What Junko sensei said in the interview?

Finally, we translated the interview Junko sensei had a while ago.


Do you want to know what Junko sensei said in the interview??

You will find out why she started Japanese language school, why she put “wahaha” on her school name, etc..


Mrs. Maekawa experienced many surprises and differences in cultures, thinking and custom herself when she did a home-stay in America in her freshman year in high school. Because of that she has devoted her life into international exchanges by doing various kinds of works, e.g. volunteer in international exchange activities and become a teacher at Japanese language schools. She established WAHAHA – a Japanese language school, which also offers living support services for foreigners living in Fukuoka and culture experience programs.

Tell us about the business contents

First, let me start with our Japanese language school. There are many people in the world who are interested in learning Japanese and each of them has a different goal/aim. Students at our school are mostly here in Japan on a short term for about 1 to 3 months. We’ve had students from 15 to 65 years old with various backgrounds and nationalities. A merit of being a small school is that we are able to design and adjust classes to meet each student’s study goal. For example, on top of the regular general courses, we have other Japanese business courses for those who wish to work in Japan and/or use Japanese at work. We also offer other lessons like culture experience lessons and pop-culture lessons, etc.

Second, we also offer culture experience lessons for tourists. For Japanese traditional culture lessons, we have tea ceremony, calligraphy and kimono (Japanese dress) lessons. And for contemporary culture lessons, we have Manga (comics) and animation lessons. These days, Japanese comics and animation are well-known to the world, therefore, we believe many tourists would be interested and appreciate such lessons. Kimono lessons are the most popular at our school. More and more people come to Fukuoka for international conferences and many of the businessmen bring their wives along. Many wives have joined and enjoyed our kimino lessons to experience wearing the Japanese traditional dress. Tourists, especially repeaters, who come to Fukuoka often have things they want to do besides sightseeing. We are more than happy to assist those tourists to plan their original itineraries to make their stays meaningful.

Third, we also offer services to support foreigners living in Fukuoka.  We translate for them and help them solving their problems.  For example, we offer lessons teaching foreigners how to write their resumes and how to prepare for their job interviews.  One of our teachers is highly experienced and actually teaches courses for writing resumes and taking interviews at companies and public institutions.  The teacher is a Japanese and had worked in a company for 40 years managing personnel affairs and employee trainings.  The teacher not only teaches Japanese, but can also speak English and Spanish.  He also has a qualification in financial planning and does consulting with foreigners on their financial planning and tax issues.  As you can see, we provide many different services starting from Japanese language school, as well as living support to job hunting support.

– How did you prepare for the company’s initiation?

As I was thinking about starting this business, there were two other staffs, who also have the same dream of doing this, helping me to put ideas into concrete thoughts.  Our ultimate goal is to promote international exchanges to the society without limiting ourselves to be a language school.  So instead, we laid out ideas on detailed services we could provide to all foreigners who come to Fukuoka into our business contents.  We also had a hard time deciding where to have our office.  Most of our students come and stay here for a short period of time and they have goals other than just learning the language, so services beside language teaching become important.  We also had to take the culture experience services provided for tourists into consideration.  In the end, after thorough considerations, we finally decided to have our office in Maizuru, Chuo ward because it is in the central and is a convenient place for people to gather.

– How did you come up with the name WAHAHA for the company?

It comes from our theme – laughter.  We simply want to bring smile and laughter to people in the world.  The best thing is to let people who come to us to have a fun experience, to be satisfied and to have lots of wonderful smiles.  “Studio” includes the meaning that we hope people will come gather here and use this place as a place for exchanges.

– How is WAHAHA different from other Japanese language schools and companies?

Because we are a small school, we are able to provide detailed services to meet each student’s needs by offering classes with small numbers of students.

One thing I can say confidently about our Japanese lessons is that we do our best in helping students fulfilling their goals.  I would also like to emphasize the high quality that our instructors possess.

I value the instructors by their characters and by how much experience they have.  That is why we only hire instructors who have more than 3 years of teaching experiences.

Compare to other schools, we might have more older instructors.  That is because instructors at our school are highly experienced in their lives, works, and the society and some can even be called experts in some of the areas.  As I pointed out earlier, we have an instructor who can be called an expert in the business field and had worked as a news reporter for 40 years.

Students have different goals/aims and their Japanese levels are different, too.

Some speak none, others had past the JLPT N1 (Japanese Language Proficiency Test level 1) test and can speak pretty well.  Therefore, the instructors teach according to each student’s level and goal.

Most of the instructors at our school can also speak English.

Therefore, for those students who are in the very beginning level and have troubles understanding explanations in Japanese, we use English as one of the means for teaching.  Especially for the beginners, we sometimes use English to explain grammar points and/or to answer students’ questions.

