At just 150 cms and slight of build, Terumu Kai makes a very big impact in the city of HEraklion, Greece. It’s here that she set up her ‘Japanese Langauge Factory; and shehas been living in Greece for the last 6 years, first teaching in person, and then solely online to a hundred or so students who have signed up for her innovative language program.
Heraklion is not a big city, although it has an airport for the tourists who flood the city in summer. When I arrive, it’s still the Christmas season so Christmas trees and lights are everywhere. Terumi’s house is off the main road, and it takes me a little more than 30 minutes to walk there from the Ibis hotel. When I get there, I’m first amazed by the size of the building, and then I’m taken aback by how slight she is (I’ve only seen her from the waist up in video call). When we take the car to go the centre, she can only just see over the steering wheel.
Terumi lives with her daughter, an exuberant half-Japanese girl I’ve seen in some of the videos on her Youtube reels, the entire upper floor is where she works. The room looks out on to the mountains in the distance, and the sea is right in front of us. Terumi has fixed her cameras and sound recording equipment above her desk so that she can produce her regular group sessions for her students. There’s an expensive sofa, BOSE entertainment centre and a full kitchen. I’ve come to her house so that I can take part in the group session, and also so that I can film a video for her Youtube channel.*
It’s when we go to the restaurant and the waiters all recognize her that I see she has become something of a celebrity on the island. Maybe that’s easy when there are only 3 Japanese people living on the island. In total. clearly, the locals aren’t sure what to make of this striking individual who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.
An example is how she can navigate the tricky parents who think that their children can pick up the language in just a few months, for example. another is the issue of vaccination. This came up because when we got to the cafe, we were both asked to present our vaccination status. Whilst I’ve received the vaccine, Terumi tells me that she hasn’t. I ask her if she thinks that she should take it. ‘I’d rather build my immunity’, is basically what she tells me.#
After a dinner of grilled fish, vegetables, and the same assorted cold dishes that are served everywhere (tzatziki, taramousalata) I want to see Terumi-san in a different environment.
I’ve seen her in her house, I’ve seen her at the wheel of her black VW polo. but I want to know how she acts in a more relaxed spot.
We walk up the hill to the commercial centre, several terraces are full of people sitting outside on the pavements. It soon becomes clear that the Greeks really love to sit around – they make it their habit to sit in the same place for simply hours.
Terumi glides in to the place, and when she is unable to present a vaccination certificate, she is unflappable when told that she is restricted from accessing the main section of the restaurant. After this little bit of bureaucracy is over, Terumi glances through the menu and chooses something gin-based and fruity.
We look at how the Greeks are essentially very conservative. And they are even more like this on the islands, where most people are stuck in their ways. This rigid rule-following is totally odds with her approach to language acquisition. In fact, I’m wondering why someone so individual should want to live here. The idea of Terumi having a relationship with one of these Cretans is almost laughable. But after spotting some overly swarthy-looking Greeks, she tells me that they use their parents cars, never have any money or ambition. I start to feel somewhat guilty for agreeing with her about this. . But then again, the Greeks I meet are not in any way friendly towards me.
Sadly, I didn’t get the sense that I was especially welcome in Greece, although maybe the lockdown has made this situation worse. What I did notice is that the Greeks have become intensely zealous about all kinds of petty bureaucracy. something to bear in mind if you do happen to travel here.
With absolute confidence in her method, Terumi is convinced that most Japanese language learners will develop quicker if they focus on communication instead of traditional grammar.
Some background into how I began studying Japanese. Growing up with the idea that Japanese was hard to learn, I never really took it seriously. Even when I had a Japanese girlfriend, I only spent a little time on it. There weren’t many options for learning Japanese as a second language, most of the courses were following textbooks. In fact, even when I booked tutors online through programs like preply, I had to try out several Japanese tutors, most of whom didn’t really know what to teach me and didn’t have any goal for me to work towards. Whereas, the main difference with Terumi is that her course is focused on getting you to be a confident Japanese speaker.
With regards to the course, the first thing to note is that it’s expensive. you pay 3000 dollars for the first stage of the program. that’s a lot of money, and some people will think that they can learn Japanese only from watching youtube videos. Unfortunately, without the regular practice and contact with a teacher, you’re going to be wasting time this way.
For more information on Japan Language Factory, please go to: https://www.japanlanguagefactory.com/
*Here is our video: