JSL and life in Japan

by Moraima Flores

“and asking ourselves, if some LM reach higher education against all odds, what combinations of factors and circumstances have enabled them to do so” (Kanno 2004, p. 245)

I arrived to Japan in August 2007 ready to start high school and without any knowledge of Japanese. I found this school in Osaka prefecture where they accepted up to 14 foreign students per year with no previous Japanese language knowledge required. The entrance exam consisted in three tests: math, English and an essay written in your first language (Spanish in my case). They allowed me to use a dictionary Japanese-Spanish during the tests so it would help me understand what I was asked to do.

Classes started in April, and I remember getting to school all nervous. I met my new classmates to find myself in a class of about 40 students, and all the foreign students (we were 8 that year) were place in the same class. Even though my classmates and teachers were really friendly, I remember feeling really isolated the first few months because I was the only one in the entire 2008 class of about 140 students who could not communicate properly with anyone.

This school was a public school, and from what I was explained, not a very good one given that it’s placed in the middle of the ranking of “how good” or “how difficult” it’s to get in. My teachers would tell me that it was “average” in terms of education. Most of the students graduating from this school would choose to find a permanent job, or would go to specialized schools (senmon-gakko) upon graduation. Still, there was a big number going to university, all of them private and not that well-known, so I remember getting laughed at when I said I wanted to go to Ritsumeikan, because this university was outside the possibilities of my high school. I noticed, though, that the foreign students would go to better universities than most of the Japanese students. In my class, out of us eight, 6 students opted for tertiary education upon graduation, and 4 of those got accepted to either Ritsumeikan University or Kansai University, two of the most prestigious universities in the Kansai area.

Before the year started we were asked to take a Japanese test designed by the school to place us in JSL classes based on our proficiency at the time. There was a big gap between those students who went to junior high school in Japan and those of us who just arrived. In our first year, at the beginning we were all pulled out of our home room and taken to the remedial classes, but sometimes we would be allowed to take classes with our Japanese peers in our home room to see if we could follow or not. I took all of my academic classes, except for English and math, in another classroom, but this varied from student to student depending on their Japanese language proficiency or, in my case, how good one was in that particular subject. In the remedial classes, all of us would carry dictionaries, and were encouraged to stop the class if we had any questions. All of the teachers from the remedial classes would summarize the content in handouts with ‘furigana’, sometimes adding drawings, graphs and even technical words written in our mother tongue for us to understand it better.

The school was flexible in its curriculum allowing their students to choose up to more than half their subjects by 3rd year. The school encouraged foreign students to keep studying their mother language, so it set up “first language” classes for us even if they only had one student for certain languages (like it was my case). To be honest, I sort of refused to take this class because it made me feel even more isolated and the teacher, although a native speaker, was not prepared to teach a high school level student in Spanish. The content was very basic, and she ignored the differences between the way Spanish is spoken in Paraguay and the way it is in her country, sometimes even making fun of my choices of words. By my third year I refused to keep on taking Spanish classes and decided to focus more on Japanese.

The school offered a variety of after school clubs, and one of them was the “Tabunka-koryu-bu” (Multicultural exchange club), to which all the foreign students were active members of. Moorehead (2013) described in his research the ‘Amigos’ room where the students would go to study or to relax from their stressful school environment, we used to call this place the ‘Tabunka room’ at my school. We were called in once a week after class to discuss extracurricular activities like festivals or international exchange reunions we could participate in. There was an active group of teachers in Osaka prefecture who organized numerous international exchange reunions through out the year; they seemed to keep up to date about the curriculum, the students and teachers of other schools to provide mutual support. All the foreign students were welcome to the Tabunka room, which we considered our “safe place.” As Moorehead (2013) described, most of the foreign students would go to this room to talk, play and just relax from our stressing ‘trying to fit in’ life in our home rooms. However, there would always be a teacher there who would usually help us with our homework, sometimes the teachers would hear that we are not doing good in certain subject so they would make us stay after school to study and offer guidance.

