U Who is a kokusaijin?  by YAMAGISHI, K.
   Maybe no other nation is more fond of the word "internationalism" than the Japanese. The Japanese equivalent is kokusaisei or kokusaishugi. And the person who has acquired "the international way of thinking" is called kokusaijin or "a person of international perspective" (Japanese would prefer the phrase "an international-minded person.").
   I hate to say that in Japan "becoming international" or kokusaika is tantamount to "discarding things Japanese and forgetting Japaneseness or being Japanese." Many Japanese people misunderstand when they think that kokusaijin is a person who can speak English fluently or who has been to the English-speaking world.
   Isn't this attitude strange? If this definition were to be accepted, then, American citizens, for instance, are all kokusaijin and few Japanese would ever be able to become kokusaijin, no matter how hard we may try. On the other hand, even American dogs might well be called or titled kokusaiken or "international-minded dogs" since they can understand English better than Japanese dogs!
   This is utterly nonsense. And sadly, this utter nonsense seems to have been sweeping Japan recently (What is Japan coming to?).

Producing pseudo-kokusaijin

   Japanese people are fond of using the adjective kokusai(tekina) or "international" and they like to add it to many nouns: kokusai kyouiku (international education), kokusai shinzen (international friendship), kokusai kekkon (international marriage), etc.
   These days many colleges and universities are busy changing their department names from "hick" names to "fashionable" names including kokusai (international); e.g. Kokusai Gakka (Department of International Studies).
   A well-known university professor who advocates English language learning at an early age claims that English should be taught as kokusai rikai no ikkan (part of international understanding) and many other people who support him agree that the sooner the child starts to learn a foreign language, the better. They claim that English language teaching for children [learning at an early age] is a world trend. They usually take the case of Korea and China, ignoring the circumstantial differences between Japan and these countries.
   Personally, however, I can't understand what they really want to do with Japanese children (to be precise, elementary school children). Although they claim that it is good for children to be exposed to different cultures at an early age because by being exposed to different cultures they would be able to get used to different cultures, what they're actually doing is nothing but exposing Japanese children to an extraordinary or high-risk situation. To my eyes, what they are doing in Japanese classrooms is nothing but producing "pseudo-kokusaijin." I sincerely hope they won't undergo an identity crisis in the near future.
   They might say that all children are enjoying English with the Japanese teacher and the "native" English speaker. Unfortunately, I'm told (and personally I witnessed many times on TV) that the older the children become, the less they seem interested in English, and the classroom situation looks miserable. Few sixth graders who appeared on TV, for instance, looked very happy about playing with English. Honestly, I couldn't help thinking that some kind of disappointment was beginning to seep in the sixth graders' mind.

International without being national?

   Many Japanese (including Japanese English teachers) seem to have forgotten that you can't be "international" without being "national." If you want to be "international," you should be "national"(not "nationalistic"). If you want to be a real "international-minded person," then you should be a real "national-minded person." You should be well informed about your own language, culture, national traits, etc. You should know the pluses and minuses of your own culture. You should be as impartial to foreigners as possible. You should love the target language(s) and culture(s) you are studying, as you love your own language and culture. There is no way to say any language and culture is superior to any other.
   People who advocate teaching English to children [learning English at an early age] at the public elementary school enthusiastically say that children are quick to learn a foreign language and are free from any kind of prejudice; there is some truth in what they say. Still, I can't help thinking that the current trend of English language teaching to children at the public elementary school is somewhat unnatural and a little comical.
   Personally, I believe that the real meaning of foreign language teaching is to produce those children and students who can think, speak, and act like "native" speakers of the target language and who can still hold their own identities. In today's Japan there are lots of kikokushijo (children and students who have recently returned to Japan from overseas) and among those who have returned from English-speaking countries there are lots of children and students who can speak English with "native" or "near-native" fluency. I have several years' experience teaching kikokushijo classes (students from the U.S. and the U.K., mainly) at name universities. Most of them were bilinguals; however, few of them were "bicultural." By "bicultural" I mean a person who can speak Japanese and English equally fluently and their language usages are accepted perfectly in Japanese and English. By "bicultural" I also mean a person whose actions and attitudes are perfectly acceptable in Japan and in the English-speaking culture. In this respect, few students at the universities were "bicultural." Their actions and attitudes in classrooms were American or British than Japanese, which are quite acceptable in the English-speaking culture, but not wholly acceptable here in Japan. Since I knew that they had been influenced by their lives in the U.S. and the U.K. and knew how to deal with them, I encouraged them to become "bicultural" as well as "bilingual" (i.e. people who can think, speak, and act like "native" speakers of the two languages).