Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- Offering Fuchu's foreign residents support in their daily lives -
In Close Up this month we introduce Fuchu International Salon. Founded 25 years ago with the goal of offering help in the daily lives of Fuchu's foreign residents, Fuchu International Salon has been promoting various activities with the help of many local volunteers and the city of Fuchu, which has provided support in all aspects of the organization's activities. The organization arranges Japanese language learning classes, its principal activity, provides information to foreigners experiencing difficulties, and promotes cultural exchanges to deepen mutual understanding so that Japanese and foreign residents of the city can help and live happily together. On this occasion we visited the office of Fuchu International Salon located in a facility of the city to speak with the president of the Executive Committee, Masaaki Takami, about the organization's activities.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of the Fuchu International Salon.
At one time there were 6 small organizations providing Japanese language instruction to foreigners in Fuchu. The municipality of Fuchu invited them to form one organization which resulted in the creation of the Fuchu International Salon in 1995. The municipality and the organization have signed a service contract to develop various activities having three cornerstones: Japanese-language learning support; living information support; and culture exchange. The city not only provides venues and funding for our activities but also helps hire administrative personnel. Our organization is fortunate to be under these circumstances to develop our activities. The 28 members of the Executive Committee---including 8 directors, the presidents and vice-presidents of the Newsletter, Culture Exchange, Planning, Volunteer Training, Living Information Support Sub-committees, and 2 representatives from each of the 5 Japanese language learning classes---are supported by 2 municipal personnel who attend the monthly committee meetings to exchange information.
Please tell us about the main activity, Japanese-language learning support, one of the three cornerstones.
We offer 5 Japanese language learning classes per week: on Monday morning + afternoon, Wednesday afternoon, and Friday afternoon + evening. This activity is for foreigners who reside, work, or study in Fuchu city and is free. In principle a volunteer is assigned to each learner and lessons tailored to the level of the learner. Childcare services are offered on Monday and Friday afternoons making it popular for mothers with young children who want to learn too. At the end of March 2019 there were 283 registered learners from 45 nationalities and 140 volunteers. Both learners and volunteers register in advance choosing times and days most convenient for them, and a person in charge at the reception desk then assigns a volunteer to the learner before the class. Any volunteer can teach any learner as we keep personal journals to track student progress and course materials being used.
Does the Salon also undertake activities to help children with Japanese language learning?
Friday evenings are dedicated to providing learning support to school children. The personnel in charge of this activity, which initiated in 2005, are not volunteers from our organization's Japanese language learning classes but volunteer students from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. The activity targets elementary and middle school foreign students living and studying in Fuchu city and provides Japanese language learning and help with school studies. The volunteer students introduce games and plays into the classes to make language learning fun for children. It is free to participate in this activity.
How do you offer living information support, the second cornerstone activity?
Foreign residents can feel uncomfortable and unsure with various aspects of daily life---for example, which hospital to go to when sick; what procedure to follow to enroll a child in kindergarten or school. When they mention these difficulties to Japanese-language learning volunteers it is communicated to members of the Living Information Support Subcommittee who can then offer counsel. In some cases members not only advise but accompany them to the hospital.
Please tell us about culture exchange, the third cornerstone activity.
On Friday mornings various cultural exchange activities are organized---for example, ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), picture-letters, Hawaiian dance classes, and gatherings where we meet to drink tea and chat. The Culture Exchange Subcommittee is in charge of these activities with the aim to offer Japanese language learners the opportunity to appreciate our culture, and to provide Japanese volunteers the chance to discover the culture of the learner's country in order to deepen mutual understanding. We also offer opportunities to participate in city events such as the Citizen Cherry Blossom Festival and the Street Folk Dance at the Yosakoi in Fuchu.
Don't you also organize events on a large scale?
The Planning Subcommittee is in charge of planning large events. In the Bus Day Trip and Workshop held in May, approximately 40 to 50 people made up of learners and volunteers take a day trip on a bus provided by Fuchu city for a fun social event. In 2019 we went to the Hinohara Tokyo Citizens Forest located in the town of Hinohara to learn about fine woodworking. In the International Fureai “Honoring our Homeland” event held in October, learners reminisce about their country and share their impressions about life in Japan. The BBQ gathering held on the shores of the Tama River in October is very popular, but unfortunately was cancelled this year due to the typhoon. The general public and invited guests attend the Fuchu International Salon Festa held yearly in December. It is our biggest event in which more than 200 participants socialize, enjoying home cooking from different countries tastefully laid out on tables while watching performances.
Please tell us about the activities of the other subcommittees.
The Newsletter Subcommittee edits and publishes our monthly magazine "Crossroads", and operates our web site. In addition to organizing monthly volunteer-skills study meetings, the Volunteer Training Subcommittee also facilitates workshop of Japanese language teaching methodology and lectures presented by experts and university professors. Volunteers are not required to be members of these 7 subcommittees. The time available to people for volunteer activities varies, therefore we respect their decision if a volunteer decides to dedicate themselves only to teaching Japanese. Of course new volunteers are welcome to join a subcommittee if they wish to.
Are you experiencing any problems with the activities at present?
A wide cross section of foreign residents attend the Japanese language learning classes, but we have noted that foreign workers have increased lately. Because of work obligations during the day, there are greater numbers of foreigners wanting to attend Salon language classes in the evening, however we currently only offer one evening class per week. It is difficult to attract evening volunteers, so lamentably we can't increase the number of classes nor the number of learners. We would like to recruit more volunteers for the evening classes, even if only one at a time, by inviting inactive volunteers.
What activities are planned in the future?
Every year the city of Fuchu and students of the Community Interpretation Study Seminar of the School of Language and Culture Studies of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies elaborate a pamphlet of practical living information for foreign residents. Salon volunteers collaborate in this venture. The pamphlets published to date are: “Gaikokujin no tameno yasashii bousai note (Simple Disaster Prevention Tips for Foreign Residents)”, “Nihongo ga bogo denai kodomotachi/hogosha no tameno koko shingaku/shinro guidebook (Career Guidebook for Children and Guardians Who Are Non-Native Japanese Speakers)” and “Gaikokujin no tameno kokyo shisetsu guidebook (Public Facilities Guide for Foreigners)”. This year a second issue of the Disaster Prevention Tips is planned, incorporating lessons from the highly damaging typhoon in October. At the end of the fiscal year we organize a Japanese Language Learning Presentation Meeting as an annual event, in which some of the learners get on stage and deliver a speech in Japanese to display their achievements. The Fuchu International Salon plans to continue helping Fuchu's foreign residents in their daily lives through the activities I mentioned.
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