Quality language schools worldwide

KAI Japanese School, Tokyo – An Interview with Hiroko Yamamoto

15/06/2011

Founded in 1987, KAI Japanese language school in Japan is popular with students from across the world, giving it a very special international atmosphere. It provides first-class learning facilities in central Tokyo. However, recently KAI faced one of the biggest challenges in its history.

In March 2011, North-East Japan was hit with an earthquake that claimed thousands of lives. The chain of events started by the earthquake damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, presenting a further problem for Japan.

We spoke to KAI’s founder and President, Hiroko Yamamoto, to find out more about the school, how it was affected by recent events and how they are overcoming the challenges.

Q: How do you feel about being part of the IALC ‘family’ and how membership benefits your school:
A: I’m really happy that we became a member of the IALC family. Being in Japan, it’s a precious experience to be able to share information and exchange opinions with other language schools across the world, and learn more about the world trends in the study abroad industry. IALC provides us many wonderful opportunities in terms of marketing. The annual IALC workshop is the most important workshop of them all.

Q: KAI was established in 1987. How have things changed at the school since then?
A: Twenty four years ago, we started our school with 16 students. Within five to six years, we had grown to have about 200 students from all over the world, and we have kept this number until today. We also started various research activities from the early stage of our history. Now we are recognized for our practical research and program development. In 1998, we started a teacher training program. Around the same time, we were chosen to provide a Japanese language training program to “Vulcanus in Japan”, a program led by the EU, for 10 consecutive years. Other programs we’ve been involved include business Japanese programs initiated by the government, as well as a Japanese program in a primary school in the UAE. Our active involvement in developing a variety of Japanese language programs have surely given us a unique recognition among Japanese language schools in Japan.

Q: We recently wrote on the IALC website about the Gambalog, your international student blog. This looks like a good way to show potential students what life is really like at the school. Is this something you would recommend to other schools?
A: Thanks for asking! We are really happy that our students were enthusiastic about this student blog project as much as we were. It is a great joy for us too that everyone around the world including their family, friends, as well as our potential students can read about how their life is at our school and in Tokyo.

This blog started out of necessity in a way. Right after the dreadful Japan earthquake in March, the world media exposed rather shocking news and images about Japan every single day. We were surprised, even shocked at times, to see the big gap between what the media showed and what we witnessed with our own eyes. We felt a strong need of having to do something about it, and so did our students. We shared the same spirit that way, and that brought us together to start this student blog project. It might not have worked if there wasn’t such a strong reason to begin. The student blog project has been a wonderful experience for us all, and I would surely recommend it to other schools. We have seen the camaraderie grow among students, and the numbers accessing our website has increased greatly. We realized along the way, however, that it also takes quite a bit of effort and creativity to launch and continue this sort of project. You need to keep the students’ motivation high.

Q: From which countries do the majority of your students come?
A: 60-70% of our school population is from European countries. Our largest population right now is Swedish and is about 30%. The second largest is Korean, which is about 20% (before the earthquake).

Q: What are the most popular student activities outside classes?
A: The most popular activity among our long-term students is “Izakaya (Japanese pub) night”, where students eat, drink, and sing (karaoke) as much as they can. Among short-term students, activities unique to Japan such as sushi making and visits to Ghibli anime museum are also popular.

Q: Turning to the recent tragic events in North-East Japan, how was the school during the earthquake and did it suffer any damage?
A: The earthquake hit us at 14:46 on March 11th, right in the middle of afternoon class. At our school, we practice emergency evacuation drill four times a year. Having experienced the drill, our students did a great job evacuating from the school building to a nearby university campus. Public transportation started to run in the evening, but some trains didn’t start until the next morning. We spent a night at the university campus with about twenty students who couldn’t get home that night. As for the school building, we had cracks in some walls. But the owner of our building immediately made arrangements to repair those cracks. When we began the new class in April, the repair work was done.

Q: From the international news, it seemed that Tokyo itself coped reasonably well. Three months on, what is the situation?
A: In Tokyo, we had some rolling blackouts as well as shortages of some products in stores soon after the earthquake. But things went back to normal rather quickly in the city. In April when our new course began, almost all was back to how it should be. Our school is situated in Shinjuku area, where the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office is located. As it is a central area of the city, we luckily didn’t have rolling blackouts. Now after three months, our life is almost as it was before. I say ‘almost’ because we still have some lights and electric devices such as elevators and escalators turned off in the city for the sake of saving electricity.

Q: If a student is worried about coming to Japan to learn Japanese, what words of reassurance would you give?
A: Tokyo didn’t suffer any major damage from the earthquake, and our life has been back to normal in the city. We had quite many aftershocks in March and April, but we have much less now. It is quite normal if we have minor aftershocks in the coming months. I would like to assure our potential students though, that the minor aftershocks will not cause damage in Tokyo. As for the problem with the nuclear power plant, the level of radioactivity in the air is normal in Tokyo. There have been discussions in the media about possible contamination of food and water, but I would like to stress that in Japan, we have a very strict guildeline for food and water. Inspection is conducted for both food and water, and any product that doesn’t meet the standard are not distributed to the market. If you are coming to Japan, you shouldn’t be worried about food and water. If you would like to know more about the student life in Tokyo, you can check our student blog! Just as before, our students enjoy life in Tokyo. There are also some who have participated in volunteer work in North Japan in the area affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Each student is having a full experience being in Japan.

Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges now facing your school and Japanese language study in Japan?
A: To overcome the crisis of losing students. After the earthquake in March, the number of students at our school dropped below hundred, which meant we lost about 30-40% of our student population. We are also facing difficulty in getting new bookings. I would assume the situation is more or less the same if not worse for other Japanese language schools in Tokyo.


Q: What are the main attractions for students wishing to study Japanese in Tokyo?
A: Tokyo has everything! The food, fashion, art, technology, entertainment, the traditional culture as well as subculture… one will be surprised to find a serene temple or beautiful Japanese garden juxtaposed with the skyscrapers built with the latest in design and technology. The city is also only one hour away from the beach and nature. Students will not get bored in Tokyo!

Q: Moving on to find out more about you, which is your favourite travel destination, and why?
A: Caribbean islands! I love how people gather in local squares late in the evening to enjoy dinner, drinks, dance and music. The salsa, merengue, pina colada… I love the lively feeling of everyone having a good time.

Q: Your favourite pastime or interest?
A: I love browsing books in a bookstore. I also enjoy writing blogs (though I’ve been lazy recently..) and tweeting!

Q: Your favourite meal?
A: Japanese food! I especially love ‘tonkatsu’, the pork cutlets.

Q: Your dream dinner guest(s)?
A: Johnny Depp

Q: Finally, what would you say are the main benefits of learning Japanese at KAI Japanese language school in Tokyo?
We are distinctive among Japanese language schools in a sense that 60% of our students are from Western countries. Most of the Japanese language schools here have more than 80% of their students from Korea and China. We encourage our non-Asian students in taking the JLPT exam and teach them to reach the level of entering Japanese university or college after two years of study with us. To keep the students’ motivation high throughout the two years and to improve their practical skills in Japanese, we organize many exchange programs with Japanese native speakers where our students can practice communicative skills. We also offer our students academic and career counselling, as well as scholarship programs.

Kai Japanese Language School in Tokyo provides courses for many levels of proficiency and all age groups. It also offers a range of accommodation options, from homestay to residential.

Tel: 00 81 33205 1356



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