2018 Activity Report

March Activity Report

31 March 2019
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

It is now March. It has been both hot and cold here in Turkmenistan, and three cold days almost always seemed to be followed by four hot ones. Perhaps because of this, I’ve caught a cold. I used the earlier half of the new-year holidays here (March 22 and 23) in a very productive (?) way – by sleeping… even though I don’t have holidays very often…

Anyway, I want to report on the Japanese classes. Last month, I wrote about how two new classes of first-year students began studying Japanese. There were a few times where I had to be quite strict, but they’ve finally calmed down. These days I am starting to understand the tremendous power of education. I once again feel the need to use the power of a teacher correctly. Although, I do think that some of the second-year students still look at me and think “oh he’s annoying”. At the start of next month there’s a mid-term test, so I want to keep doing my job as best as I can.

Moving onto another topic, the Japanese Embassy in Turkmenistan held two events at the end of this month. I want to talk about them a little. The first was a Japanese Food event on the 30th. I was otherwise engaged and could not attend, but I had the students show me photos of the event. It seems that there were tempura and sushi-making demonstrations and sake tastings. More information can be found in this article (Russian only): https://arzuw.news/9518/sostoyalsya-master-klass-po-prigotovleniyu-yaponskoy-kuhni.html

In addition to this, a party for exchange program returnees was held by the embassy on the 31st. I think this was the second time they’ve held this. This event is an opportunity to interact with people who went on exchange to Japan, which I enjoyed while eating traditional Turkmen food in the desert. I ate many foods one can’t even find in Japan, such as pan-baked beef and kebabs. The beef was juicy and delicious.

At the end of next month (the 27th), a Japanese contest will be held. I am helping my students prepare, and hope for some good results.

February Activity Report

28 February 2019
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

There were some chilly days in February, but the weather has generally been pretty easygoing. Ashgabat might’ve even been warmer than Tokyo. I have the weather of both Tokyo and Ashgabat displayed on my phone, so I compare them quite a bit. In the latter half of February, the days grew longer, and it began to stay light outside until about 7pm. Ashgabat is close to the equator, so the days are quite long. I am a little scared of the summer to come. I remember the direct sunlight in Uzbekistan was intense. If you’re outside for 10 minutes without protection in the height of summer (around July), you can easily feel like you’re going to die. I heard that Ashgabat is similar…

Moving on, the new semester starts from February. From this semester, first-year students from the public law and private law classes began to study Japanese (the second-year students of these classes finished their Japanese studies last semester, so the amount of classes I teach stays the same). Both classes always have discussions each time, and since they have a real sense of teamwork, I have to be careful sometimes (I can’t go into details on this though…). In particular, the first years aren’t used to my style of teaching, so I have to pay more attention to them. The early days of teaching this kind of subject are crucial, so I want to be firm and strict when dealing with them.

Following January’s exams, the exam to decide the two exchange student candidates for the ISEP program was held. Seven students stepped up to the challenge. While it’s no surprise, the students who have been studying Japanese continuously for 2-3 years since they were first years got the highest marks. There was such a narrow margin between the top three. I had to fail one of them while they cried, which was really hard for me. In April we will have a Japanese speech contest, so I hope that student participates in that.

The other applicants were first and second-year students who haven’t been studying Japanese for long, and prior to the exam a few students even told me something along the lines of “I won’t take the exam this year, but next year I will step up to the challenge!” I hope the atmosphere at IUHD becomes more competitive so the students’ Japanese levels can increase, which as a result would increase the national average level of Japanese in Turkmenistan.

January Activity Report

31 January 2019
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

It is now January, and the 15 degrees and above days keep coming. Because of this the air is very dry, and my skin has become itchy. Luckily, the weather turned bad yesterday, and it became more humid. Of course I’m not happy about it being cold again… but it is important to take care of your health.

Speaking of health, let’s talk about food. There are no Japanese ingredients in Turkmenistan, but I used to live in Uzbekistan, so I am used to the food and ingredients here. Lately I’m obsessed with buckwheat kasha and kefir (similar to drinking yoghurt). They are cheap, easy to prepare and nutritious. It is kind of similar to Japanese natto (fermented soybeans, which I really want to eat right now).

If you were to ask me whether or not I miss Japanese food, I suppose my answer would be yes (I want natto). Last week on Friday the 25th, a New Year’s party was held at the ambassador’s residence. Many Japanese expats gathered at the party, especially those working in companies or educational institutions, and exchanged new year’s greetings while eating Japanese food. I was really happy to enjoy the food and drinks (especially chirashizushi and shochu), but more importantly I was glad to spend my time productively by listening to the interesting stories of working people who I usually wouldn’t have a chance to speak with.

