Many children are heading to car dealerships after school — to use their showrooms as a study space.
This unlikely connection comes at a time when automobile dealerships are struggling with declining demand and the education industry is finding it hard to find sufficient venues for lessons.
On one evening in a residential area in Kunitachi, western Tokyo, mothers and children came to the Netz Toyota Tama Kunitachi dealership.
After passing vehicles on display, the children exchanged high-fives with a woman who welcomed them by saying, “Hello, how are you?”
It was one of the scenes from an English class for children organized by education service provider Benesse Corp.
A 40-year-old housewife who brought her 6-year-old girl to the class said, “The showroom offers a cheerful atmosphere and we very much enjoy it.”
Tomohiko Tsurusawa, manager of the dealership, allows Benesse to use the showroom free of charge to contribute to the community.
“The showroom is usually quiet on weekday evenings, but children’s voices help create a joyous mood,” Tsurusawa said. “We sometimes get an order for an oil change from mothers, and we are grateful for it.”
Kazunari Iwata, a journalist who covers the role of cars in culture, said that amid shrinking demand for family cars, after-school classes in showrooms “may have an effect in the long run. Rather than instant results in more (car sales), it will likely increase the opportunities for families to bring up the topic of cars at the dinner table.”
Benesse’s English lessons are usually held in instructors’ homes, which poses space limitations.
Natsumi Degawa, a Benesse official in charge of children’s English-language class management, said it was a “last-ditch” step by the company to talk to car dealerships about renting space.
Degawa said the advantage of showrooms is that parents can feel secure as the glass environment makes the space very visible, while dealership personnel are always around. Since there are also parking spaces, parents find it convenient to drop off and pick up their children.
Benesse, which launched its first English class at auto dealerships in Nagoya and Kawasaki in fall 2011, says it had conducted lessons at 115 showrooms in 14 prefectures as of last October, including those of Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
Rival Gakken Educational Co. organized a science class in a showroom at the Yokohama Toyopet Sagamihara Chuo dealership in Sagamihara, Kanazawa Prefecture, in July as a special event, teaching children how to make a pinhole camera.
“Since most showrooms will stay open for many years . . . we can continue to run classes in the long term,” said a public relations official at Gakken Holdings Co., the parent of Gakken Educational.
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