Dr. Masayosi Ogino (Lecturer, University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
Akiko Harada (Senior Expert in Japanese Language, The Japan Foundation)
Many companies and municipalities have been producing dance videos based on AKB48's massive hit song "Koisuru Fortune Cookie" (Fortune Cookie in Love, also known as "Koitune"). Several of these videos have already been made by Japanese language learners overseas. However, it is noteworthy that our "Koitune" video was created by high school and university students studying Japanese in Christchurch, New Zealand, with their Japanese language teachers all participating. This included 270 people all dancing together in a large university lecture theater. Please take a look at our "Koitune" video - it is the world's southernmost version.
"One day intensive Japanese language workshop" at the University of Canterbury
New Zealand has a population of approximately 4.5 million people, but it is a country where Japanese language learning has thrived as it ranks 11th in the world in terms of Japanese language learner numbers (based on The Japan Foundation's 2012 data). However, in recent years the number of Japanese language learners in New Zealand has begun to decline, and, according to statistics from Education Counts, the figure has now fallen to 45% of the peak it reached in 1996. Maintaining learner numbers is proving difficult in Christchurch in particular, partly as a result of the population exodus that occurred following the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Cooperation between high schools, and between high schools and universities is important for maintaining the number of learners and further enhancing the quality of language learning. With that in mind, Japanese language teaching staff at University of Canterbury and high schools in Christchurch cooperated to carry out a "One Day Japanese Workshop" for high school students studying Japanese. The "Koitune Project" was planned as a part of this workshop with the goal of encouraging learners to study together beyond the classroom, and to deepen their interest in popular Japanese culture.
The run-up to completing the "Koitune Project"
We started this project by asking each high school to shoot and submit a "Koitune" video before the One Day Japanese Workshop. Then we filmed all the participants dancing together on the day of the workshop, and finally, we edited this and the individual school versions together to create the final version. Many students had never heard of AKB48 or "Koitune," despite the widespread popularity of Japanese popular culture, such as the manga ONE PIECE and Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan). We therefore began the project with some concerns about whether everyone would engage in the project enthusiastically, and whether there would be enough time for everyone to memorize the dance. Nevertheless, even those students who were not initially inspired by the idea started to enjoy dancing together after a few practice runs, and keener students even undertook special training on their own ahead of the video shoots.
270 people dance "Koitune" at once
Finally, the day of the workshop arrived. After splitting up into smaller groups for Japanese lessons, all the high school students gathered in a large lecture theater for the final session. They were joined by 23 university students who had joined their language lessons during the day as mentors and teaching assistants, so the total number of "Koitune" dancers swelled to 270. For many high school students, this was the first time they had been inside a large university lecture hall, and there is certainly no question that dancing in such a space was a new experience for them as well. They all joined in the "Koitune" dance together, irrespective of their school, year or level of Japanese proficiency. It was at this moment that they got a real sense of being part of a larger community of Japanese language learners.
Our "Koitune Project" has ended, but the video symbolizing cooperation between Christchurch-area tertiary and high school Japanese language teachers and learners remains. In this video you can see our aspirations toward the potential for invigorating and developing Japanese language learning in New Zealand. We have all been inspired by the spontaneous smiles, the sincerity of the dancers' efforts, the sense of belonging, and the many valuable instances of collaboration that arose out of this project. It has also inspired us to do our utmost to develop Japanese language education from now on.