Portland's consul general of Japan offers commendation, lessons in culture

by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Hiroshi Furusawa, consul general of Japan in the Portland consular office, hands Principal Jennifer Schiele a commendation while teacher Charlotte Stewart, left, and visiting teacher Moe Takahashi look on.When it comes to the percent of people who study Japanese, Oregon is second to one.

As of 2012, the only state with more people learning the language of the Land of the Rising Sun was Hawaii. Consul General Hiroshi Furusawa deemed that worth celebrating, so he’s been stepping out of his Portland office and walking into the 47 schools in Oregon and Southwest Washington with a Japanese program. He bestows upon the schools a commendation and greets students.

Furusawa in April 2013 took on the role as his country’s top official representative in Oregon — serving in one of 18 consular offices in the nation — and he announced his commendation endeavor last December. He first honored the governor for the state’s strong Japanese programs on Dec. 5, the date of the Emperor’s Birthday Celebration, a national holiday in Japan. Furusawa arrived at Lakeridge High for a visit Monday, and he’ll be heading to Lake Oswego High on May 9.

The consul general served as not only a dignitary but also a guest speaker at Lakeridge’s Japanese II class this week, delivering the commendation into the hands of Principal Jennifer Schiele and fielding questions from star-struck students, who often offered up their inquiries in his native tongue. Moe Takahashi and Charlotte Stewart, who teach Japanese at both local high schools, facilitated the Q and A REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Lakeridge Highs Japanese II class poses with Principal Jennifer Schiele and Consul General Hiroshi Furusawa, center. Teacher Charlotte Stewart is at the bottom left, and visiting teacher Moe Takahashi is on the bottom right.

“I don’t know how to say this in Japanese yet, but I always wondered: With people who speak multiple languages, when you think, what language do you think in?” sophomore Meghan Taylor said.

“It depends on the subject,” Furusawa replied.

A culturally linked event such as Halloween, he would connect to the United States and call to mind in English, but his experiences in his home country he recalls in his first language, Japanese. He studied English in high school but said writing and reading lessons are strong in Japan, but speaking instruction could be improved.

Sophomore Elijah Pilkington pointed out that the cultures in the United States and Japan are quite different and said: “What aspect is most different: home life or school life?”

“I could write a thesis on this,” Furusawa said.

He said the histories and cultures are divergent, and he listed a couple of key differences including: Japanese people tend to be group-oriented, and people in the U.S. are more individualistic. Furusawa also pointed out that, geographically, Japan is about the same size as California and 85 percent of the land is mountainous. Most people live in the lowlands, which creates densely populated cities.

“Here you have so much land you are blessed,” he said. “Maybe that is why we lost the war. Good thing we are friends now. ... For 70 years we have enjoyed this friendship.”
By Jillian Daley
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