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2020 Olympics prompt Japanese to learn English and nourish “omotenashi”

News of Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics thrilled the nation. Among the many speakers representing Japan at the Tokyo’s presentation, freelance announcer Christel Takigawa was a focus of media attention. Takigawa gave her presentation in fluent French with unique hand gestures signifying the spirit of hospitality in Japan. “We will offer you a unique welcome. In Japanese, I can describe it in one unique word: omotenashi. It means a spirit of selfless hospitality…one that dates back to our ancestors.” The excitement is in the air –something this country needed after the March 2011 disaster – and some netizens are even speculating that the word “omotenashi” could win this year’s annual buzzwords-of-the-year contest.

According to NTV’s “News ZERO” (9/23), an increasing number of Japanese are now eager to learn English so that they can help foreign visitors during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The program reported that four of the six major English language schools in Japan said there has been an increase in the number of inquiries they’ve received after Tokyo’s successful Olympic bid, with one of them saying inquiries rose by 40% compared to a year before. Among people interviewed on the street, a 26-year-old woman said: “I want to study English hard and I would like to work as a volunteer during the Olympics,” and a 27-year-old man said: “I would like to study English for the next seven years so that I can help people who are having trouble in Japan. That way people from overseas will be able to understand the good things about the Japanese people, such as kindness to others.” In addition, the Transportation Ministry announced on September 11 that it will change the often incomprehensible English signage at spots popular with foreign visitors in 49 regions across the nation within the next two years in view of the Tokyo Olympics. For example, the English signage for the front gate of the Diet building will be changed from “Kokkaiseimon” to “National Diet Main Gate.”

Meanwhile, the dynamic and gesture-filled presentations delivered in English and/or French by Prime Minister Abe and the rest of the Tokyo delegation at the IOC meetings apparently made an impression on the Japanese people, many of whom lack confidence in speaking English in public. Yomiuri (9/28) wrote that educational institutions are now focusing on English presentation skills, and are beginning to offer classes in the subject. According to the paper, Musashino University held a seminar on September 23 incorporating a video of the final presentations given by the Tokyo delegation at the IOC general meeting. At the seminar, participants were asked: “What makes a good presentation?” The daily said Obirin and Rikkyo universities also created new courses on English presentation skills recently. Hiroshi Yahata, the representative of NPO International Presentation Society, said: “The number of companies that conduct business globally is growing, so universities need to develop human resources that have the capability to present their views in English.”

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