FEATURE: Japanese teacher with a love for Vietnam
DA NANG, Japan (Viet Nam News/ANN) - Shuto Mika, 54, loves her job as a Japanese language teacher for many reasons.
It is a job she graduated and mastered in. It has provided her opportunities to teach her mother language to many foreigners at universities, Japanese schools, enterprises, teacher training classes and international exchange associations in Japan, especially in her hometown Himeji City, for more than 17 years.
It has also brought her to live and teach as a volunteer teacher in Vietnam, where she has fallen in love with a Vietnamese instrument called the dan bau (monochord) and the traditional costume ao dai (long dress).
Shuto’s first experience of Vietnam came from stories told by Vietnamese friends she met when she was a part-time teacher at a Japanese school in Japan.
“One time I was chatting with two Vietnamese sisters who told me stories about Vietnam, about the sorrow and aftermath of the war as well as people’s efforts to get over it,” Shuto said.
“These stories really struck me, as I have never experienced war,” she said.
After becoming a Japanese teacher, Shuto met many foreigners, particularly Vietnamese people.
“I taught Japanese to many expatriates, so I always saw their optimistic attitude. I admire how they can live so passionately in a country that is not their homeland,” Shuto said.
“I really wanted to try teaching Japanese overseas to meet more people, so I decided to teach in Vietnam,” she said.
When Shuto found out about the Japan International Co-operation Agency's (JICA) Senior Volunteers programme that offered the opportunity to come to Việt Nam, she knew it was time to make her dream come true.
She was selected to become a volunteer Japanese teacher at Da Nang University of Foreign Language Studies in October 2018. Every day, she co-lectures with a Vietnamese teacher and helps younger teachers with her teaching methods and expertise.
"This is my first time volunteering abroad, but fortunately, I am teaching at a university where there aren't many differences from what I've done in the past,” she said.
Shuto said she was inspired by her Vietnamese students, who have a reputation for their diligence and hard work.
“They all want to learn Japanese so they can become proficient,” she said.
Shuto said that every day in Vietnam was full of new and unexpected things stemming from lessons with students, conversations with colleagues, and meetings with strangers.
Tran Ngoc Phuong Linh, a second-year student, has been learning Japanese with Shuto for a year.
“Sensei is meticulous about every small detail so that students can understand them thoroughly,” Linh said, adding that Shuto’s teaching methods were often combined with specific situations so they could be applied in the real world.
“It is interesting learning with her as she tells us a lot about the life and culture in Japan. She always incorporates stories about Japan in her lectures to help us understand,” she said.
Linh said Shuto’s classes had motivated her and her classmates with a love for Japan, with a curiosity for learning and understanding.
“She even integrates Vietnamese culture in the Japanese lessons,” she said.
Shuto expects that her students who graduate from the university would be able to find work at Japanese businesses or use Japanese at work.
“I think the students can act as a bridge between Vietnamese and Japanese people,” she said, adding that she wanted her students not only to learn the language but also the Japanese culture and way of thinking.
“I hope they will not only translate literally into Japanese but also convey the Japanese culture, customs and way of thinking. I also want them to be able to impart the Vietnamese culture and way of thinking to Japanese people,” she said.
For the past 18 months, Shuto has also been learning Vietnamese.
“I sometimes try to say something in Vietnamese but accidentally pronounce another word, so I cannot convey what I really want to say,” she said.
“Learning Vietnamese helps me understand the students' struggles when they try to learn a new language,” she said.
Shuto said that before coming to Vietnam, she was hoping to learn a Vietnamese musical instrument so that after returning to Japan, she could play it for Vietnamese people living in Himeji.
“When I arrived here, I attended a concert of traditional music and was fascinated by the dan bau (monochord),” she said, adding that she found the artist playing the instrument so beautiful.
“The monochord may only have one string, but the sound is brilliant and unique. When I hear the sound of the monochord, there is something deep in the soul that is hard to describe,” she said.
At weekends, Shuto attends a class to practise the monochord with the hope of mastering it so she will be able to play it to Japanese and Vietnamese people when she returns to Japan.
Teacher Shuto plays Vietnamese dan bau for her students. She hopes to master the instrument so that she can play it for both Vietnamese and Japanese people when she returns to Japan.
The Japanese teacher also loves wearing the traditional Vietnamese ao dai. Her favourite is a dress emblazoned with lotus flowers. She said she loved Vietnamese lotus flowers because they rose from muddy swamps and bloomed beautifully.
“Just looking at a lotus flower, I can see a whole philosophy in it. Moreover, the lotus is a symbol of Vietnam. It represents the Vietnamese people who never give up," Shuto said.
“And that’s what I really love about Vietnam and its people,” she added.