach the student for a maximum of 36 hours of classes. However, the reality of the situation is that such a response is insufficient. In our own case, we could go and see what a volunteer group was doing in terms of educational support for foreign students in Sumida City, a neighboring municipality. Having seen what they did, we are now preparing so that we can undertake similar activities here in Koto City. From the new term that will start in April, we have plans to help foreign students both with the learning of Japanese and the learning of their school subjects. In the future, I would like to make such learning support one of the core activities of LVC.

Q. What sort of people is LVC looking for when it comes to volunteers?

A. Mr. Yamazaki: In responding to your question, some people might believe that they would be unable to participate in our group in that they lack strong foreign language skills. I would like to assure your readers that that is not the case. What is important is that potential volunteers have the desire to both “help and assist foreign people.” Within LVC, we have six committees that deal with planning, public relations, skills development, marketing, interpretation/translation and IT. What is more, our system is that individuals are voluntarily assigned to the different committees so that they can put to good use those skills that they possess. Somebody might not be very confident about their language skills; however, they might be very familiar with the tea ceremony or flower arrangement, or they might excel when it comes to matters of accounting or IT. We gladly welcome such people as well. If there are individuals who would like to put their own skills to good use, we would like them to proactively participate in those of our activities that they find to be interesting.

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At the Koto City Citizen’s Festival, a game using English and Chinese was put on by LVC (L).
LVC has also held exchanges with Jambo International, a group led by an American living in Koto City (R).
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Q. Please tell me about how you hope to develop in the future.

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A. Mr. Yamazaki: One of the aims that LVC has set for itself is our participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Here in Koto City as well, the plan is for us to host some of the competitive events. As such, I believe there are many ways in which we could help. For example, assisting in guiding people from the railway stations to competition venues, and helping to introduce well-known local spots to tourists, etc. In the absence of detailed activities being undertaken at the municipal level currently, while acting as tourist guides and continuing to teach English conversation to local shopkeepers, I hope that we can prepare ourselves and will be able to respond when local municipalities call on us for assistance.
Furthermore, another one of our aims is to see the establishment of an international exchange association here in Koto City. To put that in another way, despite Koto City boasting a population of 20,000 foreign residents, it is unfortunate that there is no international exchange association up and running. For LVC, there are numerous avenues through which we can further expand our activities. However, in that we are just a single NPO, there is only so much we can do. With that in mind, I would like LVC to work hard to gain both the understanding and cooperation of government and related organizations in the establishment of an international exchange association. Such a body could then fulfill the role of coordinating a great variety of different activities.