Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
～ Connecting the community and foreign residents to achieve a multicultural society ～
In Close Up this month we introduce the English conversation club from OTA (EDO kai). Edo kai, with its operating base in Ota City, was founded in 2014 in order to mold people to better serve the community by being able to converse in English. It began with the English Conversation Salon where participants paid a 500 yen coin fee and slowly grew to where EDO kai is now an organization functioning as a regional hub connecting foreign residents with resident associations, commercial and industrial organizations, welfare organizations, schools, NPOs, and more. On this occasion we spoke with the president, Mr. Kazutomo Terada, about the background of founding EDO kai in Ota City and details about its activities.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of EDO kai.
I spent about 7 years in the United States studying foreign policy in a graduate school in Washington D.C., then dedicated myself to studies in a local Think Tank. When living there I saw with my own eyes the extent of social involvement and the impact of NPOs and social enterprises on society, which instilled in me the desire to contribute socially in Japan. After returning to Japan I chose Ota City as a base for my operations for a reason, though I am originally from Hiroshima prefecture. I thought I could contribute to globalizing the communities of Ota City, home to Haneda International Airport, and was interested in the “Shitamachi Bobsleigh” Project in which small factories in Ota City showcase Japan's technologies to the world. Though starting from scratch in a place where I was a complete stranger, I gradually formed friendships with the locals and these same people later began to ask, "If you know English so well, can you teach me?". This is how the English conversation club from OTA (EDO kai) was born. We began our activities in November 2014 as an organization to train people able to contribute to the community through English conversation.
What were the activities immediately after the launch?
The first EDO kai activity was “One-Coin English Conversation Salon” in which anyone could participate for a modest cost of 500 yen. In the first two years we were swamped with the work of this salon. Due to the number of participants, mainly older ladies who wished to volunteer in the Olympics, this rapidly grew by word of mouth and we opened new locations in Ota City with the help of conversational English teachers and foreign residents in the community. At its peak there were 1,200 participants learning in 14 venues across the city. As the English salon continued I began to reflect, "It is not enough to only learn in a salon. We must offer an activity having tangible benefits in the community."
How did you then expand the sphere of activities?
It seems that EDO kai was viewed as "an organization in contact with foreign residents" instead of being "a group of Japanese learning conversational English”. Gradually we began to receive requests, such as, "Can you offer opportunities to converse with foreigners?" and "Can you invite foreigners to local events?". From then on, we invited foreign students studying in universities, vocational schools, and language academies from the city to participate in various events which opened up new opportunities to members of the English Conversation Salon of EDO kai to offer themselves as volunteer guides and translators at these events, challenging them to move out of the salon, practice English conversation even if not yet fluent, and play the role of connecting locals and foreign residents. This was the beginning of EDO kai community involvement.
Can you be specific about how the community is connected to foreign residents?
For example, upon request from resident associations, we invite foreigners to participate in disaster drills which the associations periodically organize. We have been working for 3 years with the Higashirokugo 1-chome residents association, where I live, which in September of last year had 50 foreign students participating in the disaster drill. In addition, in recent years some communities experience a lack of people participating in “Mochi-tsuki”(rice cake making) events and festivals and we are asked to convene foreign residents to help prepare rice cakes and carry portable shrines. Playing the role of connecting communities and foreign residents, we bring happiness not only to people in the local community who want to boost their events, but also to foreign residents who seek the opportunity to experience Japanese culture. The organizations with which we work have diversified. For example, for a shopping district hoping to increase foreign visitors we invited foreign students on a shopping tour with the motive to clarify the consumer preferences of foreigners, as well as organized sports events in collaboration with the Junior Chamber and small-business associations where locals and foreign residents can socialize.
It seems opportunities for EDO kai members to offer their services have dramatically increased.
It is challenging to work with foreign students who frequently arrive late or cancel at the last moment. EDO kai members wait at the train station, and every time a latecomer arrives take them to the venue. I believe that our members can continue to do this as they have a strong desire to socialize with foreigners and practice their English conversational skills. Because our members give their heart and soul to serve, the number of requests we receive seeking volunteers has dramatically increased. Members now participate in events that have nothing to do with foreigners, nor English conversation, and the number of opportunities have reached 50 per year.
What are the problems encountered in continuing with the activities?
For EDO kai it is funding for the activities. At present, the monthly fee for English conversational classes is the only revenue generator, and we depend on donations and grants for the rest. Another problem, from the viewpoint of being one of the 59 international exchange organizations registered in Ota City, is that there is no network prepared for registered organizations, thus there is no progress to collaborate with the local government. An organization or company is quite limited in their ability to address problems that are more diverse and complex in modern society. That is why it is necessary to work collaboratively between resident associations, commercial districts, companies, welfare organizations, schools and NPOs to resolve various social problems, and I believe that a flexible organization like EDO kai can act as coordinator of this collaboration.
What type of activities do you think of launching in the future?
Many foreign workers are expected to arrive in Ota City now and into the future. We would like to offer them appropriate life supports so that they can feel accepted as members of this society. Ota city has a conservative slant with some residents being reluctant to bridge the divide with foreign residents, and for this reason we want to create a society where Japanese and foreigners live in harmony so that Ota City can become an advanced international city. We want foreigners who come to Ota City to feel "It's so good to live in Japan" and we want the local people to experience the pleasure of socializing with people from different cultures. It would give me great satisfaction if the young people raised in a multicultural environment would leave Ota City, go into the world, and return to Japan one day to give back to the community what they received overseas.
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