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  • Allyson Givens

Japanese Program Ranked No. 2 In Ohio

By Ally Givens

Collegian Staff Writer

The University of Toledo’s Japanese Program has reached new heights after ranking second in Ohio.

The data, published by the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, is based on student enrollment and course offerings. This is the third time in a decade UToledo has earned this distinction.

Ryo Kitamura, a part-time professor of Japanese at UT, is not shocked. The program has often sat between 3rd and 5th place, he said. However, he is happy there is a strong interest in the language at UT.

This achievement is prompting students and faculty to examine what distinguishes UT’s Japanese program from larger universities and consider prospective expansions as enrollment increases.

Despite being the second largest Japanese program in the state, the classes are small and are individualized based on students’ needs. Students of all language abilities can take the classes, and support is provided for all participants regardless of proficiency.

Students are motivated and studying the language as a supplement to their major coursework, rather than as a requirement, said Erika Marcet, visiting associate professor of Japanese. For incoming faculty, she said the program’s greatest appeal is its growth potential.

“I feel like the students are very much, like, motivated to learn Japanese and they are taking the minor because they want to learn the language,” Marcet said. “And it is not always that case in other universities.”

The language learning community is close-knit and promotes comfortability to explore Japanese, said Keirstin Timpko, a junior in the program. She said the strong relationship between staff and students enriches the experience.

“I’ve been able to grow in confidence in speaking in Japanese; I’m not afraid to make mistakes,” Timpko said. “I definitely feel like that’s one of the best environments you can have for students to learn.”

Compared to universities with more intensive programs, UT offers a citizen-driven and hands-on learning environment. Though the university has fewer resources available, its foundation is organically grown, said Kasumi Yamazaki, associate professor and director of the Japanese program.

As universities transition toward a business model, fine arts and foreign language departments are often neglected. Decreased funding results in fewer course offerings and cultural exposure within the academic community, Yamazaki said.

Former visiting professor of Japanese Taichi Yamashita emailed students in language courses last spring, urging them to send letters to the university to advocate for better funding. The program also solicited messages from diverse stakeholders such as regional Japanese organizations and graduate students.

“We just have to keep our fingers crossed to see, you know, how the climate would change,” Yamazaki said. “And as students grow, the needs grow as well.”

Most students perform well in class and earn accomplished positions abroad. They should voice their experiences learning another language and how it contributed to their education and careers, said Yamazaki.

In addition to funding advocacy, she said student opinions will shape opportunities offered in the program’s future.

Timpko’s largest concern is the lack of access to study-abroad opportunities. She said progressing in fluency is difficult when students surpass the highest language level classes and cannot experience a native-speaking environment.

Studying abroad during the academic year may not be viable for students in certain degree programs, such as engineering or education students with required internships.

One solution Timpko suggested was to introduce an affordable two to four week study abroad program for those that cannot take the typical route.

A three to four week summer intensive language seminar at Aichi University was once available, but it was discontinued after former Japanese program director, Joseph Hara, retired. Five to ten UT students participated each year it was offered.

The university regularly receives collaboration requests from schools in Japan. Demand from students could create a pathway toward similar study abroad opportunities like Hara’s, said Yamazaki.

Timpko said she would like to see more cultural classes become available as staff increases. Many of these courses were canceled after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. With restrictions lifted, Timpko’s hope is now a possibility.

A Japanese major has also been proposed by several students.

Case Western Reserve University, ranked 3rd in the Consulate General of Japan’s list, offers a major with 15 course offerings and has 182 students. UT offers a minor with 12 courses and has 184 students. The similarities between the total number of classes available and student enrollment prompts consideration of a Japanese major.

“It was the first thing that came to mind when I was switching majors back in 2020,” said Trenton Miller, a senior in the minor program. “When I was growing up I was always fascinated by Japanese culture and tradition.”

The possibility of a Japanese major at UT depends on the desire of students to enroll, said Yamazaki. She asks those interested in a major voice their interest to her.

Currently, UT offers a 22-credit-hour minor program. These credits are in addition to completing the elementary language classes. For those enrolling later in their academic careers, it may be impossible to complete the minor alongside their major requirements.

Yamazaki said she is hoping to make the program more flexible by easing upper-level requirements, incorporating cultural classes as electives, and creating a curriculum that allows students to take multiple Japanese classes in one semester.

Though no proposal has been finalized for a change in the program, staff and students alike are optimistic for a bright future.


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