Hingham students embark on a cultural journey.
Written by Jennifer H. McInerney Photography by Kate Rogan
At first glance, the students gathered in front of the blackboard at the Hingham Community Center may look like any other class—but listen closely and you’ll discover that they’re greeting each other not in English, but in Japanese. The six classmates address each other with the suffix “san,” a title of respect—such as Emma-san, Christian-san—and practice asking, “How are you?” Each student responds from a list of vocabulary words reflecting their moods, including translations of happy, sad, sleepy, and full of energy.
Welcome—or irasshaimase—to the Hingham Japanese School, the only program of its kind on the South Shore, taught by Melissa Takenoshita, an educator and Japanophile who moved to Hingham nine years ago. Each week, over a ten-week session, Takenoshita leads students in grades five through nine on a journey through Japanese language, culture and customs right here in their own community.
“They all come with eagerness and excitement,” she says of her students. “I hope to keep that spirit alive in the class. Japanese is one of my favorite things of all and I just want to share it.”
Takenoshita traces her lifelong love of Japanese language and culture to her childhood, while spending time with the family of her best friend, who is half-Japanese. In college, she enrolled in Japanese language classes and had the opportunity to study abroad at International Christion University in Tokyo. During that brief period, Takenoshita’s immersion in Tokyo quickly gave her the confidence to engage in conversations with her Japanese dorm-mates, ask for directions at train stations, shop in grocery stores, and order meals at restaurants.
Immediately following graduation from the University of California at Santa Cruz, she returned to Japan as part of the JET Programme, sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education, to teach English in public junior high schools. As part of the program, she took advanced Japanese classes as well as a course in teaching Japanese. Takenoshita then spent a decade working in Tokyo as a corporate communications translator. She also met and married her husband, an Osaka native.
Now, at Hingham Japanese School, Takenoshita strives to instill in her students a level of confidence that will help them pursue an appreciation and mastery of the language. Her teaching approach includes short conversational dialogues, “touching on all the grammatical points in the speech, practicing and then reciting the grammar in a personal way,” and learning the basic components of the writing system: hiragana and katakana. She also introduces her students to the customs and rituals that are the keystones of Japanese culture to “help bring the language to life.”
Each week, Takenoshita builds on the previous week’s lesson, using repetition to strengthen fluency. While she doesn’t assign homework (given the students’ full academic schedules outside of her class), she does provide worksheets for practice and strongly encourages writing the kana, which loosely equates to an alphabet, at home.
For additional information about the Hingham Japanese School, please visit hinghamcommunitycenter.org/pages/programs.education.