In my main class, the end-of-term exam was held this month. At IUHD, “consultation time” is held before the exam period. I handed out a sample of the exam to students ahead of time, and wanted to work through it together during consultation time… but a few students finished it on their own before the consultation. I felt like crying a little. So consultation time didn’t go as planned, but the students got very high marks in the actual exam. There are a few students that have to take supplementary exams… so every day now I’m thinking about what I could do to motivate them more.

During the exam period, I also held an information session about ISEP (International Student Exchange Program). Eight students attended the session and listened with great interest. At the start of next month, the exam for overseas exchange will be held. I look forward to the students preparing thoroughly for and facing the challenge.

December Activity Report

31 December 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

From mid-December, the city entered the end-of-year, or perhaps I should say new year, mood. Big trees were lined up in front of buildings, and decorative lights were even strung through the trees planted along the roads. However, I have work right up until the 31st, so it doesn’t feel like the end of the year at all… By the way, I was very suddenly given the 31st off, and the 30th was a Sunday, so I have a long weekend until January 1st (but work starts again on the 2nd!).

My biggest achievement in December was probably starting the Open Class (absolute beginner level). I am holding this class twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays (from 3-4pm). By the end of last month, I had about 10 students sign up, but in the end around 20 students registered. However, it seems that the Open Class often clashes with afternoon social events (a sort of gathering that students must participate in), so it is hard for students to attend every week.

In the middle of the month, I was invited by the Japanese Embassy to attend a party for the Emperor’s birthday. This was held at Yyldyz Hotel, a high-class hotel located at the top of a mountain. It was my first time attending a party like this, so I was very nervous. However, I was able to meet many other Japanese language teachers, making for a very worthwhile time. I was also able to enjoy lots of Japanese food and alcohol.

As the year came to a close, I was asked to give some new year’s greetings around the university. IUHD has a journalism department. Because of this, it seems they often interview foreigners who come to the university as material for the university newspaper and broadcasts. I was asked to give the new year’s greetings for both the newspaper and broadcast.

At the start of the new year there will be end-of-term exams, which will then be followed by an exam for those who wish to go on an overseas exchange. I plan to keep working hard, while also watching my health.

November Activity Report

30 November 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

Heading into November, the days grew colder in Ashgabat. I’ve seen students catch colds much more than usual. I also caught a cold once… anyway I would like to report on this month’s happenings in the order they occurred.

At the start of November, mid-term exams were held for about a week. It has only been one month since I took over, but this wasn’t taken into account by the academic system. Anyhow, I made a test covering everything we’ve done so far, gave the students 10 minutes before the test to study, and made the questions relatively easy to give them a chance to get 100/100. However, out of 56 students, only one got 100/100. I suppose the average score was good though…

After the mid-terms, I began advertising the Open Class (absolute beginner level) that I plan to start in early December. I plan to hold this class twice a week for one hour each. First I got students to sign up through email, and sent them a task of writing out some hiragana and katakana vocabulary. At this point, ten students have signed up, but no one has brought me their completed task yet. I wonder how many people will actually do the task?

Next, I visited the Ambassador of the Japanese Embassy in Turkmenistan, Ambassador KATSUMATA. I felt that everyone at the embassy was very understanding of the activities of IUHD and the GJO. I decided I want to get myself together and dive into my day-to-day work.

In the last week of November, I was assigned with the task of submitting a teaching materials grant application to the Japan Foundation. The Japan Foundation is an organization that provides support for Japanese language education institutions around the world. This organization can assist new Japanese language education institutions with funds to purchase teaching materials. The GJO at IUHD was established in 2016, so we can still apply for this grant this year. Last year, we applied for a grant to purchase materials for the students, so this year we decided to use it to purchase materials for the teachers. I also sent out a sales quote to a bookseller. Since the President of the university’s signature is required for the application, I also translated the documents into English. My schedule this month was all over the place, but I was able to submit the forms. All I have to do now is wait for the result.

In November, I was able to get used to my new lifestyle, and complete many new jobs. The Open Class will start in December, so I want to keep this momentum going.

October Activity Report

31 October 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

Shinsuke here, the coordinator of the GJO Turkmenistan from September 2018 onwards. I’m ready to share information on Japanese language education and related activities at IUHD, and general information about Turkmenistan.

