Dear Friends of the Saints in Japan,
Now that we have observed the Church in Japan for over fifty years in and out of Japan, we can see great progress made in that country, but there are several challenges. We have discussed this with our colleagues, many returned missionaries, and our former students, we have put some efforts together to help solve some of these challenges with new initiatives independent of BYU or Church but through NPO called International Education Research Institute and solicit your help, cooperation and participation in this endeavor. We have summarized some of these challenges and proposals and if you have any suggestions and willingness to join us, please feel free to contact us. You could see our activities on www.nihongo.byu.edu. As we observe the Church in Japan, the following challenges appear obvious to us and we feel a need to do something about these challenges.
When you join the Church, your association with Church members becomes stronger and that with non-member friends becomes weaker. Adults make the adjustment quite well, but it is not such a natural or easy transition for the youth. Socializing with others their same age is critical at this stage of their lives. Association with church members and attending Sunday meetings generally eliminates most of this association with non-members or even with members. Sunday church attendance means that they cannot participate in their school club activities. Most socializing for youth in Japan occurs during club activities, which are scheduled on Sundays. Something as simple as joining the orchestra or band is not so simple for members. Performances and rehearsals are scheduled on Sundays. Many youth in the Church struggle with the conflict between going to Church and the social net working at school or with neighborhood friends. Besides this, youth in the church do not have many opportunities to socialize with each other. As I have attended wards in Shimogamo (Kyoto) and Yamate (Yokohama) now for several summers, I have yet to observe any youth activities on weekdays. Adult male leaders cannot take time off from work to hold these activities during the week. Consequently, we are losing many second- and third-generation members. The seminary program is functioning much better than any other youth activities in Japan; however, the youth could benefit further from activities like music, sports, or drama, that are not part of the seminary curriculum.
The challenge of single adults staying single is a challenge throughout the church in general, but is a challenge that is amplified among Japanese members. Wards in Japan are small and spread out so it follows that the single adults in the wards are also spread out and do not have much interaction among themselves. The stakes are fairly small and the activities are not regular. The activities that are popular among the single adults are called Sama Kan (Summer Conference.) A certain stake SA group will usually plan and host these conferences and they notify other SA’s in Japan. With the exception of the nationwide conference they held in 2007 or 2008 with Elder and Sister Bednar, these are randomly organized and sponsored. Most of these conferences are nothing but arranged marriage type of get-togethers without any spiritual activities or bonding experiences. The institute program seems to be doing quite well and in fact, I often hear young people expressing their appreciation for the institute classes. However, institute attendance is decreasing when the population of the second- and third-generation LDS members should be increasing in attendance.
A third challenge is that a growing number of young people in the church are coming to the U.S. with the goal to attend a Church-owned school. I teach an institute class in Japanese as a volunteer instructor at the Utah Valley University Institute and teach approximately thirty to forty Japanese each semester. These are a wonderful group of Japanese youths (many of whom are second- or third- generation LDS), and many of them go on a mission after a year or two. The problem is their English. Their parents think that by going to the U.S., they will automatically learn the language and will be admitted to a Church-owned school. However, their English is not good enough to be admitted to any of the Church-owned colleges or universities. Some are even over thirty by the time they start college after studying English sufficiently and going on a mission. Some do not even make it at all and return to Japan rejected.
The Japanese Education System is not very conducive to bring out the strengths the young people have. The entrance exam system is such that the youths have to excel in almost all the areas of studies in math, Japanese language, social studies (geography, Japanese history, world history), science (physics, chemistry, biology), and English. Their system is such that as long as you do well in the paper tests (generally speaking, multiple choices for objective scoring); hence, their educational system nurtures rote memory and best test-taking techniques. The youths who do well in this system are “successful” students, but those who do not fit in this mold feel they are “failures” in school as well as in society. Some try to overcome this mold by going to the U.S. and competing in the freer environment. However, with this type of educational system, their English proficiency is extremely low (the TOEFL scores indicate Japanese natives are almost always the lowest to score of all the nationalities that take this exam,) and their preparation for the educational system in the U.S. is extremely disadvantaged. Their emphasis is grammar and reading comprehension, which can be measured with their test system. Since the TOEFL is becoming more and more performance base (both oral skills and writing skills), the Japanese youth who continue with the current Japanese educational system will face a more and more difficult time being admitted to a school in the U.S.