The JSL classes weren’t easy; they would be heavy and condensed, a lot of grammar and kanji to learn. The aim of the school was that by the time its foreign students reached senior year they wouldn’t need remedial classes and would be able to study with their Japanese peers in their home rooms. The foreign students were strongly encouraged to take JLPT exams every year, and the ultimate goal was to obtain N1 by senior year. The teachers would set up re-enforcement classes after school, or even during the summer/spring break for subjects that couldn’t be tackled during school hours like preparation for interviews (for university entrance or work), JLPT practice exams, essay academic writing, etc.

As Kanno (2004) and Moorehead (2013) pointed out, JSL education and support for foreign students vary depending on the school and prefecture. I would want to add that it might also vary depending on the level of education, given that in high school the system is designed for students to carry more responsibility than they would in middle school, expected to choose a future path and to find the best way to achieve their goals relying more in previously acquired knowledge than on their parents or teachers; whereas in elementary and middle school the students carry less responsibility, leaving this to parents and teachers alike. Since the school I attended to only accepted 14 students per year, I’m left wondering what happened with the ones that don’t get in. Do they go to other schools? Or they just don’t attend any? The fact that the government has a budget for this kind of programs shows that there’s recognition for diversity in the education system, but as Moorehead (2013) and Kanno (2004) showed, it’s not standardized.

Reference

Kanno, Yasuko. 2004. “Sending mixed messages: Language minority education at a Japanese public elementary school.” Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts. Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, edited by A. Pavlenko, and A. Blackledge. London: Multilingual Matters.

Moorehead, Robert. 2013. “Separate and unequal: The remedial Japanese language classroom as an ethnic project.” The AsiaPacific Journal 11(32):3.

Discovering the importance of ibasho

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

Anne Allison views the problems Japan faces from a lot of perspectives. I am very interested in topic about human relationship and ibasho. Therefore I want to think about it related to my experiences.

I became a university student one year ago, and I began living by myself. What I felt strongly in my university life as a freshman is that life consists of a continuance of acts of choosing something. Because I can choose almost all things by myself, I have to take responsibility by myself. I have had more time to face that by myself and imagine my future since I had such an idea. When I think about my future, that is almost shushoku and shukatsu, I often talk to myself what is most important thing in my life at the same time, because I consider future plan is deeply connected with what I value. In thinking about that, I realized that my view on the family has changed so far.

In short, it was not until I left my hometown and lived alone that I understood how valuable my family is. I knew that the greatness of my mother who raised me and my brother by herself with working every day, and how much I have been supported by family for the first time. If I am worried about something, my family always listens to my worries and gives good advice for me. My family accepts and loves me no matter what I am, and filled with my desire of recognition absolutely. I was sure that family is ibasho for me after reading Allison’s paper.

As Allison says, current Japanese society is unstable, liquid and precarious. Human relationships get to be thin more and more, and many people seek their real ibasho. I know it is important to have a “good” job and earn much money, and praised by many people, however, it is more essential to get deep human relationship and feeling of spiritual satisfaction in like there society.

I have not decided concrete my future plan and what I choose as my occupation yet. However, I have the core of myself, that is, I want to be a person who can be proud of myself to the family and protect ibasho. Moreover, I also hope to become a person who can support someone as one of their

Man thinking on a train journey.

Man thinking on a train journey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ibasho.

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Enjoying work and family

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Yuri Kamino

I have not made a concrete plan about what I’m going to do in the future, but I vaguely imagine that in the fourth year I will fight against the glacial age of hiring, work for a company, marry someone, have babies, raise them and in the latter half, I will live a slow life with my husband, many grandchildren and dogs.

Job hunting is waiting for us and as many classmates have said, it becomes more difficult to get good work without enough knowledge. For university students, I think it is quite natural to hope to find good or top-rank work and live a better life because it costs a lot to go a university, so they desire to get work that corresponds to the money they have spent. However, personally I think it is not necessarily important to be employed in what is called a first-class company. Of course I want to get a better job, but for me, it is more essential whether I can enjoy the job at the company and handle both a career and raising children.

