Community Japanese Class was the first extracurricular activity that I became involved in here in Japan, so I wanted to start with it.
Most decent-sized towns and cities here in Japan will have an International Society that holds free or cheap Japanese language classes for foreigners. My town is no exception.
However, I didn’t start attending the class until January of 2016, a full 5 months after I had arrived in the country. This is mostly because I was teaching myself to read and write hiragana and katakana during that five-month interim… I wanted to at least know the two basic alphabet systems before starting the class!
I’ve been attending the class for over a year now, so… how is it?
My best answer is that it’s exhausting. I go on Wednesday nights, after a full day of work… and sometimes it feels like my teacher, Y-sensei, is slamming me with mystifying question after mystifying question. The worst nights are when there are so few other students that another volunteer, also named Y-sensei, joins us and the two Y-senseis double-team me. They are lovely women, but I can’t answer their questions fast enough. Those nights drain me.
Class is exhausting ,but it’s also worth it. Of course there are nights where my mind is too tired to comprehend much of anything, but then there are also nights where I make a connection, there’s a spark of understanding, and I feel like I might actually succeed (eventually) in learning this complicated, beautiful language. I always leave class happy that I went.
The class in my town is run like this:
Most of the teachers are retired community members who volunteer their time to teach us foreigners.
Classes are free and they run for two hours (it’s a looooong two hours) on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.
Students seem to be mostly from South-East Asia. There’s a couple of young guys from Thailand, a few people from Vietnam, a family from Malaysia (I think??), along with a few guys from India and an elementary-school boy from… possibly China, I’m not sure.
There’s a one-to-one or one-to-two teacher-to-student ratio, which is immensely helpful. You and your teacher decide together on pacing and focus. Y-sensei and I usually just practice conversation (and I write down new words in my notebook), but lately, I’ve expressed interest in taking the JLPT 5 test, so now we also study N5-level kanji.
The International society also holds two yearly events: there was a potluck in the summer, and a little party in the winter. They organized food and a tea ceremony and entertainment (a local flute group) for the two events.
For the winter event, actually, they offered to dress any of the women interested in Yuki Tsumugi kimono — my town’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage silk kimono. J (who sometimes comes to classes) and I were signed up, so on the day of the winter party, we wore Yuki Tsumugi kimono around town for a bit. It was a little awkward (look at these foreigners in our famous kimono! Let’s take pictures for the newspaper! um….we were totally on display) but at the same time, it was also a wonderful opportunity… I’d worn kimono 40+ times before the event, but I’d never worn Yuki Tsumugi kimono (because they are ridiculously expensive). Becoming a part of the local International Society can open doors!
That’s really all about Japanese Class, my first extracurricular activity. Until next time!