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OCNet (The Ohta Citizens' Network for Peoples' Togetherness) ~Aiming to Bring People of Different Languages, Cultures and Customs Together ~

© OCNet

OCNet Representative Director Ms. Naoko Temmyo (L)
and Executive Director Ms. Sayoko Aoi

In this month' s Close Up, we have the pleasure of introducing the general incorporated association known as OCNet. Since establishment as the “Ohta Citizens' Network for Peoples' Togetherness” back in 1992, OCNet has undertaken a range of activities from its base in Tokyo' s Ota City. Over the subsequent quarter of a century since its founding, the group has created forums by which people of different languages, cultures, and customs, etc., can interact with one another within their daily lives. What is more, to both share the issues that confront such individuals and in aiming to resolve them, OCNet continues to undertake activities such as offering consultation services and Japanese language classes to those of foreign backgrounds. On this occasion, we spoke to Representative Director Ms. Naoko Temmyo and Executive Director Ms. Sayoko Aoi about OCNet' s development and its subsequent activities.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of OCNet.

A. Ms. Aoi The 1980s was a decade during which we began to see many people come from overseas and work here in Japan. It was followed by the 1990s during which many of those who had previously arrived began to settle down and take up residence here. One outcome of such developments was that throughout the nation, numerous organizations were born whose purpose was to support both foreign residents and others who were here to work. Here in Ota City as well, local exchanges began between communities and such individuals, with curry parties and free medical checkups being arranged. From there, it seems that such activities led to opportunities for the establishment of consultation services and Japanese language classes for the benefit of foreign residents. It was against this backcloth that the Ohta Citizens' Network for Peoples' Togetherness was established in October of 1992, with the labor unions and citizen' s groups who had previously undertaken labor and lifestyle consultations for foreign residents acting as its parents. Following on, a decision was then made in 1996 to change the name of the Ohta Citizens' Network for Peoples' Togetherness to OCNet, and in 2009 the group was formally recognized as a general incorporated association. Since its earliest days, as the main pillars of its activities, OCNet has offered consultation services, has held Japanese language classes, and as planned and conducted numerous events as part of its exchange activities. What is more, the situation today is basically the same. Additionally, OCNet has been entrusted by Ota City with the management and operation of the “Ota Center for Japanese Returnees from China,” an organization that supports both the returnees themselves and their families.

© OCNet © OCNet

One of the pillars of OCNet' s activities is its Japanese language classes.
When the classes commenced, there were only one or two students.
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Q. Please tell me more about OCNet' s consultation activities?

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When held last year, the end of year party attracted roughly 60 participants, who each brought along a dish and enjoyed various games including bingo. © OCNet

A. Ms. Aoi For foreign nationals living here in Japan, we field requests and offer consultations regarding both their daily lives and employment issues. We undertake such activities both over the phone and through face-to-face interviews. The languages used in such consultations are not just limited to Japanese and English. We can also respond in numerous others including Chinese, Russian and Thai, etc. OCNet' s consultation services are a form of “assistance.” Rather than simply offering advice, to resolve the issues that those who seek our help have, we accompany them to the relevant institutions such as the Immigration Bureau and the Family Court, etc. It is often the case that our relationship with those who contact us develops to become almost that of a family member over time. We also sometimes help people who have been referred to us by others who we have helped in the past. Furthermore, in that OCNet has been offering consultation services for so long, we are very happy in that some people who previously sought our help are now able to assist us in acting in the role of both interpreters and/or translators.

Q. Please also tell me about the Japanese language classes that OCNet holds?

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To encourage a cheerful study atmosphere, after the Japanese lessons have concluded, time is set aside for the enjoyment of a cup of tea. © OCNet

A. Ms. Temmyo Under the banner of “Nihongo no Hiroba,” OCNet holds Japanese language classes three times a week, and they are tailored to meet the needs of foreign nationals living here in Japan. When we initially commenced the classes, there were many Iranian and Bangladeshi participants who were working in Japan as laborers. That changed over time as we began to see more and more Filipino women. More recently, among our students there have been a striking number of Nepalese and Vietnamese, and in the past few years we have welcomed individuals who are working as interns at local companies. Among those who have attended our classes over the years, in addition to the chance to learn Japanese, opportunities to enjoy traditional pastimes such as cherry-blossom parties and events such as fireworks displays have also proven very popular. We estimate that OCNet has taught Japanese to roughly 3,300 individuals. What is more, among our current crop of pupils there are the children of individuals we taught in the past. We are also very happy in that some people have recommenced learning with us after studying initially at our classes some ten years ago.

