Sun | May 26, 2019

Japanese language gets a boost at UWI

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2019 | 12:23 AM

Recently, at the Conference on Caribbean Literature in San José, Costa Rica, I was approached by a Japanese woman who informed me that she had taught in the Faculty of Humanities and Education, Mona, in the Japanese programme.

As she reminisced on her time in Jamaica, the reality that there were two of us at the ­conference who knew the Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI, Mona, and that our link was its robust Japanese programme was indeed fascinating. Interestingly, she was the first Volunteer recruited by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to teach in The UWI Mona Japanese programme.

She said that her interest in Caribbean literature had developed as a result of being at The UWI. She returned to Japan with a newfound interest in Caribbean literature and culture, pursued graduate studies in the area and now teaches and researches in the discipline at Otsuma University.

Japanese was first introduced at The UWI as a non-credit lunchtime course in 1994 in the Department of Language, Linguistics, and Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities and Education. In 1995-1996, the Japanese Government, through the Embassy of Japan in Jamaica and JICA, decided to support the teaching of the programme as a credit course in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

In 1996, the first Volunteer was dispatched by JICA for one year. That same year, JICA also donated a new, state-of-the-art language Laboratory to the Faculty of Humanities and Education.

The programme began with a small number of students but steadily grew, and in 2003, Volunteers began to be dispatched for two-year periods to teach students in first- and second-year Japanese courses. In 2004, the faculty and department agreed to retain one Volunteer at the end of her tenure in order to have a UWI person anchor the programme. By 2006, the programme expanded to include third-year courses under the guidance of this constant Japanese instructor appointed to The UWI along with a JICA Volunteer who was replaced every, two years.

The Japanese programme has attracted students mainly from computer sciences and ­mathematics, although students from all areas of the university have taken the courses and have enjoyed learning the language and traditional culture of Japan.


Since 2014, students have been able to pursue a minor in Japanese. Even though students come to the university with no background in the language, they generally do well and express appreciation for their instructors. Besides the formal instruction that students receive in the classroom, their interest in the programme is maintained through a Japanese Club, where they are exposed to various cultural practices, Japanese foods Japanese calligraphy, origami, and Japanese pop culture like anime and manga.

They are also able to participate in an annual Japanese Speech Contest, which is sponsored by the Embassy of Japan.

Students of Japanese have the opportunity to participate in an Exchange Programme with Dokkyo University, Saitama, Japan. To date, the Faculty of Humanities and Education has received two Japanese students on this exchange programme, and one UWI, Mona, student has spent a year in Japan and returned with wonderful reports of her time and the experiences she gained.

Every year, students in the programme celebrate Japan Day in March in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan and have the opportunity to exhibit their competence in the language and appreciation of the culture. In 1996, there were 24 curious students in the Japanese programme and today, there are approximately 200. Some of them will seek to do graduate work in science and technology in Japan as they have in the past, some will seek employment with different Japanese companies, while others will be just happy to have been exposed to the ­language and culture.

The support of JICA for the continued success of the programme is indispensable. In 2011-2012, the Japanese Government, through the Japan Foundation and JICA, replaced the Sony Language Laboratory that had been donated in 1996. The UWI’s full-time instructors, past and present, along with a Japanese Volunteer, work together to ensure the quality assurance of course delivery and students’ success. JICA Volunteers also assist with training candidates, including UWI students of Japanese, in Japanese social and business etiquette as they prepare to teach English in Japan under the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme.

It is interesting to know that as a result of this programme, there is now a Japanese student who has completed graduate studies in Caribbean literature in Japan and who continues to maintain an interest in the discipline as a result of participating as the first JICA Volunteer in the Japanese programme at the Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI, Mona. This is especially ­intriguing considering that the Volunteer was recruited after she was employed as The UWI’s full-time instructor for 15 years and now teaches Japanese in Ireland. The one student who went to Dokkyo for a year just completed her degree in Japanese, Spanish, and French. To date, there have been 16 Japanese Volunteers dispatched to the Faculty of Humanities and Education.


• Naoko Finnerup and Grace Perez contributed to this article, Professor Paulette Ramsay, Finnerup and Perez are members of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the UWI, Mona. This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the Arts and Humanities on the individual’s personal development and career path. Please send feedback to