Twenty years of Japanese language teaching

Sakura, anime, manga, sushi, karate…Twenty years ago, these words were likely unfamiliar to Trinbagonians. Nowadays, not only are they familiar, but other elements of Japanese culture appear seamlessly interwoven into our ever-evolving Trinbagonian culture. Who would have thought the Green Market in Santa Cruz would have been the venue of a Manga and Anime Day? Yes, that happened and it was a smashing success! So how did we get here? It’s hard to say, especially since our area of expertise is foreign language teaching and not anthropology. However, since 1999, we at the CLL have been doing our part to provide quality Japanese language instruction to meet the growing, local interest in Japan and Japanese language and culture.

Early beginnings


The CLL is proud to be the only Japanese-language teaching institution in Trinidad and Tobago. Our foray into this realm began in January 1999, under the tutelage of Mrs Kazuko Rankine, née Tsunoda. Rankine sensei, though petite in stature, has an unparalleled dedication to the Japanese language and culture. She is a recipient of the longest-standing Japanese award, the Order of the Rising Sun. This honour is conferred on individuals “who have made distinguished achievements in international relations, the [sic] promotion of Japanese culture, advancements in their field, and the [sic] development in the [sic] welfare or preservation of the environment”. During her time at the CLL, Rankine sensei demonstrated excellence in her teaching practice, and kindness and dedication toward her students. She often met with them in the Alma Jordan Library, outside of their scheduled Japanese classes, to discuss Japanese culture.


Tsubura-Kawasaki-poses-with-student-at-Open-HouseIn 2004, Ms Tsubura Kawasaki, joined the CLL family, bringing along with her, her expertise in teaching Japanese to Speakers of Other Languages. While Rankine sensei adopted a more traditional teaching style, Tsubura added a modern flare to Japanese pedagogy at the CLL. Students benefitted from both teaching styles with their tag-team approach, especially at the higher levels. During her time at the CLL, Tsubura immersed herself in the Trinbagonian culture, picking up local parlance, developing her taste for local cuisine and her appreciation for a good “lime” much to the delight of her students. Perhaps it was her openness toward others that further peaked our students’ curiosity about Japan and Japanese people.

Tsubura was also no stranger to outreach and research activities. She was an active and willing participant in the CLL’s triennial Open House event. She also contributed to the CLL’s research project entitled, Language and Competitiveness – Positioning Trinidad and Tobago for Sustainable Development. All this, while pursuing postgraduate studies. Having returned prematurely to her hometown, Tokyo, Tsubura maintains her Trinbago connections. She often spends time with new or seasoned JET participants whenever her schedule allows.

Reaching new heights

In 2009, the CLL welcomed its third native Japanese teacher to its ranks, Mrs Shiho Arakawa. Originally from Kyoto, Shiho’s presence at the CLL serves to further enrich the program’s quality. Seemingly reserved, underneath her unassuming gaze is an adventurous soul, who once sailed across the Atlantic Ocean! Shiho is dedicated to providing authentic experiences to her students. At the 2015 Open House, dressed in a kimono, she performed a traditional tea ceremony. She organized the First Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest, which is designed to give CLL students and self-taught learners of Japanese an opportunity to produce and present a short presentation in Japanese. This contest has become a hallmark event at the CLL, with the number of participants and attendees increasing each year. The fifth annual contest takes place on September 30 at the CLL. Reserve your tickets here. She also spearheaded the project to establish the CLL as the only venue of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) in the southern Caribbean. The JLPT is one of three international foreign language certifications available at the CLL. The next sitting of the JLPT is scheduled for July 2023.

Shiho-Arakawa-poses-with-Japanese-students First-Annual-Japanese-Language-Speech-Contest JET-Alumni-Association-of-Trinidad-and-Tobago Dr Carter poses with Foreign Minister's Commendation

It is undeniable that this trio took Japanese language teaching at the CLL to new heights. In 2015 their assiduous efforts were rewarded when representatives of the Japan Foundation, following a 2-day visit to the CLL, invited us to join the JF Nihongo or “Sakura” Network. The CLL thus joined the ranks of 127 organizations “who work collaboratively to ensure the quality of Japanese-language education worldwide”. Read this UWI Today article for more. Shortly after joining the “Sakura” network, in 2017, we became a member of the Central America and the Caribbean Japanese Education Network. Since then, we have been working with other member countries to promote and improve Japanese language education in the region. The first place winner of the First Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest, Mr Christian Jalim, represented Trinidad and Tobago at the regional contest organized by that network in 2018.

Perhaps even greater evidence of the excellent standard of Japanese teaching was the addition of three CLL-taught Japanese learners to the Japanese section. At different instances, during the period 2016 – 2021, Ms Monifa Blondell, Ms Anastasia Ramjag and Ms Christenne Lyons, locals, former Japanese students and JET alumnae, joined the ranks to meet the increased demand for Japanese teachers at the CLL. Once more the CLL’s high-calibre Japanese language-teaching was recognized. In 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan bestowed the CLL with the Commendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan. This highly prestigious award recognizes “outstanding achievements in international fields, in recognition of their contributions to the promotion of friendship between Japan and other countries.” Read this UWI Today for more.

Moving forward

The CLL’s contribution to Japanese language-teaching and the promotion of Japanese culture is far from over. In 2019, the latest Japanese tutor, Ms Misato Noto joined the CLL family. Although relatively young in her teaching career, Misato’s mild, hardworking yet humorous disposition makes her a true asset to the CLL. In the 2021-2022 academic year, she was unexpectedly tasked with overseeing and delivering the entire Japanese programme. Misato rose to the challenge. Her performance surpassed expectations. She clearly demonstrated that she understood the legacy entrusted to her. Misato delivered beginner and lower-intermediate classes to over 100 students. Furthermore, she whole-heartedly collaborated on the organization of the Fourth Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest. Today, despite emerging from the pandemic and undergoing administrative changes, the Japanese program is still robust. This semester, there are four groups in the three language levels available at the CLL, representing a total of 65 students.

We warmly look forward to the continued growth of the Japanese program here at the CLL. It is our pleasure to be the conduit through with Trinbagonians gain linguistic proficiency in the Japanese language. We recognize that this proficiency for some is the key to unlocking study and work opportunities in Japan. For others it gives the personal satisfaction of being able to enjoy their favourite anime without subtitles. And for others still, it opens up a new world, of love, of travel, of food and much more. Whatever the reason, it certainly has been an amazing journey and we anxiously await the new chapters ahead. And who knows? Maybe the next tangible celebration of Japanese language teaching at the CLL will be something everyone can enjoy?