Q&A with Masahiro Kozuma of the Japanese Children’s Society

Mr. Masahiro Kozuma of the Japanese Children’s Society, right, with Mr. Fusaki Fujita of Marsh USA.

By Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) for JQ magazine. Stacy is a professional writer/interpreter/translator. She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observation in the periodic series WITLife.

At a gathering of the Battenkai, or Kyushu-ite group here in New York City, I had the pleasure of sharing a mirthful moment with Mr. Masahiro Kozuma. We were taking part in “laughter yoga” with the guest teacher at the event, who paired us up as partners with the task of performing a laughing exercise together.  As we had just met this could have been a somewhat awkward activity to have to engage in, but thanks to Mr. Kozuma’s willingness I was able to ease into simulated laughter until it became real and I enjoyed the moment.

Later in the evening we continued our non-verbal communication with an actual conversation, where I learned that Mr. Kozuma serves as Director of the Japanese Children’s Society or New York Ikuei Gakuen (育英学園). This NPO established in 1979 provides Japanese education to youngsters with the motto of “Carefree Learning, Nurturing of Self-Training Children.”  I had the chance to talk further with Mr. Kozuma about his background and that of his school.

What brought you to Battenkai?

I decided to join as I am from an area of Fukuoka Prefecture called Chikuhou. Fukuoka is blessed with beautiful nature like the mountains and the sea, and the Chikuhou region is known for coal mining. My childhood memories are of playing all the time on the huge heaps of coal waste that could be found around where I lived.

What was your path to the States?

While in Japan I got my master’s in Special Education, and I decided to come to here for further study in this field. In Japan the extent of my work experience was a part-time job at a fish store during university, but my first job here in the States was being an elementary school teacher at Japanese (supplemental study) school. I was also a counselor at their summer camp.

And now you work as director of Ikuei Gakuen, which has several schools throughout the New York area. Can you tell us a little about your system of education?

As director, I am in charge of all the schools which include the main Manhattan one, one in Port Washington, Long Island and the New Jersey campus where my office is located. Our curriculum is based on the standards set by the Ministry of Education in Japan, but it is bilingual learning as we have daily English classes. The subjects we cover are Japanese, English, math, science, social studies, music, arts and crafts, calligraphy and physical education. We also have special seasonal events like Field Day and school festivals.  On the East Coast, we are the only full-time, integrated Japanese school for children ages 3 to 12.

In terms of supplemental study, we have Saturday and Sunday school as well for students who might attend regular school during the week, but still want to keep up with their Japanese education. We also do homeschooling for those who are unable to make the weekend classes.

Do you have to be Japanese to attend Ikuei Gakuen, or is it open to anyone?  What is the procedure for getting in?

It is not limited to Japanese people, but the fact that classes are conducted in Japanese means that your language skills must be up to a certain level. We do have some students who are not from Japan, but who have one parent who is Japanese, etc.  For all applicants we carry out screenings and a test, and provided they can pass and have developmental skills appropriate for their age they will be accepted. In circumstances where special individual treatment is necessary such as with learning disorders, we consider those on a case by case basis. Our school’s purpose is not preparing students for college entrance exams, as some might think.

Do you have any former JETs working at Ikuei, and what advice do you have for those interested in that sort of career?

In fact we do. Currently one of our after-school English courses is taught by a former JET who used to live in Niigata. Anyone who is interested in this kind of teaching should feel free to come by and observe his class anytime!

Getting off the educational topic, what are some of your favorite places in the New York area?

I love the East Village with its feeling of disorder, and I like going to look at paintings in the many museums that the city offers. My other interests include eating and finding exciting new restaurants to try. I also love skiing and other winter sports, so I enjoy the cold weather season!

What do you miss most about Japan?

Being from Kyushu, I would have to say onsen!

Finally, what is a source of pride for you as a Japanese person?

Well, I have a two-part answer for that. One is the Japanese sense of modesty or humility, and the other is compassion. Not to say that these things don’t exist here in the States as well, but I think that caring about others and trying to put yourself in their shoes before acting is something we should all value.

Visit Ikuei Gakuen online at http://japaneseschool.org.