[From April Issue 2013]
Non-Profit Organization, The Japan Return Programme
“To tell you the truth, I had no idea my mother was doing something so big,” says IKEZAKI Miwa, the executive director of a Non-Profit Organization, the Japan Return Programme (JRP). Miwa’s mother Miyoko founded the JRP in 1995 and ran it until last year when Miwa took over the reins. The purpose of the JRP is to nurture people who could one day forge important links between Japan and the outside world.
The JRP carries out two tasks. One is the “Nihongo Summit,” organized every year since 1999. It’s an event at which youngsters living overseas, who are putting all their effort into studying Japanese, are invited to express their opinions in Japanese. It’s not simply a one day event; participants (panelists) arrive in Japan about a month prior to the Nihongo Summit.
Everything is done in Japanese: peace studies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a cultural exchange with people living in the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake; experiencing traditional Japanese culture; visiting corporations and politicians; and homestays. As part of the program, they get a chance to speak keigo, or honorific language, too. At the end of their visit they perform a presentation at the summit on “What I can do now for peace.”
Between 1999 and 2012 a total of 1,465 people applied to take part in the Nihongo Summit. From those, 233 panelists from 61 countries were selected to come to Japan.
Former panelists have maintained strong links to the organization by keeping in touch via Facebook and working in cooperation with JRP’s administration. Some return to Japan to study at university in a specialized field, while others work for Japanese companies overseas. A few have come back to Japan as diplomats.
The JRP’s other function is to give free lessons of Japanese language and culture to ambassadors and other diplomats stationed in Japan. JRP teachers teach their students to produce beautiful Japanese so that they can talk about their country in Japanese and use appropriate Japanese for work.
Miyoko, who was formerly a teacher of Japanese language, founded the JRP because she noticed that foreign children who had once lived in Japan ended up forgetting the Japanese they had learned once they returned to their countries. “Japanese is a compassionate language in which you put yourself in another person’s place. It’s a good language for discussing peace. Young people studying Japanese will build bridges between Japan and other countries in the future. And they’ll also contribute to world peace.” With this idea in mind Miyako ran the JRP in the early days with her own money.
Miyoko’s wish struck a chord with many and the number of sponsors has increased year by year. Eventually well-known companies within Japan and famous politicians began to cooperate.
Miyoko passed away in 2012. Miwa hesitated at first to take over when she discovered that the administration of the JRP, which depends on contributions, was quite a challenge. Her mind was made up, however, after listening to Miyoko’s passionate ideas. “I’ll do my best to keep the JRP going.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo