This month, we talk to Evan Kirby, Director of Genki Japanese and Culture School.
GenkiJACS’ Japanese schools in Tokyo and Fukuoka offer small-group classes to learn conversational in a friendly, fun atmosphere. Unique courses include traditional culture and pop culture activities, and accommodation is in homestays, dorms and more.
Q. When did you join IALC and why?
We joined IALC in 2009. At the time we were a very small school, so it was quite a big step for us, but we wanted to be able to prove our quality to the world through an objective external accreditation system. IALC had a reputation as a great mark of quality, that would allow us to stand out from other Japanese language schools.
Q. What do you like most about being part of this exclusive global community of quality language schools?
We love the ability to learn from other schools all over the world. Particularly as a relatively young school, being able to access the collected wisdom of so many seasoned industry professionals has been invaluable in helping us to improve our services. Additionally, the fact that IALC represents so many different languages and cultures means a wide variety of perspectives on almost any topic, giving us ideas we would otherwise never have come up with.
Q. How did last year (2013) go for you? What are your main aims for your schools for the year to come?
2013 has been a wonderful year for us, with the safe opening of our new Tokyo branch, and a surprisingly large increase in student numbers at our established Fukuoka school. After all that hard work, we plan to take it a little easier in 2014, and focus instead on tweaking and improving the services we offer at both schools.
Q. What developments do you expect in Japan in 2014? How will they impact the industry?
The biggest thing we have to plan for right now is the increase in the sales tax from 5% to 8% in April, the first change in more than 15 years. A mid-year change complicates all of our pricing, as well as our costs.
Other things to watch in 2014 include the exchange rate – a large part of the increase in demand we saw in 2013 can be attributed to the cheap yen – and potential Japanese government moves to increase the number of foreigners studying in Japan ahead of the 2020 Olympics.
Q. Anything new at GenkiJACS? If so why did you innovate? Can you already measure positive returns?
We have started to test new technologies in the classroom, specifically iPads and smartboards for teachers. It’s not always easy to convince teachers that these tools can improve classes, and in the beginning they definitely require more of a time investment than the old teaching methods, but in the long run, they have the potential to greatly streamline teacher preparation, and simplify the process of running the class, so the teacher can focus more on individual students’ needs.
Q. What are your most popular student activities?
Students really enjoy the traditional arts such as tea ceremony, kimono and pottery, but a staff favourite is onsen, hot springs, the closest of which is just five minutes from our Fukuoka school!
Q. Where do the majority of your students come from?
Most of our students come from North America and Europe.
Q. Finally, what would you say are the main benefits of learning Japanese at GenkiJACS?
Our classes are far smaller than at most other Japanese schools – maximum seven students per class and average just four – so classes can really focus on the specific needs of each individual student. Course content is based on the Japanese needed for daily life, rather than academic purposes.
Q. How did get started in the industry and what brought you to establish GenkiJACS?
My wife Rie worked as a Japanese language teacher at several other schools, before we realized that there was a gap in the market for a school targeting speakers of European languages. My background is in business and marketing, so we were a perfect team to start a new school together! For financial reasons, we started very small, but we rapidly grew to become possibly the biggest short-term Japanese school in Japan.
Q. Languages you speak or would like to speak?
One of the theoretical advantages of running a Japanese school is that I’m constantly surrounded by Japanese teachers who can help me improve my Japanese, but one of the actual disadvantages is that I’m surrounded by Japanese teachers who delight in pointing out my mistakes.
Q. Favourite travel destination?
I don’t like to visit the same place twice, so I’d have to say « anywhere new». The world is so big that I’ll never see more than just a corner of it! But I am very glad that we had a chance to see the pyramids, and scuba dive in the Red Sea a few years ago.
Q. Favourite pastime?
The older I get the more embarrassing it is to admit, but I’d have to say playing video games!
Q. Favourite meal?
I’m vegetarian, so my choices are a bit restricted, but I love the restaurants in China that prepare vegetarian food that looks and tastes just like meat.
Q. Dream dinner guest(s)?
My brother and sisters. As we’re scattered around the world (four people in four different countries!), I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I want to.
Genki Japanese and Culture School is a pair of innovative, family-run Japanese schools in the heart of Fukuoka City (in Southern Japan) and Tokyo. Each school offers the best of small-group classes, fun activities, communicational classes, and detailed individual support for each student. GenkiJACS has been nominated for the STM Star World Language School Award every year for the last five years, and opened their new Tokyo branch in June of 2013.