“A Wide Perspective”: Learning Japanese and American Culture Through Language and Education | Local News


Shino Sullivan knows that most of the students at North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School are temporarily in the United States.

As Director of the United States-Japan Partnership Program at the University of Mississippi, her goal is to make those years a rewarding time to learn about life in the South.

“I want them to know that this is a very short period of their life, but I believe that these few years for them have been a very good opportunity or a rare opportunity, very precious for them even if they don’t live. in New York or Los Angeles, ”Sullivan said.

Many of the students at the extra school are the children of Japanese workers at Toyota Mississippi, who typically work in factories in Blue Springs for two to three years before returning to Japan. UM and Japanese companies established the school in 2008 to help students maintain the skills needed to be successful in their studies upon their return to Japan.

“It was the beginning, these families looking for schools, opportunities to go to school, Japanese studies,” Sullivan said.

Japanese education in the United States

Sullivan became principal of the North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School in 2017, but her career began there ten years ago as an instructor. Since she was a teacher when she lived in Japan, the former school principal asked her if she would be interested in replacing her. She accepted the offer.

Juggling a full time job during the week and working at school all day on Saturdays was a challenge.

“I didn’t mind helping, but it was really tough,” Sullivan said. “But I still enjoyed it from the start, and now I can just focus on (the) school … and the kids.”

While students attend an American school on weekdays and may struggle to adjust, Sullivan wants to make sure the Japanese school keeps them from falling behind in their studies in Japan. Part of its job is to mirror the Japanese education of students. They use the same textbooks as Japanese schools and follow the curriculum guidelines of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The school library has over 400 Japanese books of various genres to borrow. The school year runs from April to March, the calendar of the Japanese school system, with school holidays. Although they cannot do all of the subjects, focusing on Japanese, Mathematics, and Social Studies, students study hard.

“We have a lot of homework,” Sullivan said with a laugh.

It pays off. The school tracks student progress in Japan. While other subjects can be difficult, most students do well and can pass a high school or college exam successfully, Sullivan said.

“I’m proud of them and proud of the hard work of the instructors,” said Sullivan. “We are trying to contribute to their Japanese education and while the Japanese students are here they are learning a lot about differences and cultures.”

The school is also useful for families like Ryoko and Shintaro (Shin) Watanabe of Toyota Mississippi. The Watanabe’s daughters have never lived in Japan, but the couple want them to have a relationship with the family’s home country.

“They are Americans of Japanese descent, but they still have the opportunity to learn Japanese because we try to raise them bilingual,” said Ryoko Watanabe.

The complementary school is a particular passion for Shin Watanabe. He was once a child of the Ohio expedition. His wife taught at additional schools in other states, meaning he experienced additional schools in various roles.

“I was a student, I was a teacher, I was president of PTO,” said Shin Watanabe.

For Shin Watanabe, school is a way for children to learn about Japanese culture and how to behave in Japanese schools. For example, students clean themselves after eating, which is a basic custom.

Adapt to American culture

To help students make the transition to American schools, Toyota Mississippi is partnering with the Tupelo Public School District (TPSD) to expose school children to Japanese culture.

“The reason, I think, why we wanted to partner with TPSD is that they are the agents to educate future citizens,” said Ryoko Watanabe. “If we can harness the power of partnering with them, I think we can really make an impact on the community itself through Japanese culture.”

Ryoko Watanabe’s desire for education motivated her decision to come to the United States for college.

“I loved learning English, in general, in middle and high school,” she said. “Then I was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and just wanted to immerse myself in a diverse culture at the time. “

Watanabe uses his own experiences to guide his efforts with TPSD. Usually schools ask for programs and his Japanese friends help him. Some Japanese families with Toyota volunteer to present origami or calligraphy in schools.

“It’s a great way to communicate Japanese culture with local families,” said Ryoko Watanabe.

Kumi Richardson has witnessed a constant role model among the countless families she has helped as BancorpSouth’s Japanese Liaison Officer and First Bank Specialist / Personal Banker. When Japanese families make the transition to the United States, feelings are sometimes mixed as to whether children will like their American schools or Saturday school better.

