How-tos | LIFELINES

Seeking Japanese courses for mature students; reconnecting with a lost mother

by Louise George Kittaka

Japan attracts many people wishing to study the language and culture, and there is no shortage of schools around the country. This week’s first question is from R.H., a British reader keen to come and learn Japanese. She is looking for schools that would welcome mature students:

I am 55 years old and I am not a university graduate. I would like to study Japanese language and conversation with the aim of starting a business here in the U.K. I am British and would like to study/live in a country town and obtain a visa to study in a language college for about a year or so.

To begin with, the good news is that there is no upper age limit for applying for a student visa to come to Japan, so once R.H. chooses her school, they should be able to help her organize a visa, assuming she meets the other requirements from Immigration. There used to be specific resident statuses for younger foreigners, namely “college student” and “pre-college student” but these were combined with “student visa” in 2010, and now that one category covers all ages (see bit.ly/jstudentvisa) Of course, whether or not a specific language school has an age limit depends on the school itself.

Other foreign nationals recommended the following schools and locations. Lifelines cannot vouch for each school, so R.H. is advised to follow up herself if any sound appealing:

• Nippon Language Academy in Maebashi, Gunma (www.nila.jp/html_en/index.html)

• Genki JACS in Fukuoka (www.genkijacs.com/school-info.htm)

• The Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Aichi (www.yamasa.org/en/index.html)

• A reader in Shikoku suggested that staying and working in a guesthouse would be a great way to both learn the language and about the hospitality industry in Japan. She recommended Sen Guesthouse in Matsuyama, Ehime, which is owned by a foreign national and often employs other non-Japanese: www.senguesthouse-matsuyama.com

• This website allows you to search by the area of Japan where you wish to study and live: en.jpnschools.com

• Several people suggested R.H. try and have a home stay for part of the time, perhaps in a rural area, in order to put her studies into practice. This site was recommended by readers: www.homestay-in-japan.com/eng

Finally, she should be aware that some language school courses are more suited to those wanting to sit entrance exams for Japanese university. In her case, a practical course for daily life and/or business would seem the best choice. Good luck to R.H. in her pursuits!

Our second query is from reader Alan in the United States, on behalf of his Japanese daughter-in-law, Akiko. This involves a cross-cultural adoption that ended in less than happy circumstances, and has led to a desire to re-connect with Akiko’s birth mother. Alan writes:

This story started about three years ago. One day she said, “I wish I could find my mother, but I don’t know where to start.” I talked with her a while longer and realized something was holding her back.

One thing I have found in doing this family search is that adoptees carry a lot of emotional baggage. They want to do it but it seems fear overrides the desire to find family.

Akiko Toki was born on June 26, 1983, in the city of Aomori. She was adopted as an infant by an American couple stationed at Misawa Air Base and given an English name (which she did not want published). The family left Japan in 1985 and Akiko was raised in the United States. Unfortunately, her relationship with her adoptive parents was a difficult one and they are no longer in contact.

Akiko was told that the photo accompanying this article shows her birth mother, Saeko (or possibly Seiko), and that they met again at least once before Akiko moved to the U.S. However, as Alan points out, the woman in the photo appears to be middle-aged so may well be the maternal grandmother, or even some other relative or family friend. (The woman’s face has been digitally altered to protect her privacy.)

Alan’s efforts to reach out to Akiko’s adoptive parents for any official papers or further information have been rebuffed. It appears that the adoption was a private one. According to what little information Akiko and Alan have gleaned, an American man on the base known by the nickname “Mr. T” was involved in arranging the adoption.

Akiko has two adoptive sisters, also Japanese nationals who were adopted from the same area as infants. Their birth names were Rumi Maeda and Yoshimi Akamatsu, although Yoshimi’s last name is not definite. Alan says that, like Akiko, neither woman has any further information or is any longer in touch with the adoptive parents.

Alan and Akiko have tried DNA testing, and have contacted various international groups that help adoptees, along with orphanages in Japan, Japanese immigration and U.S. Congress in a bid for clues about her origins but “keep coming up against a brick wall.” While acknowledging it is a long shot, they hope someone might have some information or tips to help. Please contact Lifelines if you can assist.

“Somewhere out there is a mother who is missing out on a super daughter — and granddaughter,” Alan adds.

Please note: Lifelines has received many requests for information on how to apply for visas but it is impossible to provide detailed answers in each individual case. We will not be answering visa-related queries unless the topic is of wider general interest.

Please contact Japanese immigration or your nearest Japanese consulate/embassy to get the best advice for your particular situation.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Your comments and questions: community@japantimes.co.jp