Q. And I believe you also hold classes to help children with the learning of Japanese?

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A Hanami party held along the banks of the Tamagawa River in April was attended by 25 individuals. Those who attended could deepen the bonds of friendship. © OCNet

A. Ms. Temmyo Since the new millennium, we have witnessed cases of foreign parents first coming to Japan due to work and remarriage commitments. Once settled, they would then call on their children to join them, such who had initially been left in their home country in the care of grandparents. The offshoot of these developments was that overtime OCNet received numerous requests for consultation. These were forthcoming from parents who were frustrated by the inability of their children to keep up with the pace of lessons at Japanese elementary and junior high schools. By way of a response, OCNet commenced Japanese language classes for children. Twice a week, we now assist children with their learning of the Japanese language, commencing with the simple hiragana and katakana scripts, we go so far as to also teach them those words and expressions that they are likely to encounter in their school lessons. While through until April of 2015 we could have approximately 140 children pass through our classes, it is unfortunately the case that Japan cannot be said to be an easy country in which to live for children who come here. Concerning those of our staff members who teach our children' s classes, the dilemma they face is how far can they go in offering support to the children in their classes given the limited amount of time available.

Q. What sort of barriers do children who arrive in Japan from overseas face?

A. Ms. Aoi Regarding those children who are brought by their parents to live here in Japan, the net result is that they fail to feel at home in any country. What is more, they also find it very difficult to plan for their future. Even if they wish to matriculate to a Japanese high school and continue studying, there is the barrier posed by the high school entrance exam system, which is both very complex and difficult to understand. In conjunction with a number of other organizations in the metropolitan area, OCNet conducts two of the sessions entitled “Guidance for High School Entrance for Students and Guardians of Non-Japanese Speakers” that are held each year. By providing opportunities through which both the children and their guardians can gain an accurate understanding of the high school entry exam system, we can stand behind them and act to support children with foreign nationalities in their efforts to matriculate to high school. Nevertheless, in that the follow up support for such children once they matriculate is not sufficient, it is unfortunately the case that some of them will quit high school within a year. However, in that many of these children are on “dependent visas,” there are restrictions in place on the number of hours they may work. Thus, even if they quit school, they will face difficulties in securing employment. What is more, they lack the necessary academic qualifications and skills to obtain a work visa. It is very upsetting that there are children like this who basically give up on the world in believing that there is no place in it for them.

Q. And what other significant issues are there?

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A. Ms. Aoi Here in Ota City, when individuals are required to carry out administrative processes at City Hall, etc., the Multicultural Society Promotion Center (mics Ota) can dispatch an interpreter to help. However, when foreign residents request that an interpreter accompany them to hospital, OCNet lends a hand. Although we are always eager to help, there are times when the content of what is discussed at hospitals is of a very serious nature. Thus, for a very small organization such as ours that relies on a few volunteer interpreters, the reality of the situation is that what we ask our volunteers to do can place them under a considerable amount of psychological stress. Here in Tokyo, it would be highly desirable if a system for dispatching specialist medical interpreters could be developed like the one that is operated by the Multi-Language Information Center in Kanagawa Prefecture (MIC Kanagawa). Including hospitals and government, I think that this is an issue that all of the different stakeholders should work together to resolve.

Q. And what issues does OCNet face in carrying out its activities?

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A. Ms. Temmyo One issue that concerns us is our ability to attract volunteer staff who can help with our Japanese language classes. It isn' t just an issue for OCNet, but rather a problem that confronts many organizations. When Ota City sponsored a series of classes to attract volunteers who were willing to teach Japanese, they received a fair few applications to participate from interested parties. However, perhaps because many of the applicants had their interest in the topic satisfied by merely taking the classes, or perhaps because many realized that being a teacher was harder than they initially expected, almost none of them ended up becoming an instructor. In that OCNet' s own policy is that interested parties “learn the ropes while working with us,” it is my hope that people will approach us with a much more relaxed mindset.

Q. Please tell me your plans regarding future activities.

A. Ms. Aoi “Free Professional Consultation for Foreign Residents“ is one of our annual events and set to be held again this year on September 9th (Sat.). It will be a multilingual free occasion for the benefit of foreign residents who live regionally. In that numerous specialists including lawyers will be on hand to help resolve any issues, foreign residents who have something about which they are concerned are strongly encouraged to participate. Speaking about OCNet in overall terms, rather than embarking on any new initiatives, in the future as well, it is my hope that we will be able to continue steadily to do what we already do.