Studying Japanese can be quite a daunting process, but help is never far away. Japan’s ageing population has many retired teachers among their ranks who are happy to take a Japanese language student under their wing and give weekly lessons for next to nothing. Usually, these community type lessons will carry a nominal fee of around 500 yen per month to cover expenses, which is a real bargain, particularly compared to most language schools which can be quite pricey.
The lessons are organized by local government offices where volunteers can sign up to teach classes. These classes are usually held in local public schools, community centres or government buildings. If you want to have more information on the times and places of lessons in your area, you can always contact your local ward office (kuyaku sho). If you live in a larger city there will definitely be classes that are held that you can join, in a lightly populated area it might be a bit trickier.
This website is very helpful for finding locations where volunteer-run Japanese classes are held. The list you see when you click is for Tokyo, but on the top of the site, you can click on other cities/areas as well.
Generally, these classes are taught by retired people who are more than happy to help their local foreigners, and you will almost certainly be given a range of Japanese sweets and tea on a weekly basis. If you’re lucky, some of the volunteers will even bring in home cooked meals to help you get acquainted with the local cuisine as well.
The majority of learners are at a beginner level, but when there are enough teachers available you will usually be provided with a one-to-one lesson, or you’ll be paired with someone of a similar ability so the classes go at your own pace. Often textbook ‘minna no nihongo’ (meaning Japanese for everyone) is the textbook of choice, and photocopies are often provided at no extra charge, so you needn’t buy your own copy.
With a good number of volunteers, lessons can be tailored to your needs so whether you’re looking to just learn some basic conversation or aim to master kanji, an appropriate teacher will be assigned.
The eagerness and zeal of these volunteers will overwhelm you as they specially prepare materials (and food) for you every week out of the goodness of their hearts. So if you’re keen to learn some Japanese, or even if you just want to learn a little more about the culture then find your local centre and jump in!