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Programs help Japanese students adjust to U.S. culture

12/12/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Nancye Willis*

JACKSON, Miss. (UMNS) - School on Saturday? It's every kid's nightmare - except for a group of Japanese second- and third-graders who are keeping in touch with their homeland's educational traditions.

Each week, while their American counterparts are playing or watching cartoons, they spend three hours in a special school called a "hoshuko." The school, held in a conference room at Wesley Biblical Seminary, is licensed by the Japanese government to teach Japanese-language classes and supplemental math classes to the children of Japanese workers living in Mississippi.

It's a project to keep the students up to speed on the Japanese way of education so that the adjustment on re-entering Japanese schools won't cause them to fall behind, says the Rev. Paul Tashiro, a United Methodist minister and academic dean of the school.

"They need to keep up with Japanese skills and math skills," says Sachiko Osanai, 27, who is among a group of Japanese seminary students providing instruction. Osanai assigns the students about 10 Japanese letters a week to learn, with an ultimate goal of being able to write more than 200.

About 150 Japanese families reside in Jackson, many drawn to work at a $1.4 billion Nissan plant nearby. They are expected to be in the United States for one to three years.

The relatively small number of Japanese can mean isolation and loneliness, even among a close-knit ethnic community. Learning to cope with new food, climate and customs has complicated their 7,000-mile journey, says Tashiro, a Tokyo native who is also professor of Old Testament and biblical languages at the seminary.

"To learn English itself is tough," he says, noting that the additional vernacular makes it harder still.

"When they said, 'What's up?' or 'Hey, y'all,'" says Osanai, "I think, 'What's up? Look at the ceiling.'"

Those without cars, and women who stay home while their husbands work, can feel especially isolated. To help combat potential loneliness, Tashiro is also starting Japanese-language worship services at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.

The worship service - another introduction to American tradition - is part religious and part social, and offers an opportunity to share with others so far from home.

In Japan, Tashiro points out, "they will never darken the door of the church." In Mississippi, he says, "They found a place to talk about each other. That itself is really help for everybody."

About 75 Japanese supplemental schools operate around the United States, according to Kiyoshi Kawahito, director of the Japan-U.S. Program at Middle Tennessee State University's College of Business in Murfreesboro.

More information on Christ United Methodist Church is available at; more information about Japanese supplementary schools is available at

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*Willis is editor for the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.

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