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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BILINGUAL

The world's best one-stop shop for Nihongo


"The number of people learning Japanese has increased and is currently estimated to be more than 3 million worldwide," says Nobuyuki Suzuki, deputy manager of a very special store in Tokyo.

"Four years ago, 350,000 people took the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)," he adds. "Last year the figure was over 600,000, owing mainly to the rise in candidates from Asia."

That's a lot of students. And there's no one-size-fits-all service to help them reach their goal. Every student of language is at a different level of proficiency and has different needs. To plug the gaps in their knowledge, nothing beats having the right study materials. And when it comes to Japanese, everyone who is learning, using or teaching the language ought to know about the store where Suzuki works — Bonjinsha, a bookstore run by the eponymous publisher based in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. Bonjin means an ordinary or mediocre person, but there's nothing mediocre about Bonjinsha's Kojimachi shop — the only retail bookshop in the Japanese capital to my knowledge that specializes almost exclusively in Japanese-language study-and-reference materials.

The publisher, which networks closely with organizations promoting the study of Japanese, got its start more than 30 years ago selling preparatory materials for the JLPT, and it carries everything from specialized dictionaries for translators to educational games and toys for children.

The store is spacious and well stocked, making it a great place to browse for new learning tools. Its merchandise is organized into departments that include such basic study materials as 日本語教科書 (Nihongo kyōkasho, Japanese language textbooks); 会話教材 (kaiwa kyōzai, conversation); 作文教材 (sakubun kyōzai, writing); 読解教材 (dokkai kyōzai, reading); and 日本事情 (Nihon jijō, books on Japan). It has an extensive section marked 辞書・辞典 (jisho/jiten, dictionaries and lexicons). Other sections delve into more academic topics: 音声学 (onseigaku, phonetics); 言語学・文法 (gengogaku/bunpo, linguistics/grammar); 意味論 (imiron, semantics); and 認知心理学 (ninchi shinrigaku, cognitive psychology).

In addition to the above, there are 絵本・イラスト集 (ehon/irasuto shū, picture books and collections of illustrations); 子供向け (kodomo-muke, for children); and ゲーム教材 (gēmu kyōzai, game-learning materials). Also on sale are the latest multilingual DVDs containing explanatory captions in English, Portuguese, Korean and Chinese.

And last but not least, the store carries an extensive and up-to-date selection of general books in English, including Japanese literature in translation.

All of this amounts to a veritable theme park of learning options for students of Japan and Japanese, who will find it hard to suppress excitement at the sheer range of materials before them.

Those seeking JLPT preparatory materials, says Suzuki, face a number of stumbling blocks that Bonjinsha is working to remedy. The first is that appropriate textbooks, reference books, and educational materials are not easy to find.

"There are not many bookstores that handle JLPT materials," Suzuki explained. "And the space accorded them is limited in the ones that do."

The second problem is that the number of teachers of Japanese has not kept pace with the number of people wanting to study the language.

"To become a Japanese teacher, you need to pass a Japanese language teaching competency test, complete two- or three-year courses at university, or do more than 420 hours at a private Japanese language school.

"Teaching is a low-return activity for such hard work," he says.

In addition to its retail shop, Bonjinsha also offers mail-order services via its Web site. It will ship to domestic addresses for a small handling fee.

I hope you'll drop in, and I suggest you plan on spending about an hour on your first visit to get acquainted. The store has seats for leisurely browsing, and you can help yourself to complimentary coffee.

Bonjinsha is located at 1-3-13 Hirakawa-cho, Chiyoda-ku; (03) 3239-8673. The store, open 10 a.m to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday (closed on Sundays and national holidays), is on a street running parallel to Shinjuku-dori, a short walk from Kojimachi Station on the Yurakucho Line or Hanzomon Station on the Hanzomon Line. Bojinsha Web site.



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