Sometimes students feel less stressful when their English questions are answered in English.  Having to think constantly: “what is the teacher trying to say? I don’t understand” can be a big stress for students.  Therefore, we try to lessen students’ stress and to prevent wasting time by using some English.  Of course, we use English only when needed, not all the time.

Therefore, we usually assign instructors who can speak English to teach the beginners for students to learn in a happy and relaxing environment.

On the other hand, we usually assign the instructor who had worked as a news reporter to teach high level students.  We teach more difficult expressions and/or Japanese history, current issues and economy to students who had past the JLPT N1 test.  The instructor is highly respectable because he has much more experience and knowledge than myself and can teach things that I can’t.

Most of the students come here for a short period of time.  It is our hope that they accomplish their goals within their limited time.  Having the knowledge, but doesn’t know how to use them is meaningless.  Therefore, our aim is to teach practical Japanese and encourage students to communicate with as many Japanese people as possible actively during their short stays.  Seeing progress in their communication not only gives students a sense of accomplishment and joy, but also makes students more motivated in their Japanese learning.

Students can choose to study in group lessons and/or one-on-one lessons.  It is inefficient to have students with different levels in one class.  Therefore, the group lessons are limited to 6 people or less.  In most of the cases, 4.  And a lot of times, we even have group lessons with only one or two students if there are no students at the same level.   Our purpose is to let students learn as much as they can during their short stays, so we have absolutely no problem with that.

Another reason for doing that is because students have different interests.  Some students want to take the JLPT test while others don’t.  Some are interested in learning Chinese characters (kanji) while others aren’t.   We do not force students to study for JLPT nor Kanji.  However, if the student is interested in learning Kanji, we help the student fulfilling his/her goal by preparing materials for him/her to take home to study and correct the mistakes.

On top of everything, we provide 24-hour support.  If something happens, students can contact us at anytime and we will try our best to solve the problems together with students.   For example, there had been cases where students didn’t come and they didn’t contact the school about their absences.  In those cases, a staff actually went to students’ accommodations to find out the reasons.  A Mexican student was constantly absent because he wasn’t used to the cold weather in Japan. He lived in a dorm with a house keeper.  So, we contacted the house keeper everyday to check on him and also visited him at his dorm many times.  He got sick and slept in for days and we took him to the hospital. We ask students to contact us before hand.  Therefore, if a student is absent even just for one day without any notice, we will contact the student and/or go see the student and make sure if he/she is ok.   I believe only small schools could offer such detailed services and that’s why I try to keep the school at a small scale.

– What’s the rewarding part for setting up this business?

Meeting people from various countries including Japanese and feeling glad about meeting those new people are the rewarding parts for me.  It makes me really happy to see people enjoying our services and go home with smiles on their faces.

– What’s your vision for the future?

WAHAHA means laughter/smiles, so we’d love to have people gather here and have lots of laughter/smiles.  Foreigners can come and study Japanese and Japanese can study foreign languages here.  And there will be lots of international exchanges!

– Tell us about your goal and dream.

I would like to let many people enjoy international exchanges as I did through the home-stay I experienced when I was 16 years old.  I believe through the exchanges, people can find new discoveries in their future, lives and goals.   And one by one, those new discoveries will eventually contribute to a bigger meaning of international exchanges.   I know many people who have lived in foreign countries for more than 20 years through international exchange activities.  Through those encounters, we have grown affections toward each other’s countries.   Although I might be the only Japanese the person knows, he/she will gain affections toward all Japanese because he/she knows me.   And I, too, will gain affections and interests toward the person’s culture because we are friends.   You might just meet a person by chance.  But knowledge and/or interests would grow when you find yourself wanting to know more about the person.   Many foreigners might think that Japanese in general are hard to get closed with because Japanese don’t really say what’s on their minds straightforwardly.  But, I’ve heard many foreigners say that they like Japanese because once you come to know them, they are really kind and honest.  Also, they say people in Fukuoka are kinder than people in other cities.     Therefore, I always tell my students to ask for help when they get lost or into troubles because people in Fukuoka are really kind and they WILL help.  Even if they don’t know how, they will tell you to wait and look for someone else to help you.    There had been times where students got lost and local people actually took the students here.  Some of them called us and said “there is a foreigner who’s lost.  Where should I take him/her?”  And after explaining to the local people, they actually took the students here.   Many foreigners come to like Fukuoka a lot.  We have many “repeaters” because they love Fukuoka and were satisfied.  In reality, there are many foreigners who don’t even know there’s a place called Fukuoka.  So, we’d love to have people from around the world to come and experience Fukuoka.


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