Mr Bernard Bramwell has ideas above his station or Barr's Court railway station in Hereford, to be precise. He wants to transform the first floor of this 19th century listed building into a "National Centre for Japanese Study and Business".
Such a grandiose scheme might seem like an old man's pipe dream unless you've met Mr Bramwell, that is. A religious education teacher who took early retirement in order to devote his energies to improving Japanese teaching in schools, Mr Bramwell, who has never been to Japan and taught himself the language, is the sort of man who gets things done. At the age when most people settle for an easy life, he has leased Barr's Court from Railtrack and found sponsors for his ambitious project that will include offices for the Japanese Language Association, a lecture theatre, library, exhibition centre, indoor garden and the stroke of genius a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar. The conversion work starts in earnest this September. Meanwhile, Mr Bram-well, who leaves nothing to chance, is breeding the caged birds that will grace the reception area.
The centre is undoubtedly going to be a magnet for teachers wanting in-service training and for business people anxious for somewhere suitable to entertain Japanese clients. It's also going to prove popular with those for miles around who want to relax over sukiyaki and a glass or three of saki, safe in the knowledge that they won't have to worry about driving, with the trains so near by. Quite simply, the centre is an imaginative and ingenious way of winning new friends for Japan, providing a service for business and offering practical help for teachers of Japanese.
Mr Bramwell is the driving force behind the Hereford-based Two Red Dragons Trust. "In the late Seventies when I started," he explains, "there was no tradition of teaching Japanese, no textbooks, no syllabus, no exam" and not much encouragement from colleagues. "When I first suggested Japanese as an extra-curricular subject for any pupils who were interested, the staff told me the course wouldn't have any takers. I got 200. It's always the same, though. You'll find it's teachers and head teachers who are sceptical about it but ask the pupils and they are always keen to do it."
They certainly are in Hereford and Worcester where over 200 pupils from Year 7 upwards are working towards a GCSE qualification in the language. The consortium of nine schools they attend must provide the funding which can mean parents having to dip into their pockets but then the Two Red Dragons Trust provides all the resources and tuit-ion, carried out exclusively by four Japanese nationals who divide their time between the schools.
Pupils are taught entirely in the med-ium of Japanese in tutorial groups of six. The course mat-erial was written by Mr Bramwell. Each of the lessons is meticulously planned, and at the end of each, pupils are issued with a cassette and written assignments.
Bishop Perowne School in Worcester is the latest to join the consortium. Deputy head Steve Arbery confirms the scheme's success. "The 17 pupils in Year 8 who take Japanese as an extra-curricular activity enjoy its different sort of challenge."
According to Mr Bramwell, boys (notoriously reluctant linguists) seem to take to Japanese with an enthusiasm they don't show for any other language. It's probably to do with Mr Bramwell's unstinting commitment and infectious delight in the very business of education. His course offers almost individualised tuition, but at the same time pupils take responsibility for their own learning.
The Two Red Dragons Trust has produced its fair share of Japanese students at university. But Mr Bramwell is not particularly interested in high-flyers. "I think about the girl who left school without much to show for her time there and got a job as a receptionist because she could manage a bit of Japanese that for me is what it's all about."
Two Red Dragons Trust: 0432 354182
ELECTRONIC MAIL IN NORTHERN IRELAND
On the day of the Kobe earthquake, sixth formers at Glengormley High School in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland waited anxiously for news of friends in Tezukayama School, which was dangerously close to the stricken area. They'd never actually visited the school, nor had any Japanese pupils ever visited them. These friendships had been forged by electronic mail, the system which allows messages to be transmitted from one computer to another via the telephone line. So within hours of the disaster, students in Northern Ireland could read on their screens the good news that everyone was well, and first-hand accounts of the traumatic experience.
Glengormley is one of 20 schools in the province participating in this unique twinning system, which allows students in both countries to keep in regular touch. "It completely destroys all the stereotypes they may have of each other, and certainly any prejudice," says David Farrell, who co-ordinates the whole project.
Do they ever discuss the war? "I don't remember it ever being mentioned. It's ancient history to these young people. Come to that, the Japanese don't seem at all interested in Northern Ireland's troubles. They talk about what interests them food, sport, pop music, love and marriage." They then supplement this on-line correspondence with an exchange of cassettes, videos, photographs and old fashioned letters.
It would be nice, of course, if they could get together but even if we do live in a global village, Japan is still very far away and prohibitively expensive. The telephone bills at Glengormley might be astronomical, but they are still a lot less than a return ticket to Tokyo.
E-mail is not only cheaper and easier to organise than a proper exchange, but also enables participants to remain in prolonged contact. This electronic link, is equally important to the 10 Japanese schools that participate. Their government is insisting that schools must embrace greater internationalism and make more use of information technology: e-mail helps them achieve both requirements.
As well as keeping in touch with their electronic penpals, the sixth formers in Northern Ireland also study Japanese language and culture. The course is funded by the regions' Education and Library Boards, and offers an object lesson to local authorities everywhere on the kind of imaginative project schools can undertake when they given adequate financial support.
The scheme has been continually refined since its inception in 1991, and next year students will be able to experiment with video-conferencing, which will enable them not only to converse with their friends, but also to see them. Let's hope there will be no more earthquakes for them to talk about.
Glengormley High: 0232 837223 JAPANESE GARDEN IN LUTON
Stephen Macphail, an art teacher at Icknield School, Luton is hoping that some helpful TES reader can tell him where to find authentic oriental bamboo tables and benches. These will add the final touch to the Japanese garden that has been created by pupils at his school.
"For years the quadrangle had been one of the school's neglected areas I wanted to make something out of it and a Japanese garden seemed totally appropriate for a busy over-subscribed, over-crowded school. " Under the guidance of Mrs Ikujo Harrison, who provided a design that adhered strictly to traditional principles, they created a garden, complete with pond of koi fish, stream and bridge. Parents "sponsored" plants, and the Tree Council and the English Nature Awards provided extra funding. With a little help from parents and teachers, the children did all the hard work of turning an eye-sore into what is now the school's pride and joy.
Icknield School: 0582 576561
* Japanese visitors to schools, story tellers drummers
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* electronic mail links with Japan