Connecting people through the Japanese language -- another facet of the Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai

Yoo Fukazawa
Managing Director Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai
The Japan Foundation

Nearing the end of her emotional farewell speech, Riei embodied the success of the training program as she spoke warmly and accurately in Japanese, her words infused with the sincerity of her character. She looked back on how insecure she had felt six weeks earlier when she first arrived at the institute, and spoke of her first encounters with the many other trainees from distant foreign countries. She tried as hard as she could to hold back tears as she described the sadness of having to part with the thirty-nine precious new friends she had made during the days spent living together at the Institute, tackling challenges and overcoming hardships together. At the conclusion of her speech, she said she would like to express her gratitude to the Japan Foundation for providing this wonderful opportunity by saying thank you in the trainees' fourteen different languages. She led everyone in a round of thanks, starting with a chorus of voices in Chinese and Korean, and continuing around the room as individual trainees representing countries such as Vietnam, France, and Romania each said thank you in their own languages.


The Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai is not just a place to learn Japanese. Of course, language lessons are the foundation of the program, but also included are excursions to Tokyo, Hiroshima and other places around Japan, cultural experiences such as taiko drumming and tea ceremonies, as well as visits to elementary schools and exchanges with college students. The trainees visit job-sites selected based on topics they have chosen, where they interview the workers, and later present their findings and analysis to a local audience. During the presentation, they answer some very tough questions and this challenging session, where the trainees feel for themselves the differences in cultures, marks the end of the course. True transcultural experience is also an important aspect of the programs we offer.

What makes our language course special is that, unlike other international exchange programs, all the events are held in Japanese, not English. In this way, the trainees can meet and talk with far more people than otherwise possible, because using English inevitably limits the number of Japanese who can participate. It is of course easier for the Japanese to communicate in their native tongue; as a result, the discussion deepens naturally, and topics that tend to be avoided can be broached without hesitation. Watching the presentations, I am always surprised by the various takes on Japanese culture expressed by the trainees from overseas, and it is fascinating to hear the straightforward questions and opinions of the Japanese participants. The Japanese- Language Institute, Kansai is a place where true international cultural exchange takes place, and I must say that it is a luxury to be able to do that in Japanese.

Another unique aspect of the program was mentioned in Riei's farewell speech: that is, that the participants who have come together from their various countries, all facing the same challenge of learning Japanese, develop friendships through the process of sharing room and board, studying together, and deepening their understanding of each other. Although they return home as soon as the program ends, I am sure the ties created here will last for a long time after they bid farewell. And I believe that their common goal of learning the language will someday bring them together once again.

By the time the participants are presented with their certificates for completing the Japanese language course, they will realize that they have gained not only language skills, but another invaluable treasure as well - the Japanese-Language Institute presents some 600 trainees annually with the precious gift of solidarity.

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