by Shahrul Fatehah
Having Nihongo Partners (NP) volunteering at secondary schools around Malaysia has given a great advantage for the students to deepen their knowledge in the language and culture. The NPs, under the Nihongo Partners Programme, are sent to assist the local Japanese language teachers in the classroom as well as during extra-curricular activities in the efforts to expose the beauty of Japanese language and culture.
For SMK Bandar Baru Sungai Long, hosting an NP this year has opened up the opportunity in organizing their first Japanese festival – the ‘Sakura Matsuri’ (Sakura Festival). Despite a few months have passed since the famed flower season, the students of SMK Bandar Baru Sungai Long relived the glory of the season by decorating the hall with delicate sakura-themed handcrafts and flowers. They have also arranged for booths to introduce one of Japanese traditional summer costume “yukata”, as well as other fun activities such as Japanese calligraphy, Sado (tea ceremony), toys and games and more. For the opening ceremony, they performed a traditional dance significant to the Bon (盆) celebration – the Bon Odori – and to celebrate the theme of the festival, sang a song entitled “Sakura” made renowned by the singer Naotaro Moriyama.
The three NPs who were there as support expressed their amazement on how well-executed the festival was. Even though the students are currently taking lessons on Japanese themselves, they were sharing with their friends who are not from the Japanese class on what they have learned. The quality of the food served at the booths tasted really good and it showed how hard the students worked to showcase the Japanese culture to their best interpretation. The school principal has high hopes on having the festival again next year as she believes that this is one of the best platforms to promote mutual understanding between Japan and Malaysia.
Similarly, Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah (SSAS) organized a Language Carnival on the 3rd of August 2019, one day after SMK Bandar Baru Sungai Long. 7 NPs came down to lend a hand during the school’s 2nd-time carnival which participated by 700 students from several schools in West Malaysia and visiting family members. Unlike the Sakura Festival which focused on Japanese, the SSAS Language Carnival promotes the learning of various foreign languages such as Arabic, French, Germany, including Japanese.
The NPs’ booth attracted both students and teachers to try the Yukata and posed at the Torii (Japanese shrine gate) constructed by the students. The visitors of their booth were able to commemorate their visit by learning how to craft little flower ornaments made from Japanese cloths called tsumami zaiku and keep them for the price of RM5. During this short time, the students who had basics in Japanese were able to converse with the NPs who are native speakers of the language. To top it off, there was sumo costume-wrestling and karaoke competition where a lot of students opted for singing Japanese pop songs.
To the NPs, having students gathered up their courage and use what they learned in class to have conversations with them was one of the greatest moments during the carnival.
The Nihongo Partners are stationed in selected secondary schools in 10 states for this year’s batch. They made it an effort to join and facilitate events such as these at each other’s host school as much as they can to promote the language and culture during their time in Malaysia.