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Izumi Adachi teaches Japanese language and culture classes in the USask Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies. (Photo: Chris Putnam)

USask certificate gives a window into Japanese culture

The Certificate in Japanese Language and Culture launched in the College of Arts and Science in 2022

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By Chris Putnam

When Izumi Adachi left Japan in the late 1990s, her motive was to share the Japanese language beyond her country’s borders.

“For me, it’s important to see our language and culture in Canada,” said the faculty member in the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies.

A former high school teacher in Japan, Adachi taught in the United States and Hungary before settling in Canada. She has been teaching in USask’s College of Arts and Science since 2014.

The Japanese community in Saskatoon is small, but interest in Adachi’s Japanese language courses has been consistently strong. At least 200 students take her classes each year—some of them Japanese-Canadians looking to learn their ancestral language, but most of them Canadian and international students with no connection to Japan except a love of its culture. 

Sianne Bassingthwaite
Sianne Bassingthwaite is completing the Certificate in Japanese Language and Culture. (Photo: submitted)

“I can definitely say that in these past 10 years, there are more Japanese language learners than actual Japanese people living in Saskatoon,” she said, adding that the interest is “amazing” to see.

In 2022, the College of Arts and Science launched the Certificate in Japanese Language and Culture, a 15-credit certificate that includes courses in Japanese language, history and culture. Adachi developed the certificate with her department head Dr. Marie-Diane Clarke (PhD) and Chinese/Japanese religious historian Dr. George Keyworth (PhD) of the Department of History.

“I definitely recommend taking the certificate if somebody is interested in learning the language or anything about Japan,” said Sianne Bassingthwaite, a fourth-year USask psychology student who is graduating with her degree and the Certificate in Japanese Language and Culture this spring.

In March, Bassingthwaite placed second in the Canadian National Japanese Speech Contest in Ottawa, Ont. She is the latest of several of Adachi’s students to be a top performer at the district and national competitions.

Bassingthwaite pursued the certificate because she hopes to do graduate studies in Japan.

“I just think it's an interesting country, like it's just so different from what I would be getting if I stayed in Canada or went to Europe,” she said.

Michelleanne Atchivara (BA’23, Cert’23) was one of the first graduates of the new certificate program in 2023. She remembers being fascinated by Japanese language and popular culture since she was a child growing up in the Philippines.

Atchivara’s sister, a fellow anime fan, encouraged her to take her first Japanese class at USask.

“I’m really glad I did,” Atchivara said.“The more I got into it, the more I grew appreciation for the language.”

Michelleanne Atchivara
Michelleanne Atchivara graduated with the Certificate in Japanese Language and Culture in 2023. (Photo: Chris Putnam)

Adachi teaches many of the certificate’s required courses: not just language classes but a popular culture and cinema class that covers everything from Godzilla to the history of manga.

“She really made the classes so fun and enjoyable. And she's a wonderful soul. She really made everyone in class feel welcome and accommodated,” said Atchivara.

For Atchivara, the certificate was something she did for herself: a bonus and a break from the classes in her major. She believes it helped give her the confidence to step outside her comfort zone and get involved with organizations like the Saskatoon Kendo Club and the Saskatoon Folkfest. 

“The certificate is something that I'm really proud of.” 

Atchivara also thinks the deeper understanding of languages she gained through her studies helps in her current job as a children’s literacy program coordinator.

“Looking at how you break down sentences in different languages was really interesting to me, and I remember I geeked about it at home and to my friends all the time,” she said.

Many other former students of Adachi have traveled to Japan to study or work. At least one graduate who took the language courses before the certificate was offered has realized his dream of working as a translator for the Japanese video game industry.

Adachi is proud to see her students’ achievements.

“I’m happy to support them, to touch this part of their lives,” she said. “And I’m also learning a lot. Things I was taking for granted are actually unique to our culture, and every time I go back (to Japan), I visit a place I’ve never been to.”

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