November 2018


Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.

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Sumida Japanese-language education Support

- Nurturing foreign care-givers by the community -

In Close Up this month, we introduce the Sumida Japanese-language education Support. Providing Japanese language classes to foreign residents employed in the field of care-giving, the organization has to date taught 120 foreigners the language skills necessary to work in the care sector. Currently, the tuition-free class is a commissioned project of Sumida City and several students have acquired care-worker national certification. This initiative to nurture foreign care-workers in the community through collaboration between social welfare corporations, universities, volunteers and local governments, is known as the “Sumida Model”. On this occasion we spoke with Mr. Takashi Hanyu, the director of a care home operated by the SAN-IKUKAI, a local social welfare corporation, and also vice president of Sumida Japanese-language education Support, and to Mr. Akira Utsuki, a Japanese language instructor of the organization.

Mr. Akira Utsuki (left), Japanese language instructor,
and Mr, Takashi Hanyu (right), Vice-President

Please tell us what led to the establishment of the Sumida Japanese-language education Support.

Mr. Hanyu

Due to a shortage of Japanese staff, in 2005, as the director of the SAN-IKUKAI special care home, we hired 4 women from the Philippines with 2nd grade home-helper certification. Married to Japanese husbands and having lived in the country for many years, they had no difficulty with every-day conversation, but problems emerged when they began to work in the field of care. It took us some time to assess their degree of Japanese proficiency and to have conversations corresponding to their level. Even so, we were so pleased with their work, their natural cheerfulness and their respect for the elderly, it motivated us to elevate them to assume greater responsibilities. Consequently, we sought ways to teach them appropriate Japanese language skills to achieve this, and it was at this point that Professor Satoshi Miyazaki, from the Graduate School of Japanese Applied Linguistic of Waseda University, offered to collaborate with us. Under Professor Miyazaki’s coordination, we inaugurated a class of Japanese language skills useful for care-givers. In addition, the responsible division of the Sumida City Office introduced us to the NPO Tehnen Dosukoi Club, a group of retired volunteers who offered to be teacher aids. That is how, in August 2008, began the “Sumida Japanese-language education Support”.

Each Friday, the Japanese language class meets
in the Yokokawa community center, Sumida City
©Sumida Japanese-language education Support

Volunteers of the Tehnen Dosukoi
Club help students.
©Sumida Japanese-language education Support

Please tell us some details of the Japanese language class offered by the Sumida Japanese-language education Support.

Mr. Utsuki

Every Friday from 2:00 to 7:30 PM we offer Japanese language instruction to foreigners working or living in Sumida City and surrounding areas who are care-givers, or interested in becoming care-givers. The students are women with Japanese families living much of the time in Japan. Some have resided here for as little as 10 years, to as long as 20-30 years. Almost all work as care-givers who feel the pressing need to read and write in Japanese. In order to assume more responsibility that goes beyond being simply helpers, it is vital that they acquire the ability to write and read records in Japanese. Of course there are some who after achieving this level strive to pass the care-worker state exam. In class they learn the kanji characters necessary for care-work, record taking, and the understanding of state exam texts. There are two Japanese language instructors, but the level, learning pace, and schedule of individual participants attending varies greatly, therefore volunteers from the Tehnen Dosukoi Club help each student individually.

Class to prepare for the second exam for
those having passed the first care-worker state exam.
©Sumida Japanese-language education Support

Learning basic practices and how to communicate with
the elderly to prepare for the practical skills test
©Sumida Japanese-language education Support

What are your thoughts on continuing to teach Japanese language skills specific to care-giving?

Mr. Utsuki

In the beginning I believed we were doing students a favor by teaching them Japanese. However, we Japanese instructors and the teacher aids of the Tehnen Dosukoi Club are laymen in the field of care-giving. Though on one hand the students are not adept at reading and writing Japanese, they truly know what to do and what type of conversations arise in the field of care-giving. It soon became evident that the relationship was not one in which we unilaterally taught, but one where instructors and students exchanged information to mutually teach one another. “That’s how we do it at work…”, “Maybe it’s better to say it this way”, etc.. I believe that this mutually beneficial relationship has permitted us to continue with our activities up to now.

Now that ten years has elapsed since the founding of the association, has there been any change to the circumstances facing foreigners wishing to work in the field of care-giving?

Mr. Hanyu

Much has changed since the time few foreigners worked in the field of care-giving. In addition to the permanent resident, such as spouses of Japanese citizens, foreigners are entering the care-giving field using various routes, such as: care-worker candidates coming to Japan under the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreements); international students studying in specialized schools or universities which have care-worker training courses and who aspire to become residents under the care-worker status, a new resident category that came into effect in September of last year; and the practitioners who live in Japan through the Technical Intern Training Programs under the care-giver category, a new category added in November of last year. Though the number of prospective foreign care-workers is still not high, I believe that the national government, instead of taking a hands-off approach, must determine the ideology to accept these foreigners and establish procedures allowing all of them to obtain a certain level of Japanese competency so they may participate productively in the care-giving field.

Are there any problems with the activities?

Mr. Hanyu

With the goal to continue our activities over the long term, we must increase the number of students in the class and the number of individuals passing the care-worker state exam. To date our organization has succeeded in helping three people pass the state exam. It is difficult for those whose mother language is not Japanese to pass this exam because the terms employed in the state exam are different to those used in the field of care. From the following year after our project began, we repeatedly petitioned that hiragana letters would be attached to kanji characters in the exam text and were finally successful after 6 years. In addition, our Japanese language instructors proposed to modify terms and expressions found in the exam so as to be more readily understood by foreigners, and these proposals are now reflected in the text of the current care-worker exam. We are now trying to extend the time allotted to answer the questions on the exam by 50%. With the collaboration of specialized care-worker schools, we are currently gathering data on the effect this extra time will have.

Mr. Utsuki

It is unfortunate that time extensions, which are granted to EPA care-worker candidates, have not been granted to foreign residents. There is a dichotomy in the way foreigners are treated: those that came to Japan through national programs are well treated and given classes in the Japanese language and care-giving; others, though they have lived an extended time in Japan, must do it all themselves. I feel more consideration must be given to foreigners who reside in Japan as working members of society and who pay taxes.

Is it true there is a group of volunteers made up of students of the Japanese language class?

Mr. Hanyu

The ABOT KAMAY volunteer group was formed in 2016 as an initiative of a graduate who acquired her care-worker national certification. To show their appreciation for having received helping hands from many people, they undertake various activities such as singing and dancing in welfare institutions. Using their English and Tagalog linguistic talents they could contribute in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games. We will continue to help them become a more integral part of the community through various activities.

ABOT KAMAI members learning to dance to the
“Tokyo Gorin Ondo 2020”
(Song of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games)
©Sumida Japanese-language education Support

Presenting the petition regarding the state exam
to the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare.
An important social act.
©Sumida Japanese-language education Support

To end, can you give us your parting thoughts?

Mr. Hanyu

The key point of the “Sumida Model”---a collaborative effort among social welfare corporations, universities, resident volunteers and the local government to nurture foreign care staff---is that not only do the students who receive Japanese language instruction benefit, but all others involved benefit too. Through this project, SAN-IKUKAI has a valuable opportunity to contribute to society and the Tehnen Dosukoi Club has a valuable opportunity to participate in society. Furthermore, the language instructors are now pioneers of Japanese language skills specific to the care-giving field and they work tirelessly. I believe we have continued to work for 10 years on this project because each one of us has gained something. I hope that many become acquainted with this model and introduce it to other regions. This would give us all great pleasure.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

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