After a couple of weeks of a break, it is Interview Wednesday again. This week we can learn more about foreigners learning Japanese at Kai Japanese language school in Tokyo from the School Administrative director: Munezai Yo. Personally I am still struggling with some aspects of the Japanese language, so I was curious to hear more about why others come to Japan to learn the language and whether their challenges are similar to mine.
Sibylle Ito: Anime is promoted as an export item and I have heard that more young foreigners become interested in learning Japanese. What are your observations?
Munezai Yo: Almost all of our students just “love” anime! I think that’s one of the main reasons to come to Japan recently, especially European students who take up more than half at our school. It’s a wonderful cue for foreigners to get interested in Japan and Japanese culture, however, some students love manga too much and told me they don’t read newspaper or magazines but manga even though they study Japanese here! I don’t think it’s a good behavior but once again I want to emphasize that it’s a wonderful starting point and I’m very happy to hear that all of them found wonderful things of Japan other than manga during their stay. In addition, most of them say they want to be bridges between their countries and Japan, which we really want to support. Actually, that is our goal.
SI: I think for all Non-Asian Japanese learners the biggest challenge is remembering all the Kanjis. What else to you see as a common difficulty?
MY: I would say non-kanji area people, not Non-Asian, are having difficulties remembering all the kanji since only people in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea use them. We have Kanji contests 4 times a year and interestingly students from non-kanji area often get very good scores. That’s often because kanji-area students tend to underestimate it. So I want to stress that even people from non-kanji area can master kanji.
Back to your question, another common difficulty beside kanji is probably keigo. Many students say they’re having a hard time how and when to use it. They particularly feel difficult about the usage of respectful, humble and formal terms. One of the reasons why they feel so is it’s often related to Japanese culture. And that’s why we make a strong effort to culture related classes.
SI: At Kai you are promoting a multinational environment. What have you personally learned from this environment?
MY: That is cultural gaps for sure! Let me tell you an example. A few months ago, two of our teachers gave an internal presentation about their class focusing “understanding different culture”. In the lessons, the students share how to apologize or decline friends’ favors in their home countries. Those from the same countries gather, discuss their country ways of apology and rejection in their native language first, and make a presentation in Japanese. The teachers showed a video of Japanese ways and after that they discuss how different they are. It was very interesting to know the difference was so big and it’s different in each culture. I think we’re very lucky to have students from over 30 countries all over the world, which allows us to have this type of classes at school.
SI: Can you tell me more about the research activities your language school is doing?
MY: That’s another thing we’re very proud of. Our teachers continue research activities all the time and make several presentations at conferences such as “The Society for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language Conference” every year. Our original textbooks are the result of their efforts and our students really enjoy studying with them. Our research activities are basically to develop better teaching methods, educational materials and student support. They include “In search of effective learning and teaching method of shadowing,” “Research on the needs of short-term stay learners,” “Improving teachers’ ability for inward and outward communications” and “Writing lessons with Japanese supporters.”
SI: Is there something you wish you had known before being involved with Japanese language teaching?
MY: Actually, I was teaching English at a different school once and that’s why I could imagine what’d be like before I got involved. The necessary paperwork is a lot more than I imagined, though… But I really enjoy working here and want to spread around how easy Japanese is to learn! Many of the foreigners and even Japanese think Japanese language is difficult to learn. And that’s also what I thought. But now I know it’s not correct! That’s because syllabic sound system is simple, word order is flexible, and there’s no gender to nouns and adjectives, etc. Moreover, we have wonderful teachers, staff and educational materials! LOL Anyway, I want to emphasize that I want more foreigners to study Japanese language and better understand Japanese culture and love Japan more and more!
Thank you so much Munezai for introducing your experience teaching Japanese to foreigners. I have to confess I am one of those, who truly believed that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, but your arguments about the word order, no gender to nouns… has truly convinced me. I guess I have now no more excuses on why my Japanese has not improved lately.
More info in regard to Munezai Yo can be found at
or then directly the Japanese language school
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)