A flourishing Japanese language school and an active Japanese arts and culture club are two fruits of a relationship formed by Advance Diversity Services (ADS) just two-and-a-half years ago in a local playgroup.

‘One of our social work students from a Japanese background helped us form the connection with the Japanese Playgroup in Oatley,’ explains Jenny Tang Community Development Officer for ADS’s Settlement and Community Services Program. ‘Our relationship with the Japanese community in our region has since gone from strength to strength.’

From the playgroup connection, ADS met with Japanese community leaders and members to identify community needs and this led to a successful Bayside Council community grant application.

This two-part funding offered an equipment grant to start up a Japanese language school in the St George area (funding the purchase of books, a printer and other materials); and also a community grant to start the Japanese Arts and Cultural Club (contributing costs towards the venue, facilitators, and materials).

Photo: The Japanese Language School in was officially opened in Kyeemagh on January 29, 2020 and has since a satellite school for high school students in Rockdale.

‘Next, we set up meetings with the Department of Education and Japanese community leaders to work towards formalising the Japanese language school with the Department’s Community Languages Schools,’ says Ms Tang.

‘The group is now officially registered with the Department with more than 50 students attending.’

Ms Tang says the Bayside Japanese School, launched in January 2020, operates at Kyeemagh Public School and runs weekly during school terms. A satellite school for high school students has also recently commenced in Rockdale.

‘These are places where children and young people from Japanese and other backgrounds can learn Japanese in a safe and supportive environment. This strengthens their cultural identity and ensures multilingual skills are valued and maintained. It’s a great initiative.’

The Japanese Arts and Culture Club (JACC) began in mid-2019 and has since offered a range of enjoyable activities including origami, kimono dressing, Japanese tea ceremony, aizome (Japanese indigo ink dye), calligraphy, Sanshin (a traditional instrument), and traditional dance.

Photo: Participants enjoy a Japanese tea ceremony at the Japanese Arts and Culture Club, which is just one of many enjoyable activities the club offers.

‘The club’s sessions have been fun for all ages,’ says Mika Fukuta from the JACC and language school, ‘and they’ve really brought the emerging Japanese community in Rockdale together. The Japanese cultural festival – which the JACC helped organise at Kyeemagh Public School in February 2020 – was a special highlight.’

The JACC originally targeted adult community members, but later changed to working with younger children and students. The club has more recently been run as an addition to the Japanese Language School classes, to make better use of venue funds and existing student base.

Both the language school and the JACC turned to using online methods during COVID-19 restrictions. While students and teachers are now more familiar with and better equipped for online learning – and can take a flexible approach in the future – they are relishing their in-person sessions.

‘The Japanese community in our region is growing,’ says Ms Tang, ‘and we’re proud of our initiatives to support its members. We estimate that more than 350 people from the community have benefited from these two projects to date, which I think is a great effort!’

Ms Fukuta agrees the two projects have yielded an array of benefits, as do the other JACC and language school organisers, Mrs Mami Ayres, Mrs Emiri Kobayashi, and Mrs Sachie Gamo.

‘We’ve seen increased knowledge about and interest in Japanese culture and language, employment opportunities for language teachers and local artists, greater community cohesion and sense of belonging, and better engagement with local services.

‘We’d call this a stellar achievement.’