Because of visa procedures, I took over as coordinator in October. On October 3rd, despite my arrival being at 4am, Professor Nurmuhammet came to the airport to pick me up, and took me to my dorm. IUHD is on the same grounds as two other universities, and the dorm is right next-door. Also, the president’s palace is across the street from the university. One day, a student joked with me saying “you live next to the president”. However, the palace is strictly guarded by police officers, so I don’t know what it is like, but one day I’d love to try and go inside…

The next day, I had to go to the university to sign some documents, so I got a tour of the campus by some students. However, I was so overloaded with new information on the first day, so I kind of forgot what is what… It seems to be best to just ask other teachers or students about things I don’t understand as they arise. Since actually taking up my position, I’ve had countless amounts of help from students and teachers. Also, since there are so few foreigners in the university, if you look lost, someone will come over and talk to you. Since IUHD has focused on English education since its inception, the students will talk to you in English. I think it is quite rare for students in a Central Asian country to speak to foreigners they’ve just met in English (usually they would speak in Russian).

Two days after I arrived, classes began. I was worried about teaching classes when I barely know left from right, but I started the students off on hiragana and basic greetings. The students take two periods of Japanese a week (one period=80 minutes). I suppose it is on par with taking a second foreign language course in Japan. Because of this, I decided to keep using the “Marugoto” textbook that my predecessor used. This textbook focuses on task-based learning, and doesn’t put much importance on writing Japanese. However, for students to achieve a high level of Japanese proficiency, they can’t avoid learning written characters. Because of this, I decided to dedicate the first 40 minutes of each lesson to teaching characters (hiragana and katakana), and the last 40 to working through “Marugoto”.

It is my first time teaching students with no prior knowledge of Japanese, so I am able to go into these classes with a fresh mindset. I’m enjoying my classes and making new discoveries every day. From next month onwards I would like to talk in more depth about the content of these classes.

September Activity Report

30 September 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
HIDAKA Shinsuke

My name is HIDAKA Shinsuke, and from September 2018 onwards I will be the coordinator of the GJO Turkmenistan. I hope to share extensive reports on the Japanese language education and related activities occurring here at the International University for the Humanities and Development (IUHD).

While I had planned to take up this post at the start of September, my written invitation didn’t arrive in time, so I spent most of the month preparing in Japan. In Turkmenistan, the inviting party (in my case IUHD) applies for a “written invitation” at the Immigration Bureau, and sends that invitation (in PDF form) to the foreign applicant. This applicant then takes the invitation to the Embassy of Turkmenistan in their country to apply for a visa, or they can use it to apply for a visa at the airport once they arrive in Turkmenistan. However, when I tried to depart from Japan, the staff at the airport didn’t know about this invitation system, so I lost some time explaining it to them.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I want to talk about the preparation I did in Japan before heading to Turkmenistan. First, I met with Ms. NAKAMURA, my predecessor at IUHD, in late July. She passed on information to be about the students, campus facilities, the syllabus, exams, etc. Thanks to her, I was able to get a vague idea of what to expect. I also received the letters of acceptance for the Turkmen students planning to come on exchange to TUFS in late September (apparently it is better to deliver important documents by hand than entrust them to the Turkmen postal service). After that I spent some time thinking about the overall syllabus and actual lesson plans. Japanese is a language that requires learners to spend a lot of time on learning written characters, so I thought it might be better to go for a more communication-focused approach, such as that of the textbook “Marugoto”. However, if I take into account the fact that IUHD students have the opportunity to go on exchange to Japan, then I do need to teach them written characters properly. As a result, I made rough plan where we could practice written language in the first half of the lesson, and work through “Marugoto” in the latter. While thinking about this, I waited for my invitation to arrive… but it didn’t arrive until the end of September. Because of this, I gave the letters of acceptance for the Turkmen students to someone from the Japanese Embassy in Ashgabat, who just happened to be visiting Japan in early September, and they took the documents to Turkmenistan for me.

I hope to report on my new position in next month’s Activity Report.

July Activity Report

31 July 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
Saki Nakamura

University without the students is very quiet. This month, while organizing my affairs, I went to a student’s wedding and did some sightseeing.

At Turkmen weddings, there is always a large banquet and loud music, and pretty much everyone eats, dances, and then eats more. The music varies depending on the person, but it is usually a mixture of Turkmen, Turkish and Azerbaijani songs. If you are sitting and enjoying your meal, people will come and encourage you to dance. Apparently this is because a wedding is considered a success when many people dance. Also, the bridegroom’s families give out towels and cloths as gifts to those dancing. The ceremony is very lavish, and when I asked why I was told it is a reflection of the bridegroom’s wishes, “so their children may have just as lavish a wedding.”

The wedding

The wedding was held in Türkmenbaşy, which is a little far from Ashgabat. Here, Awaza, a region facing the Caspian Sea, is a popular place to escape the summer heat. The views of Caspian Sea were of course beautiful, but the most memorable thing was the cenotaph erected for the Japanese people who died during the war. It was such an unexpected place to find such a monument, and was a chance for me to both look back on Japanese history, and feel the strong connections between Turkmenistan and Japan.

