Japanese Lessons Customizable to Students' Needs Offered by We Japanese Language School That Teaches Living Language along with Characteristics of Country and People, and Contexts of Words: Interview with Mr. Taruishi, CEO of We Inc.
While English is said to be a global common language, the number of Japanese learners is increasing because of their interest and curiosity in Japanese culture. According to "Cultural Exchange" released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 2021, about 3.85 million people are learning Japanese all over the world.
So we interviewed Mr. Koji Taruishi, a representative of We Japanese Language School that teaches Japanese to people from abroad and living in Japan, and asked him about the characteristics, ideal way of being, and the purposes of those who are taking lessons at the school.
Koji Taruishi / 樽石 幸治
CEO of We Inc.
CEO of Hiragana Times Inc.
Taruishi was born in 1969 in Kyoto. After graduating from Otani High School, he flew to Australia alone to launch his business. He started and engaged in the business of restaurant and tour guiding, and car washing service partnered with golf clubs in Sydney. About two years later, Taruishi returned to Japan by yacht hitch-hiking, wandering around the south pacific islands, including the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, for about six months. After coming back to his homeland, he started working at an English language school in Osaka city, founded his own English language school in Shibuya ward, Tokyo in 1996, and incorporated his company as "We Inc." in 1999. Taruishi made Hiragana Times Inc. a subsidiary and became its CEO in 2018.
―You founded your English language school in 1996. What drove you to start We Japanese Language School?
Around the 1990s, there were too many English language schools in Japan, where cultural influences from Hollywood was significant, and lots of people were trying to learn English. I felt something wrong with that many learners were aiming to behave like American or British people. Though I had visited and seen many countries where English was used as a second language, I had not seen anyone like Japanese people who did not care about their national identity so much and considered English as something special. It was almost an inferiority complex. I thought we needed to face up to other countries based on what we had because we were Japanese with a long history and profound culture.
At that same time, there was also a trend that learning English from a native English speaker was the right thing. It was the era of the native-English-speaker bubble, and the preference was a kind of worship for native English speakers. All the non-Japanese people who spoke English were spoiled, and every native English speaker could be an English teacher.
For English language schools, students are the customers. Teachers who are responsible for teaching their customers need to understand them. I thought teachers who did not understand those English learners, meaning Japanese people, were not professionals. So I decided to start an English language school only with teachers who understand the language and culture of Japan, which led me to think of founding a Japanese language school because people who understand our language and culture were needed in any way. That is how I opened an English language school in 1996 and a Japanese language school named "We Japanese Language School" four years later, in 2000.
―When I see the website of We Japanese Language School, as one of the characteristics of your school, it seems that students are mainly business people, then the embassy staff, engineers, and homemakers follow. What kind of factors do you think are there?
Regarding the embassy staff, the main factor is the local characteristics of Shibuya. Japanese language schools used to be filled with students who attended only to get visas, and most schools offered textbook-based lessons according to the grammar-focused curriculum. However, embassy staff are generally highly-motivated and try to make their stay a meaningful time. Also, people from Europe and the US, especially business people, learn actively and know what they want clearly, like "I want to learn this kind of Japanese" or "I want to learn Japanese like this." I think there was almost no Japanese school to which those people wanted to go in those days, but our school stuck to the belief to focus on students thoroughly and place a priority on the needs and wants of our students, getting rid of the old common sense in the language school industry and stereotyped custom such as, "You should teach them in this way." We earned good reputations for those things and became known by word of mouth.
―Could you tell us the purposes of business people, embassy staff, and engineers, as your students for learning Japanese, and the characteristics of lessons?
Business people and engineers are learning to enhance the quality of communication with their Japanese colleagues at their workplaces. So we teach expressions, including the ones for the occasion in which honorifics are used such as a hearing to a Japanese client.
The embassy staff are learning Japanese to blend into Japanese society and promote their countries. We give them a lesson, using newspapers or magazines, to have them know how their countries are talked about in Japan.
For homemakers, we teach practical Japanese such as how to read food labels for grocery shopping at supermarkets.
―Based on your corporate philosophy, "Our know-how is to know who," what kind of things are coaches asked to follow carefully to teach Japanese, and what are the characteristics of the coaches?
There are no "sensei" but "coaches" in our school. Each student is a "player" as the main player and each coach has a mission to maximize the performance of players. Therefore, the most important thing for coaches is knowledge about each player, which means they need to know who before how. It is crucial to know who the player is before how to teach. No matter how wonderful know-how a coach has, it is useless if the coach does not know about a player. Of course, Japanese teachers are interested in teaching Japanese, but students should be the biggest target of their interest before that. A suitable person as a coach for We is someone who can find joy in being helpful to students than in teaching Japanese.
―Could you give a message to people who want to learn Japanese or want to learn at We Japanese Language School?
At We, coaches teach two types of Japanese: "JapaNEEDS" and "JAPANese". JapaNEEDS is literally the language of Japanese that matches the needs of students as a functional language helpful for daily life. Meanwhile, a language is a culture and there is an aspect difficult to define as a tool. So we use JAPANese when we express Japanese culture which has nurtured our language and the mind of Japanese people, both of which are lying in the background of the language.
Whether it is Japanese or not, learning another language can upgrade you and fulfill your mind. I want everyone who is learning Japanese to live in Japan more conveniently, safely, and comfortably. The natural environment and culture of Japan do not belong to only Japanese people. They should exist to be shared with people all over the world. It would be great if you intake the culture and spirituality of Japan into your own and evolve and grow together with us.