Saturday language school at IU Southeast feeds the Japanese community in Kentuckiana – IU Southeast Now


By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.) – Kindergarten children Lily Soseno and Toshiya Nakamura have no idea that spending Saturdays on the IU Southeast campus are helping to strengthen the economy of Southern Indiana.

Both children are enrolled in the Greater Louisville Japanese Language School, known more informally as the Japanese Saturday School, which has been held at IU Southeast since 1988.

The Japanese Saturday School offers members of the Japanese community in Louisville and southern Indiana a way to continue their children’s education in their native language.

At the same time, participants strengthen the bonds between their employers, IU Southeast and the local community, providing benefits that go far beyond education.

An elementary class at the Japanese Saturday school.

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The Japanese Saturday School is supervised by the Central japan, whose office is at Knobview Hall. The Center coordinates the school among other activities, including fundraising and cultural awareness.

The students, children of Japanese families currently ranging in kindergarten through ninth grade, come 40 Saturdays a year for language, math, social studies, and kindergarten, music and art classes. During the warmer months there are outdoor activities, games and games for free. The school also puts Japanese culture at the forefront at events in Louisville and southern Indiana, such as the traditional New Years banquet, and when opportunities arise.

Like other similar programs across the country, the Japanese Saturday School at IU Southeast is funded in part by the Japanese government, in part by tuition fees, and in part by relocation grants provided by Japanese employers. The aim is to support the cultural identity and Japanese-style education of its young nationals living abroad, especially those who will only be living temporarily in another country – in this case the United States.

The typical length of stay for a family is between three and five years. This is long enough for a child to get used to the American education system, which makes reintegration in Japan difficult.

“Children learn easily but also easily forget, especially when they speak English with friends all week at school,” said Shinji Otsubo, chairman of the school board and vice chairman of the administration of Idemitsu Lubricants America Corporation, based in Jeffersonville, Indiana. “Saturday school is an important opportunity for them to continue learning Japanese.

This is especially important given the unique structure and curriculum of the Japanese education system, with which the Japanese Saturday School is aligned. The program is sent to the school by the Japanese Ministry of Education. While students attend local schools full time during the week, they remain focused on their ultimate return to Japan through Saturday classes and daily homework, as well as conversation at home.

Cultural and economic impact

The school reflects the interconnected global economy and the role of the Kentuckiana region in it.

Japanese companies are well represented locally, primarily in the automotive manufacturing supply chain, but also in logistics services and stevedoring at the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville. Their names may not be familiar words, but they have a profound effect on the local economy.

“Since the 1980s, when the first Japanese companies planted their roots here, we have seen a steady growth in the number of Japanese investments, and the number of employees working for these companies has increased dramatically,” said Matthew Hall. , executive vice-president of A South Indiana. “Employing more than 1,200 people in Clark and Floyd counties alone, Japanese companies today offer many opportunities for Hoosier families. “

The Japan Center originally included representatives from six Japanese companies represented in the region, including American Air Filter, DA Inc., Hitachi Cable, Idemitsu Lubricants, Mytex Polymer and Zeon Chemical, according to Katsuhiko Banno, chairman of the board. .

Today that list has grown to nineteen, encompassing Aisin Drivetrain, American Fuji Seal, Arvin Sango, Austin Tri Hawk, Katayama America, Kintetsu World Express, MISA Metal Fabricating, Miyama USA, NHK Spring Precision, Yamamoto FB , Yamato Transport, Steel Technology, and Tri Arrows Aluminum.

Japan’s management staff work with local employers at different levels of the industrial process, providing specialist leadership and services related to their core specialty. Some are there to manage a project, and will return to Japan once the project is completed. Others may have a longer term commitment, but are still considering returning to continue their professional development and resume their lives in their home country. Still others are leaders of their own businesses who have settled here, serving the industry niche they have come to address.

Many bring their spouses and children.

Banno himself is president of DA Inc., a division of Kojima Auto Technology that supplies pliers, clips, and plastic protectors for electrical wire harnesses from Toyota, Honda, and other automakers. Its corporate offices and distribution center are located in Charlestown, Indiana, where it has been part of the landscape for 27 years. The company employs 17 local workers and last year announced a $ 10.6 million expansion of its manufacturing operations at the River Ridge Commerce Center, bringing the number of jobs to 35. The plant will open its doors. doors in mid-September of this year.

Banno enrolled his two sons in Saturday school 25 years ago. The family returned to Japan, but Banno returned to southern Indiana to oversee the expansion of DA Inc .. His involvement with the Japan Center has a very personal motivation.

“I feel like I have to do something back for the school and the community,” he said.

Japanese Saturday School

Saturday School helps Japanese children keep pace with the education system in their home country.

Anchor of the Japanese community

For the 2015-16 school year, the school has 23 children from 15 families. It has eleven employees, including nine paid teachers and the rotating volunteer positions of Eiji Hosotani, director, and Otsubo, chairman of the board.

While kids are learning, parents can focus on organizing events, fundraising, or just catching up.

“Saturday school is now the basis of communication between parents and families, even for those without children,” said Banno.

Otsubo also sees value beyond the purely academic for the region’s Japanese population.

“In this region, there aren’t many Japanese people, and no Japanese clubs or news sources, so it’s not easy to find Japanese friends,” he said. “Speaking continuously in English is a bit difficult for us. But you can relax when you speak Japanese freely, so for parents, school is also important.

Besides its value as a gathering place for the Japanese community, the Japan Center and the Japanese Saturday School are the only de facto local resources on Japan and Japanese culture for the non-Japanese community.

Fly into the future

At its peak, before the recession, the Japanese Saturday School was about double its current size. As the contraction spread to the auto manufacturing sector here and in Japan, fewer managers were posted overseas and enrollments fell. The Japan Center is now supplementing corporate and government support and tuition fees with fundraising plans, and the economy has picked up momentum, as evidenced by the expansion of local Japanese businesses.

The school’s website sets out its vision in poetic terms that highlight its essential role in an even more diverse community than when the school was created.

“Teach the language of Japan and the United States, so that we can fly to the future as an international people with a broad vision. . . “

Ichiko Epperson has been involved with the school for many years, as a parent, teacher and also coordinator of the Japan Center on campus. Like many other volunteers over the years, she is married to an American and came to the group in order to keep her culture alive for herself and for her children.

“As long as there are students, we will continue to teach,” she said.

Front page photo: Japanese Saturday School teacher Ms. Yuko Sparks with kindergarten students Lily Soseno and Toshiya Nakamura.

KEY WORDS: home page, Japan Center, news, southern Indiana

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