The Cenotaph

From the start of July, I was able to have a really good time in Turkmenistan. I am really grateful to all those who have supported me in my time here. My work here is coming to an end, but I hope for the further development of my students and Japan-Turkmenistan relations.

Ashgabat townscape

June Activity Report

30 June 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
Saki Nakamura

In June, in the midst of end-of-term exam preparations, an event was held at IUHD by the Japanese Embassy. This month, I will write about this event and the exams.

(1) Japanese Culture Event

Ms. HORIE Kyoko from the Japan Traditional Culture Research Institute was invited to host the “Cherry Blossoms and Heisei Era Tale of Genji Scrolls Exhibition”, an event sponsored by the Embassy of Japan in Turkmenistan.

On the day of the event, calligraphy works were displayed in the hall and tea ceremony, calligraphy and kimono demonstrations were held in the main conference room. These demonstrations were followed by green tea and calligraphy workshops. The students enjoyed green tea and sweets (while pulling faces at the bitter taste) at the tea ceremony corner, and formed a long line to have their names written in kanji by the calligrapher at the calligraphy corner, making the event a great success.

Calligraphy workshop
Kimono demonstration

(2) End-of-term exams

This month, the end-of-term exams, the culmination of a year’s work, were held. The students who were serious about their Japanese studies said the exam was “a piece of cake”, and many students got full marks. At the end of the test, I also had them write about two things: “what I learnt through studying Japanese” and “memories I will never forget.”

For the things they learnt through studying Japanese, students gave answers such as “it was hard learning the characters, but I realized I could do it if I try,” “now I can say my hobbies and favorite things,” “I think I can survive in Japan,” and “I’m glad I got to learn about Japanese culture and society through my classmate’s presentations.” For their unforgettable memories, students wrote about speaking Japanese in front of the president of TUFS, and their preparation leading up to this.

My time as coordinator ends with this term, but I intend to share my points of self-reflection with my successor so that they can continue improving the Japanese language education at IUHD. I hope that the experience of learning Japanese helped my students gain more confidence and take more interest in Japan, and will become some sort of asset to them. I look forward to the day, whenever it may be, that my students come to Japan.

Group photo with my students

May Activity Report

5 June 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
Saki Nakamura

May in Turkmenistan is like the height of summer. The sunlight is strong, the temperature is high, and the students remind me how “it’s not even summer yet” whenever I whine about the heat. I need to prepare my mind and body for the real summer.

(1) Japanese Classes

In the May Japanese classes, in addition to their usual language studies, I had the students give presentations about Japan. I tried this because, even though my classes always tend to focus on the actual Japanese language, it is also important to know about Japanese society and culture. I let them choose their own topics so they could present about things that actually interest them. I worried about what kind of presentations they would give, but they chose a number of interesting topics from “The history of sushi”, “Samurai” and “Japanese sports,” to social issues such as “Japanese children and the education system” and “dying alone”. In particular, the presentations on social issues had students asking many questions and led to some lively discussions amongst the students.

Aside from this, we strayed away from language a little in May with activities such as origami and watching the popular Japanese film “Your Name”. It was great to see the students having so much fun in class, and I heard that they are growing more and more interested in Japan. I realized anew that effectively adding activities like this are just as important as the actual language classes.

Origami made by the students
A student presenting

(2) Celebration at the Ambassador’s Residence

On March 31st, the 1st Turkmenistan Japanese Speech Competition was held, and the winner’s celebration was held at the Ambassador’s Residence. Two students from IUHD participated in this contest, and the student who came in first place presented their speech again at the celebration. After watching a video about Japan, we socialized with the ambassador.

The meeting with the ambassador had a warm welcoming atmosphere from start to finish, so smiles could be seen on the faces of the initially nervous students. More and more students in Turkmenistan are starting to study Japanese, but I look forward to seeing the success of these students who are at the vanguard of this trend.

At the Ambassador’s residence

April Activity Report

5 May 2018
Global Japan Office Coordinator
Saki Nakamura

April is Turkmenistan’s Health Month, and so I saw many more students riding bicycles around the campus. The number of people riding bikes in Turkmenistan is increasing every year, but you still don’t see many bikes in the cities. Because of this, it was very refreshing to see the students riding bikes.

Coinciding with this event, the mid-term examinations were also held in April. For the students who began studying Japanese this semester, this was their first exam, so they were quite restless. When I told them about the kind of questions I put in the exam, I received a few comments such as “that’s too hard” and “hiragana is fine, but don’t put katakana in the exam!” For the students who began studying Japanese last semester, Japanese exams are their specialty. I saw many students getting high marks.

Since the final examinations are in June, the Japanese classes will end in May. I want to reflect on the results of the mid-term exam, and work hard to make this last month worthwhile.