It’s not always easy finding time to spend with the whole family. In Japan, parents can find it especially difficult, thanks to the nation’s demanding work culture keeping mom and dad from home. Even the kids get too busy once caught up in school tests, clubs and sports.
If you’re an international family living in Japan, you also can’t ignore finding the time to learn or at least study Japanese. One of the biggest struggles for foreign parents who have kids enrolled in school in Japan is balancing their native-tongue and Japanese language abilities while assimilating into the culture here.
With these challenges in mind, the Akita Inaka School has developed a new course designed specifically for whole families to escape from their busy lives and study Japanese together while immersed in a rural Japanese community in the beautiful Akita prefectural countryside.
Akita Inaka School
Akita Inaka School is a Japanese language school in Kosaka, a lovely town in the heart of the rugged Tohoku region. With a population of just under 5,000, Kosaka has the kind of friendly, small-town charm you can only find in rural Japan.
Home to natural scenic wonders such as the majestic Lake Towada and Nanataki Falls, Kosaka was awarded the title of “Most Beautiful Village in Japan” in 2016 (Japanese) by the Association of The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan, an influential non-profit preserving Japanese rural heritage. It makes for quite the classroom setting.
Students at Akita Inaka School learn conversational Japanese and interact with local residents, which is a bit like having the entire town teach you Japanese. You even learn in a former Japanese public school that has been renovated by the town council.
Learning with the family
Scott Feist, together with his wife and four children, moved to Japan in early 2019 from Texas.
Understanding the significance of the entire family knowing Japanese, Scott was interested in the school’s promise of applying classroom lessons with real-life practice in the countryside.
“As a family, we hoped to take away a shared experience in Japanese language, activities and culture, and make memories that would last far beyond after we leave Japan,” says Feist. “It far exceeded our expectations.”
There are several two- and four-week courses available throughout the year. Those seeking to bond over learning Japanese with their kids might find the two-week Family Course the most beneficial — especially if time is at a premium.
“We could have gone to Akita Inaka School with just the intent to learn the language, experience a few things and then disappear back into our own little world,” Feist says. “But the teachers welcomed us the night we arrived. Every day, they did ‘little things’ to make our time there that much more of a rich experience.”
The Family Course gives parents and children (or friends) two weeks of tailored, personalized lessons. Fun and engaging morning classes are paired with afternoon outings and events to interact with the community or free time to explore the town at your own pace.
On a typical day, a family will spend time in the classroom together, learning phrases and children’s level Japanese using songs and games. Parents, however, are free to take longer, more intensive courses.
…we hoped to take away a shared experience in Japanese language, activities and culture, and make memories that would last far beyond after we leave Japan.
“Classes were flexible,” Feist explains. “Although the kids got squirmy at times, the teachers kept them engaged and we always left the classroom on a high note, like singing ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ in Japanese or having a pretend market before going to the real morning market.”
After class, families can spend the day out doing cultural activities such as wearing traditional kimono and performing the Japanese tea ceremony, learning Japanese cooking or creating handcrafted woodwork, pottery and calligraphy. All of the activities available are led by and worked side-by-side with Kosaka’s friendly locals.
“The community was so welcoming and excited to be a part of the activities with us,” says Feist.
“We enjoyed bike rides through the countryside, a railway park, a local waterfall and a park. We had several get-togethers with locals, such as a sweet old couple just across the street from the school, who we had the opportunity to see on several occasions.”
As charming as the town and its residents can be, Kosaka’s own peaceful, natural beauty can’t be forgotten. Outdoor excursions to the Oga Peninsula, Lake Towada and the awe-inspiring Towada-Hachimantai National Park are just a short trip away.
The region is lush with natural hot springs, gorgeous volcanic landscapes and abundant wildlife such as the mysterious Japanese Serow, golden eagles and the Asianic black bear.
“Being able to escape the city to the countryside was a breath of fresh air for us,” says Scott. “The pace of life was slower, which allowed us opportunities to truly experience what was in front of us.”
How to register
The Akita Inaka School two-week Family Course is geared toward families or groups of friends with up to six members. The price includes transport to and from the airport, school lessons and all included activities. Flights to the nearest airport, Odate Noshiro Airport (ONJ), meals and accommodation are not included.
Students should be expected to budget around ¥1,500 per person, per day. Additionally, a traditional Japanese-style house, conveniently located in the town’s center, is available to rent for students.
For price information, or to plan your trip to Kosaka and learn Japanese in a whole new way with your family, visit the Akita Inaka School official website.