I have two points for my job hunting. One is that can the company be my ibasho. These days, the number of people who work oneself to death is increasing. More and more “kaisha-man or woman” sacrifice their holidays and private time. They also suffer from stress among their companies. I don’t think these situations can never be my ibasho. Maybe I will relate to the company for a long time, so I wish to keep a good relations with them.

The other point is that whether the company has a sufficient system for women to concentrate on both their job and childcare. Today, more and more women are doing great things in society, but there are still many companies which treat them as less important because they tend to retire from their jobs or take long vacations when they marry and give birth. As established by law, we can take childcare leave until our child reaches the age of 1. However under these companies, I could not pay much attention to my child. I strongly hope to build family with boundless love and wish it can be ibasho for my children.

I think that for children, family is the most important and for me, a job is essential to live more worthy life so, I am eager to seek for a way which I can meet both.

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Seeking stability, but how?

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

“Stability” is what I would look for in my future work. With whatever job I would have, that will be the top priority I would expect from my work. As Allison pointed out, “stability” seems to be fading away from today’s Japanese society, in terms of economy and social relationships. Therefore, it is possible that this phenomenon will make it very difficult for me to find a job which would meet my expectations for my future career. In addition, because of this phenomenon, there is currently a serious competition in job hunting among the younger generations. Certainly, I will have to be part of the job competition as a competitor in a few years and somehow I will need to find a way to get around the barrier to have a secure job. Now the question is “How?” It can be said that there is no perfect answer for the question, whereas, there are two things which I believe are very important to work on in order to answer the question.

Firstly, it is to have a few but good qualifications. I am aware that it sounds so predictable, on the other hand, my point is that I belive I should be careful not to underestimate the importance of having qualifications. At a job interview, qualifications will play a big role in representing how you can contribute to whichever company you are applying for. Without them, you would be judged as a person with no potential to dedicate yourself to the company and a society around you, even if you are a skilled person with a strong will to utilize it for them. Hence, I appreciate how important it is to have some qualifications for myself and I have been working on this since I entered my university. I believe that being a university student gave me a privilege to have a lot of free time that I can spend on however I would like to, therefore, I consider it as a great opportunity to spend those free time on investing in myself.

Secondly, the other thing I consider is crucial to work on is to develop communication skills. Again, this may sound predictable, however, it is one of the most important skills to enable yourself to express what kind of person you are to the others. For example, Japan, with its slow pace, seems to be transforming into a more global nation, and therefore, there are more chances for us to meet people with different nationalities and backgrounds nowadays. To be able to interact well with those who have different cultures and perspectives, I have been striving to learn about some other cultures, languages, religions, politics ,et cetera in my course. If I had proper knowledge about them, I would know how I should talk to the people in an appropriate way. Hence, the way how you communicate with people show your personality in a sense ,and that is why developing a communication skill is believed to be very important.

Neighborhood ties and feeling at home

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Tomohiro Doi

In this class, we are studying about difficult Japanese problems, such as hikikomori and muenshakai. These problems are difficult to solve and Japanese people have physical blessings but some Japanese people do not have emotional blessings. Therefore, Japan has improved Japanese economy but the connection of people has declined.

Several years ago, it was a natural thing to get together for residents’ association. In my hometown, the connection of people is strong still now. A circular bulletin notice exists. It is circulated and the opinion is gathered by majority decision. In other places, local residents people gather and talk with each people. And besides, in this society of my hometown, clean-up activities are done frequently. These activities might clean up a park or rivers in the hometown areas not only the connection of people might come to become strong. I live in Kyoto nearby Ritsumeikan University now. In Kyoto, these connection is very thin. In the fact, I have not seen faces of neighbors in my rooming apartment. The tendency which people meet neighbors declined is obvious. It is not only around ours.

It is difficult to solve this tendency. However, I would like to study the way which people willingly link with each people and to make use of these research.