With the above obvious reasons and with the approval of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at BYU, we have started a pilot program three years ago (summer of 2007) at Shimogamo Ward in Kyoto and Yamate in Yokohama in conjunction with the existing BYU internship program. Incidentally these are the stakes that have hosted our study abroad program for over ten years and we felt this might be our token of our appreciation for their support. With the help from the college and the internship office of development, student assistants and I developed the materials to teach English with the same methodology that we use to teach Japanese at BYU. The program in the first year was only a one-hour instruction every day except Saturdays and Sundays. We quickly found out that the ward in Yamate has an immediate need of speaking English because of the number of youths interested in attending a school abroad and the fact that approximately a half of the active members speak English. Since then, we have focused only on Yamate and invited anyone interested to come join the classes we offered in Yamate. In 2008 we began an intensive program for three hours every day and a class for high school students with one hour every day and in 2009 during the summer vacation (two weeks in August) we expanded into elementary school and junior high school students for a two-hour daily immersion program.
We just finished the program in 2009 and out of nine regularly attended students, one (Jintoku Tai from Yamate) is already admitted to BYU-I (this student attended our class all three years), three are adult married learners (Atsushi Oyama from Yamate, Seiya Tanaka and Hanna Shuto of Kanagawa) who will continue to live in Yokohama, one (Kaoru Sato, a junior in high school form Sendai) will be going to Chicago in October, three (Ryowa Tanaka of Tsukuba, Shuhei Shibata of Hokkaido, Itsumi Sato of Hokkaido) are preparing to go to either Provo or Laie soon, and one (Keita Katanuma of Yamate) will be attending Orem High to finish up his senior year and then to a Church-owned school. In 2008, five students regularly attended the intensive course. Seiya Katanuma (of Hokkaido who had just moved into Yamate) left on his mission right after the course and is serving in Nagoya currently. Yuto Inamori from Nara was admitted to BYU-H in January of 2009 and now is currently serving a mission. Two more students (Hikari Kaneko from Chigasaki and Mei Yoshida form Kamioka) were admitted to BYU-H in January, 2009. The last student (Itsumi Sato from Hokkaido) has attended again in 2009 and is preparing to go to Provo soon.
We can continue this program but we find some limitations. One major challenge is the accommodation for the students who wish to participate in the program and for the BYU intern students. Current home stay accommodation (the Saitos in Yokohama) will not be able to meet the demands of the students if we continue to serve the youths all over Japan and expand the program. We need a place for the gathering of these youths to study not only English but any other subjects that might attract the youths in Japan and fill in the gap in their educational system. We need a place for them to meet and develop together spiritually, socially, and physically while they acquire any skills to serve the people, community and Church. This facility will be used for any Church activities such as camp, youth activities, EFY, Education Week, etc. all tailored for the saints in Japan. We propose to establish a non-profit organization to support such an educational endeavor for the next generation of LDS families in Japan. The Church or BYU will not invest in this type of endeavor. The Catholic Church has an organization called Jesuit, which focuses on education and is separate from the Church. Jesuit for the Catholic Church or Southern Virginia University in our Church is the model for this endeavor in Japan and we solicit any who is interested in the education of these young people in Japan to join in this endeavor. We will make this facility available for any who will join us and wish to travel to Japan as well as any programs in Japan sponsored by BYU. The By-Law will state explicitly that this organization will promote the education with the restored gospel as its foundation, exactly like that of the Church-owned schools. The By-Law will state also that when this NPO starts deviating from the purpose of the Church, it will be desolved and any assets thereof will be donated to the LDS foundation or Church Perpetual Educational Funds or whatever the Church sees fit best for its operation. We will appoint 12 board members (8 prominent leaders including former general authorities have agreed to serve) to make sure the organization will function in accordance with the By-Laws. We have located several possible sites in some resort towns in Japan to accommodate over two hundred people. The real estate market in Japan is such that we can secure a place fairly reasonably for this type of operation right now. Just as an example, we have located a school with large property in Kitakaruizawa for sale (one hour from Tokyo on the Shinkansen and 20-30 minutes by car or bus from the Karuizawa Station) for 200 million yen (approximately 2 million dollars.) We will continue to look for similar possible sites and purchase one when the funds become available with the approval from the board. In short, we need to raise a couple of million dollars to buy a place for the gathering for educational purposes in Japan.
August 15, 2009