Why I’m sad Menlo is phasing out the Japanese program

Staff reporter Jake Shiff explains why he's sad to see Menlo phase out its Japanese program. Students engage in Japanese class in the image above. Photo courtesy of Kumiko Sakamoto.

By Jake Shiff

Currently, there are 25 kids in Menlo School’s Japanese program, which consists of only four classes. The low numbers of enrollment in Japanese has forced Menlo to begin phasing the language out of the curriculum.

In the middle school, Mandarin is replacing Japanese because parents and teachers alike believe that Mandarin has a larger presence in the world.

However, this assumption is a shame because it overlooks all that Japan has to offer. From creating vending machines that dispense full meals to having the world’s fastest train to having the world’s oldest population, Japan deserves to be recognized for all of its accomplishments. Japanese class allows Menlo students to do so.

Japanese class is my favorite 70 minute block of the day. The class is always full of energy and participation. Furthermore, my class only has six people, and most of them have been my classmates for six years. This small class size creates a unique, personalized experience.

The majority of Menlo students take Spanish or French. Spanish is especially popular because of the presence of Hispanic culture in the U.S. When I talked to Upper School Japanese teacher Kumiko Sakamoto, she told me that many Menlo students take Spanish because they think it will be an easy class; however, she emphasized that this is far from the truth.

Sakamoto is a very hardworking and energetic teacher who has been working at Menlo for the past 21 years. She is always available for extra help and truly cares about every student.

Sakamoto grew up in Japan and moved to California at the age of 28 to attend graduate school at San Francisco State University. After graduate school, Sakamoto sent her resume to many local schools, offering to start a Japanese program. She went through the interview process at multiple schools until former Head of School Norm Colb gave her the job at Menlo. In her past 21 years at Menlo, Sakamoto has worked her heart out and has made all of her classes lively and entertaining. She has always been available for extra help and truly cares about every student.

However, due to the decreasing numbers of students interested in Japanese, current Head of School Than Healy and other board members have taken the initiative to phase out the Japanese program.

After the program is phased out, Sakamoto plans on teaching Japanese at another school. The middle school Japanese teacher, Mima Takemoto, will remain as an administrative assistant.

During my interview with Ms. Sakamoto, she seemed upset with Menlo’s decision. Her dissatisfaction stems from her belief that Menlo should offer as many foreign languages as possible.

“One of the main reasons that I came to Menlo is because they offered so many language options,” said junior Kevin Yang. Yang is currently in Japanese 4 and has been participating in the Japanese program for six years. I talked to another Japanese student, junior Cole Dollinger, who plans on taking AP Japanese next year. “Taking Japanese makes me look at the world from a different, foreign perspective,” Dollinger said. Japanese class gives students the opportunity to learn about a culture and language that is completely foreign to the Menlo community.

Although Menlo’s decision to phase out the program is justified, I hope that the Japanese culture can keep its presence at Menlo as a club or even a Knight school. The class has made a huge impact on my high school career, and I am very disappointed that the program will no longer be available at Menlo in the years to come.

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