New school promotes global exchange through lecture program

by Setsuko Kamiya

A private school of intercultural communication targeted at Japanese businesspeople and the staff of nongovernmental organizations will open Monday in Tokyo’s Ginza business district.

Although international communication has long been encouraged in Japan, a school that actually invites lecturers experienced in international NGO activities is a rarity.

The Japan Catalysts Institute says it hopes to educate potential “catalysts,” or people who understand different cultures and can help enrich the global community.

Despite its ambitious goal, however, some view the school with skepticism because it is run by Eikoh Co., a firm that operates cram schools for elementary, junior and senior high school students. Cram schools are often associated with “examination hell,” responsible for placing the nation’s teenagers under immense pressure.

Norihiro Ito, an outsider invited to head the institute, dismissed such skepticism, saying the school is part of the firm’s “social contribution.”

Ito is a former official of the Japan Foundation, an organization for international cultural exchanges affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.

The school will offer five courses, covering such areas as the international contribution of NGOs, NGO management strategy and cross-cultural communication. It also boasts a diversity of lecturers, including retired diplomats, university professors, think tank researchers and NGO leaders. Their specialities cover health, environment, poverty, human rights, international negotiations and crisis management.

“The lecturers’ firsthand experience should serve as discussion topics in class,” Ito said. “We hope attendants will train themselves to really think on their own.”

A classical Japanese course will also be available because people working internationally are often asked about their own culture, Ito added.