Richardson noted that although some children prefer Saturday school early on because they speak Japanese, this eventually changes as they become more comfortable in their American schools.

“Their attitude, their mind, can change. They’re more relaxed here, I think, and then I think in that sense the teachers here are doing the right thing, ”said Richardson. “They are very helpful and very understanding as well.”

Learn the language

As children eventually learn the language in school, and husbands and fathers can learn from exposure to other American workers, Richardson said a group is often left behind.

“Moms, wives, they’re the last to learn,” said Richardson. “At the same time, they are so eager to learn, so if there are events, they participate.

There are reasons for this. According to Richardson, many Japanese women cannot work in the United States due to visa restrictions. Instead, they spend their time participating in the communities they have moved to and caring for their families.

But that could mean not having enough time, exposure, or interaction with Americans to learn English as quickly as their spouses or children. However, Richardson noted how many families who move are thrilled to have a cultural experience in America.

“They’re ready to learn and then they’re very, very open to new things,” said Richardson. “Without the efforts of the mom and the care of the family, this is not possible.”

The ESL program at First Baptist Church in Tupelo is where many can and have learned.

The program began about 15 years ago with the goal of helping non-native English speakers learn the language, said Katy Wallace, ESL co-director. Initially, the students were primarily Hispanic / Latino, but the program is open to all languages. Although the most recent influx has been Japanese students, they have hosted several language groups and the program remains open to all cultures.

“The goal, of course, is to help them adjust to American culture, to learn English so that they can communicate adequately,” Wallace said. “The special part of English as a second language in our program is that we teach them about Jesus. “

Classes take place on Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, with different levels of instruction from beginner to advanced. Each teacher creates their own lesson plan that best suits the students. Although class sizes vary, there are usually at least five students per class, and they offer a program and daycare for the students’ children.

They established relationships outside of class through visits and teachings on how to prepare native dishes. In the past, Japanese families have taught how to make sushi and demonstrated traditional Japanese crafts, such as origami and kite-making. A few times a year, the ESL program hosts a potluck where they encourage students to bring in native dishes, and towards the end of the year, they throw a big party for families. Local liaisons keep families informed of events and the church tries to organize a socializing event once a month.

“We have also noticed how kind the Japanese are in accepting other cultures,” Wallace said. “The main thing is just their desire to learn English, to be able to communicate while they’re here in America. I think that’s the main reason, but they enjoy socializing.

Shoji Asai, group director at Toyota Mississippi, said ESL has been extremely helpful since his family moved to northeast Mississippi nearly 20 months ago. The class helped bring his family closer to the Mississippians and exposed them to other cultures striving to learn English.

“Thanks to ESL, my wife can also learn English and my kids can make friends from Mexico or (other countries),” Asai said. “Now they are getting used to it through this education. Its very important.

A broad perspective

Toyota Mississippi continues its partnership with TPSD and Ryoko Watanabe is open to expansion to other schools.

“We are still in the initial phase, but we are discussing how we can build a new relationship to support Japanese families,” Watanabe said.

Ultimately, Watanabe wants the program to extend beyond Japanese families.

“This can easily be applied to any ELL (English language learners),” Watanabe said.

Exposure and building relationships with other cultures is important to Sullivan of the North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School. She wants to teach students to express themselves in the United States. Since Japan is a remote island, Sullivan said, being in America naturally exposes students to people from other countries and cultures that they may not have encountered while living in Japan.

“We have a vision. I want them to know it’s not just Japan or the United States, I want them to see the big picture, ”Sullivan said.

As the pandemic has created new challenges for her students, limiting their ability to participate in the school’s usual international events, Sullivan is happy to receive community support from American teachers, UM, neighbors, businesses, colleagues and friends of extra school teachers. .

“In Mississippi, people are very kind and generous,” Sullivan said. “I think (the students) are already feeling it, even if they don’t know what they are saying.

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