In this university, I am studying many kinds of field. I think these studies are very useful. However, in a university, it is not only study. Ritsumeikan University has a lot of group activities and clubs. Certainly, studying is very important for university students. But I think if students do not join group activities and clubs, it is difficult to make up an ibasho (home, place of comfort) for students. I think it is an ibasho. I intend the ibasho connects us in our life strongly. Several years ago, my father said that “friends of university are as friends in our life. So you must cherish your friends. You must treasure your friends and you must look for friends who cherish you, too. These friends might become an ibasho.” I think this speech is very meaningful in our lives. These days, some young people are unwilling to join a kind of ibasho. However, it will not be a fruitful life. So to be a fruitful life, I would like to join a kind of an ibasho and to continue in these ibasho. And besides, I hope to keep on maintaining these ibasho for along time.

Finding my ibasho in society

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Yusuke Sugiyama

When I think about my future, I cannot imagine that what kind of work I would do, and what kind of people I would connect with. However, one thing which I want to value in my life is relationship with others. I want to place emphasis on a time, opportunity and ibasho which I can deal with others.

I was born in Kobe and lived with my family before I entered Ritsumeikan University, and it is my ibasho where my family and my friends who spent a same time for 18 years live. Then, I entered this University and I started to live alone in Kyoto, and all is new for me. Naturally there is no ibasho where I can really get comfortable, and it was not until I am away from a familiar ibasho that I understood the importance of family, friends and that is ibasho. Everyday life was terrible before I found my ibasho in Kyoto.

I think ibasho is one of the most important things in our life, and the people who cannot find own ibasho in society have possibility to be hikikomori. Maybe there are many people such them in present Japan. Now I have some important ibasho, it is indispensable for my school life. That is why I would like to place emphasis on connection with people in the future and also I will improve my communication skill for it in University life.

In addition, as my future direction, I would like to overcome a linguistics barrier and get an ibasho because people who live different countries have different ideas. I like the surprise which I feel when I realize new idea from different point of view, and so I would like to over the border, and find my ibasho. Also, I think that I can realize a Japanese precariousness and a good point of Japan. Therefore, I will go to a lot of countries in my life.

When I think about my future job, I do not have a concrete idea, but I want to earn enough money to be able to make a trip, play with my friends, and repay my parents for raising me so well. Indeed, Japan is an unstable society now and it might be difficult to get stable job, but if I am into such a situation, I will find my ibasho in society, and place importance on a connection with people.

Imagining my future

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Yume Furumura

When I imagine my future, I have two images. First, I have a job and I can be myself. Second, I have my happy family, good friends, and nice neighbors.

I have not decided specifically what sort of business I would pursue yet, but I have some ideas. In Japan, women tend to be discriminated against in the society. Therefore, in case that I decide to work for a company, I will try to find a company that considers women’s life cycles. For example, it is better that has an environment in which taking childcare leave is easy. Then, I’m considering another plan these days. In my university life, I found some things I was interested in. That is to encounter people, to teach something, to do for other people. Moreover, I love traveling and like children. These are why I think that to be a Japanese teacher in foreign country suits me well. However, even though I could obtain the license, I can’t be always a Japanese teacher. Even if I could be, the income would be unstable. I may need a second job or lose jobs, and it would be difficult for me now. I need to learn any skills, have a lot of experiences, and get some qualification for a rainy day.

I need someone who I can talk to about anything in order to live. The place I can spend a time with my parents or valuable friends is my “ibasho” now. Once, I used to think that I would like to live alone and establish myself. However, it was very lonely. After leaving my hometown, I understood that it was hard for me to live alone. I was helped by the friends and neighbors I made in a new environment. In my future, I don’t want to live alone and die alone. Therefore, I want to marry a nice man and have children. According to Anne Allison (2013), by becoming a sarariman or education mama, the child tends to be “hikikomori”, and the home has failed to produce a productive child. When I raise my children, I’m going to let them do what they really want to do. In my case, I have never been told “Study more” by my parents, so I want to be like them too. In addition, even though I will work raising children, I’m going to spend enough time with them. Finally, I’m worrying about my parents from now on, because I may not be able to stay with them. If I could, I want to live with my parents after my marriage, otherwise I will get them to live in a region they have good neighbors. Allison (2013) states that in Tokyo alone, ten people die from “lonely death” (kodokushi) every day. Including me, when someone in my family die, I hope that they pass away in their “ibasho”.

These are my future plans and my expectations for my future.

Reference

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.