Shizuoka Speaks

Conversations about language learning & culture in Shizuoka City, Japan

Questions Answered!

How did you come up with the idea for this project?


I had the idea to produce this project not too long after I first moved to Shizuoka, Japan, in August 2009. I came to Japan through the JET Program to work as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) for a local board of education. Upon moving to Shizuoka, I was overwhelmed at the various opinions that other people–namely, other ALTs–had about the structure of language education in Japan. While impressed at the thought and care people clearly had, I found it a shame that the voices of the very people involved in this education–Japanese students and teachers–seemed to be lacking from this discussion.

At the same time, however, it was clear that this problem was not intentional. ALTs come from a wide range of countries; because of their nationalities, they already have a comparative understanding of education when they come to teach in Japan. Most Japanese students and teachers, however, only understand foreign language education from the Japanese standpoint. Moreover, communication barriers–inevitable in any language learning setting, whether it be a classroom or new country–don’t exactly encourage people to discuss these difficult topics. The act of truly engaging in discussion, then, often gets muddled in assumption, lack of effort, and the busyness of people’s work and school lives.

In my teaching, though, I came across students who did have this comparative understanding, because they had lived in another country before. However, they were often shy about expressing their background, culture, and language abilities. Meanwhile, I discovered that Shizuoka City was teeming with other students from different countries around the world, particularly from within Asia. They had come to Shizuoka City precisely to study Japanese and were leading lives far removed from the ordinary existence of a Japanese person or foreign-born English teacher. These students I met told me they tended not to talk to Japanese people; the Japanese I knew admitted they knew little about these other foreigners. Indeed, it was obvious that a certain “hierarchy” of gaijin, or foreigner, communities existed.

However, no one seemed to want to talk about it, or cared enough about it to want to talk about it. That’s when I realized that language learning was the common thread from which these various discussions–from learning methods to interacting with different cultures–could originate. The Japanese students I had met had experienced English education outside of Japan. These foreign students were studying Japanese in Shizuoka. Their teachers had views deserving of more attention. Someone just needed to step in to bring these various voices together.

I have some background in radio journalism. I found out about a research grant available to non-Japanese instructors in Shizuoka Prefecture sponsored by the Suruga International Institute. I applied for the grant in November 2009 to fund the equipment and software I would need to produce a radio project documenting these peoples’ stories, views, and experiences. The kind people at Suruga, amazingly, took a chance on me. I found out I received the grant in early 2010 and have been working on this project while continuing my job as an ALT ever since!

Why a podcast?


Many reasons.

  • There is something about having a microphone in front of a person that enables him or her to speak out more. People become empowered in recognizing that their views have a social value. Things they might ordinarily feel afraid or shy to say come out.
  • Radio as a medium is extraordinarily intimate. Even the best writer has trouble trying to simulate the emotions and depth that come out when people speak. Guests don’t have to worry about how they look, making it more calming than video or photography. Yet, it’s more personal than simply writing.
  • Not having any visuals of the speakers reinforces the overarching point of this project. One of its major aims is to bring people together who might not ordinarily associate with each other, and help them realize what they can learn from each other. It’s a sad thing to admit, but sometimes, the way people look is a reason for why they don’t interact. Digital storytelling allows these voices to coexist without looks getting in the way.
  • By focusing on speaking and listening, language truly becomes a part of the story rather than just the means to tell it. The guests are able to achieve a major goal of their language studies by communicating in their second or third language, and the listeners of this podcast become personally involved in this process as well.
  • Because a wealth of information came out of these interviews, it was necessary to produce the project as a podcast series instead of a single radio documentary (which was the original plan). The interviews were extremely multifaceted and touched on various issues related to the main topics of language and culture. So it seemed only fair to allow these other topics some spotlight, especially if doing this would help us understand more.
  • I have some background in radio journalism. So I knew a little bit about how to bring a project like this into fruition. Everything I didn’t know, I was willing to learn.

This project is based in Japan. Why are the podcasts in English?


Many reasons.

  • I don’t speak Japanese fluently.
  • Even if I did, two of the major points that came out of the interviews was the need for Japanese people to use English more, and the need to recognize English as a global language for communication .
  • The guests wanted to use their English!
  • Listeners, regardless of their country, are more likely to know English than any other language.
  • Along with language learning, this podcast deals with various social issues. As such, it’s an ideal classroom and community resource for initiating discussions about these topics. Again, having this podcast in English makes it more accessible to a range of audiences.
  • Though the podcasts are in English, transcripts of every episode will be available in Japanese to encourage more Japanese people to listen to it.

How did you decide the order and content of the episodes?


I based the content of the episodes on the interviews. I then ordered the episodes in a nonlinear storytelling fashion. That is, I structured the themes and episodes in a way that allows listeners to develop a foundation for understanding later episodes. But the structure of the podcast is inherently nonlinear because the issues themselves all relate to each other.

Why Shizuoka?


A couple of logical reasons:

  • I live in Shizuoka City!
  • The research grant that supported this project is available in Shizuoka Prefecture.

A couple of more interesting reasons:

  • Shizuoka Prefecture ranks third out of all prefectures in Japan for its number of foreign residents (number one is Tokyo and number two is Aichi Prefecture). While Shizuoka City is the capital of the prefecture, many people consider it a more “typical” or “local” Japanese city because it is not as big as other major cities in Japan–which have more noticeable foreigner populations. This dichotomy makes it a curious destination to base this project.
  • The non-Japanese students I interviewed attended schools in their home countries that had partnerships with a Japanese language school located specifically in Shizuoka City.
  • Who’s the intended audience?


    People who live in Shizuoka–both foreigners and Japanese people. Though it may seem pointless that a project conducted in English partly targets a community that, on the whole, might not speak the language, it’s one of the more meaningful ways in which they can practice the language. It’s a way for them to learn more about their own community.

    Non-Japanese people, especially educators who are still becoming familiar with language teaching in Japan, would highly benefit from listening to this podcast as well.

    And, of course, students should listen to this!

    Who else should listen to this podcast?


    • Anyone involved in education, especially EFL or ESL
    • Anyone interested in or involved in language study, especially Japanese or English
    • Anyone who is interested in the experience of living abroad
    • Anyone who is interested in Japan–the culture, language, people, anything!
    • Anyone who is interested in global affairs, especially within Asia
    • Anyone who is open to different experiences or ways of thinking about the world

    How did you find your contacts?


    Networking, networking, and more networking. Trial and error. I conducted many more interviews than the final version of this project reveals. It took much careful listening, editing, and leaps of faith to figure out who had something to say–and more importantly, wanted to be heard–and who had views that could both balance and challenge those of the other guests, as well as those of other residents of Shizuoka.

    What kind of equipment and software did you use?


    I used a Mirantz PMD 661 flash recorder, Sony MDR7506 headphones, an EV RE50 omnidirectional microphone, and an Audia Technica AT835 shotgun mic to record interviews and gather all sound. Then I edited everything on my Macbook Pro computer and put it all together as podcasts using the Mbox 2 Mini ProTools LE Audio Workstation from Digidesign.